Monday, December 30, 2013

Daring Bakers: Peppermint Whoopie Pies!

Well, I am a few days late for my whoopie pie post, but I promise, they were done on time!  I just got delayed with my posting, what with the holidays, lots of family in town, and a bit of sickness that kept getting me down.  But, I am feeling better now and ready to think about food again!

The December Daring Bakers' Challenge had us all cheering - the lovely and talented Bourbonnatrix of Bourbonnatrix Bakes was our hostess and challenged us to make fun, delicious and creative whoopie pies! Delicious little cake-like cookies sandwiching luscious filling in any flavors we chose... What else is there to say but "Whoopie!"

I can honestly say that I have never had a true whoopie pie - the kind you would get in the New England area with a vanilla marshmallow filling.  However, I have made them before for the clever girl's Halloween party at school.  That version was a pumpkin whoopie pie.  This time I thought I'd holiday-it-up a bit and do a peppermint/candy cane version.  Because chocolate and peppermint are meant to go together.  It is a match made in heaven!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Handprint Christmas Ornaments

This may be late for this year, but something to keep in mind for another time.  Handprint ornaments!  Commemorate the year and size of your little ones forever with a handprint ornament for the tree!  They are simple to make!

paper for hand tracing
sharpie marker
embroidery floss/needle

Trace your child's hand onto paper and cut it out.  For every ornament you intend to make, trace two hands onto felt with the magic marker and cut them out.  This makes the ornament thicker and have some structure for hanging on the tree.  If you choose, pick a side to be the front and do a simple backstitch embroidery into the center of the hand with your child's first initial and the year.  You could also do this with a sharpie marker.  Place two hands together and sandwich a loop of ribbon at the top, which is where the wrist of the hand would be.  Using embroidery floss and the needle, secure the ribbon between the two felt hands, then use a running stitch to sew around the hand and up the fingers.  Depending on the age of your child, they might be able to help with the stitching!  The clever girl did some of mine!

I attached these to the tops of Christmas presents for the grandparents and they were LOVED.   These were a surprise for my family, so I couldn't post them earlier!  Sorry! 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Nibby Pecan Cookies

Take a look at the cookies above.  They may not look like much but they are life altering.  They are Nibby Pecan Cookies, a recipe created by Alice Medrich.  First of all, Alice Medrich is known for her brilliance with chocolate, which pretty much, in my opinion, guarantees that her recipes will be great.  But this one seriously goes beyond great.  It is DIVINE.

I found this recipe because another blog that I follow, Loaves and Stitches, is doing a cookie countdown right now and this recipe was on that blog.  As soon as I saw them, I was hooked.  First of all, they use an ingredient I have never used before - cocoa nibs!  Cocoa nibs are tiny pieces of the roasted cocoa bean, raw, when the beans are READY to be made into chocolate but it hasn't yet happened.  So they have a great cocoa flavor but do not have extra sugar, butter, etc in them.  And they have a fabulous CRUNCH.  How come I never knew about these amazing things?  I have been enlightened!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Plastic Bag Holder

Okay, this is one of those no-brainer projects that I am not sure why I didn't accomplish AGES ago.  How do you store your random plastic bags?  You know, the ones you get from the grocery stores, Target, from your newspapers, etc.  While I bring my own bags to the grocery store, the bags from places seem to multiply at our house.  Especially the newspaper bags.  We only get one newspaper per day, thus one bag per day.  But somehow we have about 3 zillion newspaper bags.  They used to be all shoved into another plastic bag (a Target bag to be precise) and stored underneath the bottom shelf in my pantry.  But the bags are not happy to be kept there.  They kept jumping out and having little bag babies all over the floor, thus the aforementioned 3 zillion bags. 

Enter, Martha Stewart.  She has this brilliant tutorial for making a bag holder out of a kitchen towel!  An ah-ha moment!  I did not photograph the steps in making this thing because Martha (or rather someone on her staff) already did so and the tutorial is quite simple.  Go HERE to see for yourself.

Here is what I did differently:  On the bottom where you put the elastic, Martha suggests cutting a slit in the seam allowance of the towel, threading the elastic through the seam allowance, and then tying the elastic in a knot.  Instead, I ripped out a tiny piece of the stitching for the seam allowance on each end, threaded the elastic through, and then zigzagged over the elastic at each end.  No knot tying.  As it is, there is a bunch of fabric right there from when I sewed the seam making the towel into a tube, so I didn't figure I needed to bulk things up more and tie a knot.   Either way works.

What are you waiting for?  You likely have all of the supplies you need to accomplish this super-helpful project sitting around at home, and it truly takes all of about 15 minutes to accomplish.  Martha used the following supplies:  towel, elastic, twill tape, safety pin.  I used the same, but if you don't have twill tape, you could always use ribbon or a long piece of some other fabric.  It is simply used as the loop for hanging this amazing contraption in a handy location! 

I actually made two of these:  One for newspaper bags (we use them when we walk the dogs) and one for other plastic bags. 

Get on it.  Show those plastic bags who is the boss!!  My entire pantry has breathed a sigh of relief.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

TWD: Baking with Julia - Gingersnaps

This is the Baking with Julia version of Gingersnaps.  

WARNING:  This blog post will break one of my rules about reviewing recipes - don't critique a recipe if you have changed it up and don't like it.  You didn't actually try the recipe so you shouldn't critique it.  This is one of my rules and I am breaking it right now for this recipe.  There are reasons that I tried to jazz up this recipe!  I checked out the comments on the TWD blog from people who had already baked the cookies, and the overall consensus was that there was not enough ginger, that the cookie dough was way too sticky, and that the cookies did not "snap".  So, here is my thoughts on this cookie for whatever it is worth!

Personally, I don't recommend this recipe.  Sorry.  I just have this idea that gingersnaps should have two basic components:
(1) they should contain ginger
(2) they should snap after baking, as in crunch
Ginger and Snap.  Shouldn't be that unusual of a requirement, right?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas Card Wreath

For years, I have struggled with how to display the Christmas cards we receive.  This year I happened upon the Craftiness is not Optional blog and found the perfect solution!  A clothespin wreath!  Brilliant.  Not only is it useful, it is also attractive!!  And simple to make.  Let's do it!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

TWD: Baking with Julia - Challah

Our recipe this week for Tuesdays with Dorie was Challah.  Yes, I know, it is Wednesday, but I promise I had this bread baked on time, I just didn't get to the blog on time!  Apologies!  I made the Challah bread for Thanksgiving dinner, as did many of my TWD cohorts.  The recipe makes 2 loaves, so we ate one with dinner and the other I froze so I can make French toast this weekend.

There is something amazingly therapeutic about braiding bread.  I love it.  Feeling the long soft strands and weaving them together to make a beautiful loaf is really rewarding to me.  Why don't I make this more often??  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Cranberry Turtle Bars

These are likely to become a holiday tradition - Cranberry Turtle Bars.  Of course they are delicious any time, but the cranberries and pecans make me think of Thanksgiving and Christmas, so that is when I am probably most likely to make them. 

Cranberry Turtle Bars
adapted a bit from Gourmet magazine

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, whole
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups pecans, tasted and cooled, then coarsely chopped

2 oz. fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350F with a rack in the middle.  Line a 9x13-inch pan with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the 2 shorts sides.  Butter all 4 sides but not the bottom.

Blend flour, brown sugar and salt in a food processor, then add butter and pulse until the mixture begins to form small lumps (pea-sized).  Sprinkle the lumps into the prepared pan, then press down firmly all over with a metal spatula and/or your hands to form an even layer.  Bake 15-17 minutes, until golden and firm to the touch.  Cool in the pan on a cooling rack.

Melt butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over medium-low heat and stir in sugar, corn syrup and salt.  Boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until caramel registers 245F on a candy thermometer.  This will take about 8 minutes.  Carefully stir in cranberries, and boil until caramel again reaches 245F.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.  Stir in pecans until well coated.  Working quickly, spread caramel topping over base, using a fork to distribute nuts and cranberries evenly.  Cool completely.

Lift bars in foil from pan and transfer to a cutting board.  Cut into 36 bars, or however many you choose.  Melt half of the chocolate on the top of a double boiler or a metal bowl placed over a saucepan with barely simmering water, stirring until smooth.  Remove the bowl from the heat and mix in in the remaining chocolate, stirring until smooth.  With a spoon, drizzle the melted chocolate in a thin drip decoratively over the bars.  OR put the melted chocolate in a small heavy-duty zip-lock bag, snip off a tiny piece of one corner, and pipe the chocolate over bars.  Let the bars stand at room temperature until the chocolate sets, about one hour.

Store in an airtight container, with waxed or parchment paper between layers, for about 1 week, or refrigerate/freeze.
Printable Recipe

I confess that when I made this recipe I used way more chocolate than the recipe suggested, and honestly, it was too much.  I know, that sounds like crazy-talk, but that much chocolate actually detracted from the cranberry/pecan flavors, instead of enhancing it.  So the 2 ounce amount is better. 

Serve these at a holiday function.  Or wrap them in a pretty container and give them as a gift!  Or hide them away and don't tell anyone you have them so you can eat them all yourself - a very tempting idea...