Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 is Making a Last Ditch Effort to Kick Our Asses

My washer has recently decided to skip the spin cycle which makes doing the laundry a bit of a challenge. In addition to that; the dryer started making a metal-on-metal grinding sound, forcing Hugh to pull the entire thing apart to replace belts and pads and some other parts. The good news is; the dryer works better. The bad news being, of course, that the washer won't spin and soggy clothing isn't going to dry no matter how well the dryer is working.

Then, last night, the furnace stopped working and, apparently, the people who fix these kinds of things take off during long holiday weekends so, now, we get to worry about the possibility of frozen pipes and water damage and other fun things like that until, oh, Tuesday or so.

On the bright side, we still have hot water (please don't let me have just jinxed us, pleaseohpleaseohplease) and we do have the gas fireplace which can be programmed to kick on automatically when the house gets too cold so; we won't freeze to death in our sleep or anything. And, it's not like we are camping in a circle in the living room, rubbing sticks together to create a spark over broken-up furniture or stalking the neighborhood animals for their pelts or anything.

It's ok, is what I'm saying.

And, just because 2011 wants to take her leave of us in such a sucktastic way doesn't mean that we don't plan to send her off in style, anyway. Oh, HELL no. I purchased sparkling grape juice for the kids, goddamnit; there will be a party. Oh yes, there will.

Besides, body heat warms a house better than any old  furnace.

And, you know, clean clothes are overrated.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

And the Tree is Still Standing

We got home from Mayberry yesterday and, despite my worst fears, Finnigan had failed to destroy the Christmas tree. Oh, I'm sure he tried to destroy it but, he was unsuccessful. Best. Present. Ever.

Ok, maybe not the best present, but, a nice surprise.

In addition to not trashing the house in our absence (although, he did manage to pull off his own collar, which apparently presented a challenge, if the teeth marks gnawed into the plastic latch are any indication), Finnigan earned my everlasting love by leaping into my arms and kissing every inch of my face, protesting mightily when I attempted to put him down. He also slept curled up under my chin for most of the night and I'm pretty sure he didn't stop purring, once.

That thing they say about absence making the heart grow fonder? Apparently holds true for cats, as well.

So, yes, we are home again. We had a wonderful time at my parent's house; spending time with my sisters and their families. It was a fabulous holiday despite the frigid temperatures, my parent's refrigerator suddenly deciding to leak all over the kitchen floor, and cars that refused to start when it was time to go home (Ok, one car. Ours, of course).

The kids really enjoyed spending time with their cousins, opening the pajamas that have become a tradition on Christmas Eve, dancing to Just Dance on the Wii, battling each other in other video games and, of course, anticipating the arrival of Santa...

...who was very good to us all.

Of course, now we are back to the daily grind, which, in my case, includes making preparations for our New Year's Eve get-together with friends. The good news is, I don't have to worry about decorations because, as I mentioned earlier, my tree is still standing.

It's clearly the little things that make me happy.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 25: Popcorn Balls

Merry Christmas from our home to yours. I hope Santa brought you everything you wished for, that you are surrounded by loved ones, that your blessings far outweigh your troubles and that you revel in at least one family tradition this season; this is one of ours.

Popcorn Balls

1 c. sugar
1 c. corn syrup
1 small piece of butter
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
¼ tsp. baking soda
 2 gallons popped corn

Put first 4 ingredients into a large, heavy saucepan, bring to a boil. Boil rapidly for 2 minutes, add baking soda and stir. Pour mixture over popped corn in large container, stir well. Using a bit of additional butter, coat hands well, form popcorn into balls, working quickly so as not to allow hot syrup to burn hands.

Store popcorn balls in an airtight container.
*a tsp. of food coloring may be added with the first four ingredients for colored popcorn balls.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 24: Appetizer Picks

Greetings from Mayberry where the temperature hovers at 10 below zero, snow drifts cover the streets, and twelve of the jolliest people you ever met are dining on eggnog french toast, eggs and bacon that have been short-order cooked by the best grandma ever to wield a spatula.

A multitude of packages encircle a festively decorated tree, angels and Santa figurines adorn every available surface, a Christmas Eve prime rib stands ready for the oven while a turkey awaits its' appointment with the oven, tomorrow.

Plans for this evening include a car ride to see the lights, the annual making of popcorn balls, and eating appetizers and sweet treats numerous enough to feed a small nation because; I come by my tendency to bake during the holidays quite naturally.

Speaking of appetizers, I recently entered the realm of home crafting, which is something that I rarely do. What resulted was a slew of appetizer picks that I will be giving away as hostess gifts for years. On the up-side, I will never arrive at a party empty-handed.

The appetizer picks were simple to make, consisting of household items and beads from a craft store...

Turkey lacers  (I found mine at Bed, Bath and Beyond, 99 cents for 6)
Elmer's china glue
beads and spacers
needle nose pliers

Using the needle nose pliers, bend the top end of a turkey lacer into a hook (unless your lacer comes pre-hooked at the top). Slide your choice of beads, spacer, etc. onto lacer, being careful not to stab yourself (blood is a total turn-off). When you have achieved your desired design, hold lacer upside down and apply a small line of china glue around the final bead. Allow to dry (hanging upside down, if possible). And, wa-la, appetizer picks to stick in your loved ones stockings. But, not like, literally, remember; blood is a total turn-off.

Yep, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 23: Merry Christmas! Here's a Sugar Coma For You!

Yesterday I delivered goody trays around town; that's approximately ten billion calories that I won't be consuming which makes it the gift that keeps on giving. For me, anyway.

In just a few hours we leave for Mayberry (that's right, criminal types; we will be away for a few days. Please be aware that, in addition to the state-of-the-art alarm system, we also have three pit bulls and we haven't fed them in days; please do feel free to save us the trouble of buying dog food upon our return).

We managed to get all the presents into the Tahoe despite my grave concern that we would fail. We have yet to load up the suitcases but Hugh assures me that we are golden. I'll take his word for it since he is now another year older and wiser. On that note, last night we went to dinner at a restaurant that did not feature singing waiters and a twenty-pound sombrero; Hugh is not so easily duped, damnit.

Maybe next year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 22: Cinnamon Suckers

A number of years ago I received a set of cast iron sucker molds as a gift and I fell in love with the idea of making suckers for Christmas every year. For the first couple of years, I did just that. Then, we moved and I lost the molds in the vast expanse of storage boxes we kept in the garage, awaiting the day that we would remodel the new  house, allowing me kitchen space in which to bake and "candy-make" to my heart's content. When that day came (six years later), I lovingly unpacked the molds and relegated them to their very own space in the baking cupboard where; I forgot about them completely.

Until this year, that is.

Last night, I pulled the molds out and made a batch of cinnamon suckers. They turned out quite well and I'm considering making a batch of either cherry or sour apple suckers, tonight.

You know, in between packing my suitcase, supervising the Man-Cub's suitcase packing (can't end up at Grandma's house with nothing but a pair of shorts and a tank top, after all), packing the presents into the car, unpacking the presents from the car because not everything fits the first time (ever), repacking the presents into the car, and, celebrating Hugh's birthday with dinner at a local Mexican restaurant where the waiters will serenade him with the Spanish version of Happy Birthday to You while he wears a giant sombrero (paybacks from my birthday last month).

Yeah, those suckers aren't going to get made. The best I can do is to store the molds in a more visible location for next year. In the meantime, however, I do have cinnamon suckers to enjoy on the long ride to Mayberry and that's ok with me.

Cinnamon Suckers

1 1/4 cups sugar
1 heaping tsp. cream of tartar
3 oz. water
1 scant tsp. candy flavoring
2-3 drops food coloring
candy molds, sucker sticks
candy thermometer

In a heavy saucepan over low heat, slowly dissolve sugar and cream of tartar in water, stirring constantly. When sugar is dissolved, increase heat and cook syrup until it reaches 310 degrees on the candy thermometer (about 25 minutes total cooking time). Add candy flavoring and food coloring and pour slowly and carefully into sucker molds. Allow to set for approximately two minutes, remove from molds (be sure to follow directions on your specific molds, especially if they differ from my molds or from my directions).

Also ok with me? Getting to enjoy two of my favorite things....


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 21: Peppermint Patties

I don't think I've mentioned it, but; my kids are still in school. Christmas is five days away and my kids are still in school. This irritates me for a variety of reasons, the main one being that; had we wished to take a fantastic Christmas getaway to a tropical island, we would be forced to travel on the day before Christmas Eve. And, ok, we aren't taking a tropical vacation but, we are driving to Mayberry and we might have wanted to leave earlier than Friday but, noooo; my kids don't get out of school until 3:25 on Thursday.

Also, The Teenager has final exams and; I might have liked for her to have a relaxing week before Christmas rather than stressing over maintaining her GPA. The Man-Cub's classes have revolved around watching movies so I tend to worry less about his enjoyment of the week leading up to Christmas but, still.

Of course, the late start to Christmas break means a late return to classes in the New Year but I don't really see that as an acceptable compromise for enjoying our holiday, I just don't.

Anyway, enough bitching about things that I cannot change. How about a recipe, instead?

Peppermint Patties

4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
1 1/2 Tbsp softened butter
2 tsp milk
1 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk (not pictured because I was using the can reserved from a prior recipe and forgot to take it out of the fridge for the picture)
2 Tbsp shortening
2 pkgs dark chocolate morsels (or semi-sweet, milk chocolate, etc., depending on your taste)

Beat powdered sugar, corn syrup, butter, milk and peppermint extract until mixture is crumbly. Add condensed milk and continue beating until a stiff dough forms. Chill for 30 minutes.

Form chilled dough into small ball, place on wax-paper-lined cookie sheets and press into disks. Freeze for several hours or until very firm.

Melt chocolate morsels and shortening in microwave, stir to mix. Dip peppermint disks into chocolate, allowing excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Place back on wax-paper-lined cookie sheets and freeze several hours or until very firm.

As an aside, peppermint extract, when accidentally spilled onto your hands, repels feisty kittens like the Pope repels demons. This is interesting information to have. Also, feisty kittens eventually crash and burn like toddlers on the downside of a sugar rush and, like those toddlers; they care not a whit for where they crash.

Sleep is good.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 20: Lemon Tartlets

Only four days until Christmas and my baking is winding down. I do have a few more things to make but, they aren't critical to my enjoyment of the season so, I'm in no huge rush. Time is of the essence if I am going to deliver goody trays, however, so; I will be putting one together to deliver to the girls at the bank as well as one for the employees and customers at the hardware store. If I didn't give away a lot of this stuff, I would be eating it for months. Also, I would weigh a ton.

Some things that won't make it onto the trays, however, are these lemon tartlets; partly because they don't really hold up well for delivery and partly because we I ate most of them at our employee party Sunday night. I couldn't help it; they are delicious.

Lemon Tartlets

1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk (I reserved the remainder of the can for the peppermint patties that I was making the next day so as not to seem wasteful)
1 1/2 cups lemon curd (homemade or store-bought, your call)
Tartlet shells (once again, homemade or store-bought; I'm lazy, I buy mine)
*Optional powdered sugar and berries for garnish

Mix condensed milk and lemon curd. Spoon into tartlet shells. Garnish with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and berries, if desired.

They are surprisingly simple to make, yet, they look quite impressive and they taste absolutely delicious. Don't care for lemon? Substitute the filling of your choice; you probably can't go wrong.

Monday, December 19, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 19: Cocoa for a Crowd

Our employee Christmas party went really well; the food was good and we played a rousing game of Dirty Santa before Hugh and the kids broke out Just Dance for the Wii, shaming almost every person in attendance into performing at least one dance. For the record, I rocked Walk Like an Egyptian despite losing to The Teenager (I'm pretty sure she cheated).

Although the dancing heated up the room and everyone in it, we still manged to go through most of the homemade cocoa that I had made in the crock pot. This is, hands down, the best cocoa you will ever drink and, because you control the sweetness depending on what kind of morsels you use; it can be tailored to any taste.

Homemade Cocoa

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
6 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups milk chocolate chips (or, bittersweet, semi-sweet, dark, etc., your call.)

Stir all ingredients together in a large crock pot. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. For frothier cocoa, blend with an immersion blender right before serving. Serve with marshmallows.

While we were sipping cocoa and watching my husband and offspring attempt something resembling rhythm; someone mentioned the fact that Christmas was exactly a week away. I almost went into panic mode, thinking about the things that I have left to do before remembering that I had actually gotten it all done on Saturday. At that point, I relaxed and enjoyed our company.

I'm really looking forward to relaxing and enjoying the rest of this week as well; the kids and I have a full line-up of holiday classics still to watch, and; there is a bottle of wine with my name on it just waiting for It's a Wonderful Life to begin.

We do have to pack up the sleigh for the trip to Mayberry but, as Scarlett O'Hara would say; I'll think about that tomorrow.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 18: Spritz Cookies

I managed to finish all my Christmas shopping yesterday despite being overwhelmed by the crowds and distracted by the millions of shiny, happy things lining the store shelves. Seriously, at one point I had to clap my hands in front of my own face and command myself to "focus!". It worked, as I said; I am officially done, now.

I'm also done with all my wrapping, having spent the better part of two hours working on that chore last night.

Tonight, Hugh and I are hosting our employee Christmas party. I'll be baking a nice ham and serving it with scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, and rolls. For dessert we will be munching on a goody tray filled with the numerous things that I have baked so far, including lemon tartletts, the recipe for which I will be sharing, soon.

In the meantime, here is the recipe for Spritz cookies which I think have a German history. I could be wrong, of course and, really, it doesn't matter but; I like to sound somewhat knowledgeable about my baked goods.

Yes, even when I am wrong.

Spritz Cookies

1 1/2 cup margarine or butter
3 1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract
Cookie press (I'm using one from The Pampered Chef but old fashioned presses work equally well, if you have one)
*Optional, food coloring, sprinkles, etc.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat margarine or butter with an electric mixer on high for 30 seconds. Add one cup flour, sugar, egg, baking powder, vanilla, and almond extract. Beat until thoroughly combined. Beat in remaining flour until dough resembles small pebbles, keep beating until dough forms smooth ball. If desired, divide dough into equal parts and color with food coloring, mixing thoroughly.

Place unchilled dough in cookie press and force onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 8-9 minutes or until cookies are set. Cool on wire racks. Store in airtight container or freeze.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 17: Buttercream Frosting

We decorated our sugar cookies last night. I had intended to do it today, but; I have a full schedule of errands to run and both children had made "social plans" so, last night seemed like the better option.

In order to get into full cookie decorating mode, we popped National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation into the dvd player and, I must say; there is nothing quite like decorating cookies while various members of your family quote a movie word-for-word.

When the movie was over and we still had half a dozen cookies left to do; we put A Christmas Story in and the movie quoting continued. I came thisclose to putting It's a Wonderful Life in but; that is my "sitting on the couch with a glass of wine" holiday movie and we wouldn't want to jack around with tradition.

Buttercream Frosting

1 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)
1 tsp clear vanilla extract
1/2 tsp butter flavor (find it in the baking aisle or order online from
4 cups sifted confectioners sugar (powdered sugar)
2 Tbsp milk
Assorted food coloring (I use Wilton cake coloring because I think it produces deeper hues than regular food coloring but either will work)

In a large stand mixer, cream shortening with vanilla and butter flavor. Slowly add powdered sugar, allowing mixture to blend thoroughly between additions. Add milk and continue mixing until frosting is the desired consistency, adding milk if frosting is too stiff and looks dry. Divide frosting into bowls, add coloring and mix well.

Speaking of tradition; Hugh and I engaged in Cookie Wars again this year. We chose to compete on our snow boy/Santa cookie and, I think I can say without prejudice; my cookie was the clear victor.

I didn't even have to cheat.

Friday, December 16, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 16: Cut Sugar Cookies

My Altrusa Christmas party last night was wonderful; there is just something especially nice about spending a relaxing evening with women you love and respect while dining on a meal that you didn't have to prepare. The beautiful Christmas decorations and chocolate fondue bar didn't hurt, either.

Speaking of Christmas decorations, do you know what every yard needs at Christmastime? A ginormous snowman, that's what.

 I must admit, with both kids being teenagers now (I just threw up in my mouth a little); I was convinced that our yard had seen its' last snowman so, you can imagine my delight when I came home from work to see this...

...not only were the Man-Cub and his friends working diligently on a snowman but, The Teenager's boyfriend was in on the action. Of course, being teenagers, they aimed high; planning the largest snowman that they could make. Unfortunately, they failed to take into account just how heavy a giant ball of snow can be and, getting the middle part of the snowman onto the base presented more of a challenge than they anticipated. It made for an entertaining show for The Teenager and me, however...

...and, after some discussion, a brilliant plan to build a snow ramp, allowing the boys to roll the snowball was born and ouila! A half-finished snowman!

Followed quickly by a totally finished snowman (if you ignore the fact that the boys could only locate one branch for the arms, leaving our snowman somewhat handicapped). Hot chocolate followed, I mean, obviously.

While the kids were putting the finishing touches on the snowman, I was baking our favorite holiday treat, cut sugar cookies. These cookies require a decorative touch but, for today, we will focus on the cookie recipe itself, frosting recipe to follow, tomorrow.

Cut Sugar Cookies

1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
3 1/4 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease baking sheets or line with parchment paper. Mix all ingredients together, adding flour a bit at a time. Roll dough onto floured surface and cut with cookie cutters.

Bake for 7-9 minutes or until just golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool on wire racks. Once cookies are cool, decorate as desired or, store in Ziplock bags or in freezer until ready to frost.

We plan to decorate our cookies, tomorrow because we do it as a family. On occasion, Hugh and I engage in some good-natured competition to see who can decorate the best cookie. I'm not sure if we will do that again this year but, if we do; I'm confident that I will win.

Possibly by cheating.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 15: Chocolate Covered Pretzels

My womans' club Christmas party is tonight. As a member of the planning committee for this blessed event, I have been assigned to decorate a table, to provide background music in the form of a holiday playlist on my iPod and to accompany my fellow committee members in a holiday rap. Yes, a holiday rap, not to be confused with holiday wrap which, reminds me; I need to buy some more wrapping paper and, I digress.., yes, my fellow Altrusans and I will be doing a rap version of some favorite Christmas carols or something like that, I'm not really sure; I missed rehearsal because I had a prior commitment, basically, I'll be winging it.

Also, I'll be wearing a Santa hat and dark sunglasses, making this the most surreal Christmas party of all time.

A party is a party, though and; I have no doubt that I will have a good time. If I don't, I can always come home and eat these pretzels; they are like a party for the mouth. No rapping required.

Chocolate Covered Pretzels

1 pkg pretzels (I usually use regular pretzels however, every bag that I looked at this year was jam-packed with broken pretzels so; I went with minis. Your call)
1 pkg. chocolate almond bark
1 pkg. white chocolate almond bark (find both in the baking aisle)

Melt almond bark according to package directions (one flavor at a time, obviously). Using a small fork, dip pretzels into coating, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Allow to cool on waxed paper, decorate with additional melted almond bark, Candy Melts or sprinkles. Store in airtight container or freeze until ready to use.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 14: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles

We awoke this morning to this...

After spending half an hour shoveling the back porch, and an additional ten minutes contemplating just how long it would take to shovel the sidewalk and driveway;  Hugh disappeared.

He returned with this...

It....wasn't cheap. Also, merely purchasing the gizmo practically guarantees that we will have a dry rest of the winter. Actually, if it never snows in Colorado again; we will all have Hugh to blame for it.

One thing I can't blame Hugh for is the rapid disappearance of the truffles that I made for Christmas, for that; I blame the kids.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups flour
1 Tbsp. water
6 ounces miniature chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar together. Add remaining ingredients and mix well by hand. Roll dough into bite-sized balls and freeze until firm. Let stand at room temperature  for 5 minutes before eating (unless you are my children in which case you will risk chipping a tooth by eating them immediately out of the freezer. While hiding the fact from your mother. And, hiding in a closet. True story).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 13: Dark Chocolate Fudge

Christmas is less than two weeks away. Less than two weeks.

This is stressful for me for a variety of reasons, not the very least being the fact that I'm not exactly done with my preparations. Like, at all. This is highly unusual for me as I used to take great pride in having all of my shopping/wrapping/package mailing/card sending/ etc. done by Thanksgiving, allowing me the entire month of December to enjoy the finer parts of the holiday, such as baking, watching holiday classics, attending seasonal parties with a smile on my face and finding new and unique ways in which to make Christmas as magical as possible for my children. I was maybe even a little bit smug about it. Also, I'm pretty sure people hated me.

No need to be a hater this year, apparently.

On the bright side, I am almost done with my baking, have finally managed to mail my out-of-town packages and, following a happy accident; have found that a good glass (or three) of wine makes it possible for me to pick up the ornaments that Finnigan has knocked off the tree for the five millionth time without wanting to scream, you know, too much.

The Christmas spirit, it is alive and well and living in a bottle of Pinot Grigio.

Also, there is an abundance of chocolate in my home; these two things, combined with the grace of God will get me through the season.

Dark Chocolate Fudge

1 pkg. Milk Chocolate morsels
1 pkg. Bittersweet chocolate morsels
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Line an 8x8" baking pan with foil, butter generously and set aside. In a microwave safe bowl, melt chocolate morsels and condensed milk on high  for three minutes. Stir to combine, thoroughly. Pour mixture into prepared pan, spread to the edges. Refrigerate until firm, cut into squares.

Thanks to the above mentioned wine, I forgot to take a picture of the finished product. However, it bears a striking similarity to the Dark chocolate & mint fudge that I made a while ago so...

...let's pretend this is it.

Further evidence that I am sucking at this holiday season. Actually, that's probably enough to prove my case and, the prosecution rests.

Monday, December 12, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 12: Pizzelles

I spent yet another day in Neighboring City, yesterday; the Man-Cub had been invited to a party at an amusement park there and I had agreed to drive him well before Hugh and I made plans to shop on Saturday. It's all good, though; I managed to wrap up a few more items on my holiday To Do list while I was there, including a trip to Sam's for bulk items for our employee Christmas party this coming Sunday.

One of the things I am always certain to make for the party is a goody tray full of my recent baking and, one of the favorite things on that tray will be Pizzelles. Pizzelles are a thin, Italian cookie and, although you have to use a special Pizzelle maker for them, they are worth the extra effort.


6 eggs
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup margarine, melted and cooled
2 Tbsp. anise extract
3 1/2 cup flour
4 tsp. Baking powder

Preheat Pizzelle maker. Beat eggs and sugar with en electric mixer until fluffy. Stir in melted margarine and anise extract. Combine flour and baking powder, stir in gradually. Dough will be sticky.

Using a small spoon or cookie scoop, drop batter onto Pizzelle iron. Close and cook for about 90 seconds or until steam stops coming out of iron (most devices will also have an alert light on the machine). Carefully remove from iron and allow to cool. Trim edges, if necessary (trimmings are really good over ice cream). Store in an airtight container at room temperature or freeze until ready to use.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 11: Pumpkin Bread

Our shopping excursion to Neighboring City went better than I expected. Hugh and I managed to get most of the things that were on our list with an unexpected bonus.

While Hugh was perusing the merchandise in a jewelry store that he frequents, one of the cashiers asked him if he was interested in purchasing a teddy bear, proceeds of which go to support St. Jude's hospital. Because the search for a cure for childhood cancer holds a special place in our family's heart, Hugh told her that he would buy a case of teddy bears and that he would donate them to our local police department to give to children who are victims of domestic abuse. The cashier was then kind enough to throw in an additional case of bears for free; we came home with twenty-four plush teddy bears for needy children and a little more money will go toward ending childhood cancer. Win-win.

Oh, and without going into too much detail; Santa is no longer worried about the Man-Cub. As I said, it was a successful day.

Plus, it ended on a high note; I got what is probably the last picture that I will ever get of my children with Santa Claus, courtesy of the local fireman's Christmas party (Hugh is on the Board).

And, Grandpa Oscar, of course.

Now, on to today's recipe.

Pumpkin Bread

2 cups flour, sifted
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup solid pack pumpkin (canned or fresh, fresh is best but I used my only pumpkins for pie at Thanksgiving)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup butter, softened (not melted)
*Optional: Raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease loaf pan (or, pans if doubling recipe). Combine flour, baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar, milk, and eggs, blending well. Mix in dry ingredients and butter, stirring until flour is moistened. Add raisins, if desired (I double the recipe and, at this point, divide into two bowls, adding raisins to one batch). Pour dough into prepared loaf pan(s) and bake for 65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center of loaf comes out clean. Cool in pan(s) on wire rack for ten minutes, remove from pan(s) and allow to cool completely.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 10: Caramel & Chocolate Dipped Pretzels

Hugh and I are off to Neighboring City to buy more Christmas presents than you can shake a stick at, and, if you want a really yummy stick to shake at those presents; these dipped pretzel rods are the perfect thing. Just be really careful not to shake them too hard, they are somewhat delicate after all.

Caramel & Chocolate Dipped Pretzels

1 pkg. Kraft caramel bits (or, a package of unwrapped caramels)
1 pkg. chocolate candy coating (find it in the baking aisle)
1 pkg. pretzel rods
Assorted sprinkles, jimmies, mini M&Ms, candy melts in holiday colors, etc.

Spray a large sheet of waxed paper with cooking spray. Melt caramel bits according to directions on the package; be sure to use a deep, narrow bowl to ensure using every drop of caramel. Once caramel is melted, dip pretzel rods 3/4 of the way, allow excess to drip back into bowl, set aside on prepared waxed paper.

Pour sprinkles, jimmies, or M&Ms onto a separate sheet of waxed paper. While caramel is setting, melt chocolate candy coating in microwave according to package directions, once again using a deep, narrow bowl. Dip caramel coated pretzels rods into chocolate, covering caramel and allowing excess chocolate to drip back into bowl. Wait 30-45 seconds before rolling pretzel rod in sprinkles to coat, set aside on waxed paper to harden.

You may also melt holiday colored Candy Melts (you'll find these in the cake decorating section of any craft store and in the baking aisle of some supermarkets) according to package directions and, using small spoonfuls, wave over pretzel rods to create candy stripes, if desired. Store pretzels in airtight container or freeze until ready to serve.

Friday, December 09, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 9: Old Fashioned Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am so glad that today is Friday as I am woefully behind on my Christmas shopping and need a weekend to catch up. In order to do so in the most painful way possible, I have invited Hugh to accompany me to Neighboring Town, tomorrow.

Painful, you say? What could possibly be painful about dragging a man who hates to shop on a shopping spree? Well, for starters; read that last sentence. Also, he wants to go to a phone store to look at new smart phones; any trip to a tech store ends up taking hours when Hugh is involved and, he won't actually purchase the phone during those hours, he will merely research it before returning home to do further research on the internet before spending several more hours surfing for the best possible price. I'm not knocking his method; he gets the job done at a great price, usually, but; those hours in the tech store are hours we could be inspecting elastic on underwear at Victoria's Secret or actually locating something that the Man-Cub might like for Christmas.

As an aside, thirteen year old boys who already own pretty much everything they want/need are impossible to shop for. Santa is worried, very worried.

On the bright side, the Cub does like chocolate chip cookies and I did bake a shit-ton of those so; I suppose a gaily wrapped package of cookies could suffice as the perfect gift. Or, you know, not.

Old Fashioned Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (optional, and not used in my house thanks to the Nut Nazi)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease baking sheets or line with parchment paper. Combine flour, soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract in large bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts, if you wish. Using a large spoon or a medium scoop, drop mixture onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until golden. Cool on wire racks.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 8: Rocky Road

Have I mentioned lately how much I am enjoying my teenage daughter? No? That's a crying shame because, I totally am. The child makes me laugh like nobody's business on an almost daily basis. She has her Diva moments, as all teenagers do, but; for the most part she is a joy to be around and I'm almost 100% positive that she's not just going the extra mile during the holiday season just to ensure that she receives good gifts. Although, if she is going the extra mile simply for gifts, she is totally rocking it so; well played, Teenager, well played.

Seriously, though, last night she made me laugh outloud (LOL, if you will) over her reaction to the actor who plays Prince Charming on ABC's Once Upon a Time; it's nice to see that we share the same good taste in men. Oh, except for her steadfast refusal to see the beauty that is Hugh Jackman; which is, perhaps, her only character flaw.

So, yes, raising a teenager is like navigating a rocky road paved with hormones (horror-mones) but; the benefits are worth the bumpy ride.

And, speaking of Rocky Road...

Rocky Road

2 Large Hershey's with almonds candy bars (large, like GIANT. You can find them in the candy aisle or in the baking section of most supermarkets. If you can't find Hershey's with almonds, substitute plain chocolate bars and 3/4 cup almonds).
2 -3 cups miniature marshmallows (more or less, depending on how rocky you want your road).

Line an 8x8" baking pan with foil, butter generously. In a microwaveable bowl, melt chocolate bars on high for 2 minutes. Stir in marshmallows. Pour into prepared pan, spreading mixture to the edges. Allow to set. Refrigerate until firm, cut into squares. (I pressed additional marshmallows on top of mixture while still warm, creating a snow-covered Rocky Road, because; the Man-Cub is a marshmallow lover and I want to groom him to be as agreeable as his sister is when he is 15 and this totally seemed like something I could hold over his head at that time).

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 7: M&M Cookies

I have no facial swelling to report, today. I am congested and suffering from minor sinus pressure, however so; I think the swelling might have been connected with this cold. Or, I am incubating a demon in my face. Either way, I'm ramping up on the Dayquil and should have some relief, soon.

Yesterday, I baked M&M cookies while the Man-Cub and a couple of his friends played on the Wii; I cannot tell you how June Cleaver I felt when I placed a plateful of freshly baked cookies in front of those boys. I may have been wearing an apron, even.

M&M Cookies

3/4 cup Butter-flavored Crisco
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. milk
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 Egg
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 pkg. M&M candies (I'm using the holiday colored milk chocolate variety in this recipe)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or grease with shortening. Cream Crisco, sugar, milk, and vanilla with an electric mixer. Blend in egg. Combine flour, salt and baking soda, add to creamed mixture. Stir in M&Ms. Using a medium cookie scoop or a large spoon, drop onto cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes or until light brown and set. Cool on wire racks. Store in Ziplock bags or freeze.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

25 Days of Christmas, Day 6: Banana Bread

This recipe would be called Banana Nut bread if I didn't live with Hugh, the Nut Nazi. According to the Nut Nazi, nothing good ever came from adding nuts to baked goods. Nuts are perfectly fine when eaten separately from other food groups but, never the two shall meet. For the record, however, if you like nuts; go nuts.

Speaking of nuts, you know how some kids are super-allergic to nuts and, even the tiniest whiff of contact with a peanut can bring on dire symptoms? Yeah, I used to sort of scoff at that but, not anymore; not since episode two of unexplained swelling of one side of my face. This time, the swelling is on the right side, is far worse than the first go-around and has lasted longer; it started last night and, as I type this, I am on my second dose of Benadryl and there is still some minor puffiness of my lips and cheek. I have no idea what triggered the reaction so I have no idea how to avoid future episodes. At least the peanut kids know what to look out for.

Also, this whole thing is a huge karmic bitch-slap since, when I was younger, my mother had an allergic reaction to a medication and ended up looking like one of the characters from The Dark Crystal...

...and I laughed at her.  Last night, despite being really concerned about my health and well-being (they claim), Hugh and The Teenager laughed at me because I resembled The Joker, as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger...

The fact that I let them live speaks volumes about my self control. Also, it is the holiday season and I was feeling generous. Swollen and freaked out but, generous.

And, now, to get that image out of your heads, let's move on to the banana bread, shall we?

Banana  Nut Bread

1 3/4 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup mashed ripe banana (yep, the black ones. I throw mine in the freezer when they get dark and spotty and save them for this recipe)
1/3 cup shortening
2 Tbsp. milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup chopped nuts (optional and assuming that you don't live with a Nut Nazi)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease loaf pan (or, pans, if you are doubling or tripling the recipe). In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add banana, shortening, and milk. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until blended then on high speed for 2 minutes. Add eggs and remaining flour, beat until blended.  If you are adding nuts, stir them in, now (Quick!While the Nut Nazi isn't looking!). Pour batter into greased loaf pan(s). Bake for 55-60 minutes. Cool in pan(s) for 10 minutes, remove from pan(s) and allow to cool completely. Loaves can be wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen.