Monday, December 24, 2012

My Mom's Tea Ring

One of my family's most cherished Christmas traditions was when my mom would make her Swedish Tea Ring.  Every Christmas Eve, she would work her magic and take flour, sugar, butter, an egg, cinnamon and a few other ingredients and make the most wonderful thing we could think of, her tea ring.  When we were little, we would eat it on Christmas morning for breakfast.  When we got older, we would indulge after Midnight mass.  She kept up the tradition for many years, but as we grew up, got married, and left home, she stopped making it.  We often talked about how yummy it was and how pretty it was, but she didn't make it.  I'm not sure why, but probably because it was a lot of work and we started celebrating Christmas with my parents at lunch or dinner, not breakfast.  Instead she would make homemade rolls and cherry and pecan pies.  But the tradition of the tea ring has stayed with me through the years.  My family has it's own tradition for Christmas morning, but the tea ring still says "Christmas" to me.  And it says Mom.

My mom in the red and green dress reading from the Christmas Book.
On September 16 of this year, she passed away at the too young age of 69.  She had only been diagnosed with stage IV cancer 6 weeks earlier.  To say it was a shock is an understatement.  In our family she is Christmas.  She spent a week every year decorating every corner of her house.  She had an enormous angel collection and Santa collection.  She had peach colored Christmas decorations to match the color of her bathroom.  She put lights up over the English bar in her dining room and every window or ledge had some Christmas decoration.  She had what looked like an elf on the shelf waaaaaaay before they were called that.  She put on a green and red striped floor length dress and read a Christmas story to her grandchildren.  She often had themed gifts for not only her grandchildren, but her children and daughters and sons-in-laws.  She would come downstairs and tell the grandkids to go in the other room so she could fill the stockings.  Christmas was always an event with her and my dad.  She made sure we always were all together to celebrate, not worrying about whether it was on December 25.  I am so grateful to her for that.  Once we moved to Illinois, we only went home about three times a year.  To know I was going to get to see my two older brothers and older sister, their spouses and all of my nieces and nephews at Christmas every year was such a blessing.

So with her on my mind right now, I knew I had to try my hand at a tea ring.  I made two and my kids told me they were delicious.  My husband told me it was great.  And I had a little piece of my mom again, if only for a moment.  I decorated it just the way she did, with green and red maraschino cherries.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I always did, and now will in memory of my mom.

Tea Ring decorated with red and green maraschino cherries

 Tea Ring
Adapted from The Betty Crocker Cookbook: Swedish Tea Ring

1 package active dry yeast
½ cup warm water , (105 - 115º)
½ cup lukewarm milk, (scalded then cooled)
⅓ cup sugar
⅓ cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
3½ - 4 cups all purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter, softened, divided
⅔ cup sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

In large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in milk, sugar, butter, salt, egg and 2 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth. Mix in enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place dough in a greased bowl, turn dough greased side up. Cover. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch dough down. Divide dough in half.

On a lightly floured surface, roll half of dough into a 15x9-inch rectangle. Spread with two tablespoons of butter (like buttering a piece of bread). Mix sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl. Sprinkle half of sugar mixture evenly over dough. Roll up tightly, starting with the 15-inch side. Pinch edge of dough into roll to seal well. Stretch roll slightly to make even.

Transfer dough to greased or parchment lined baking sheet. With sealed edge down, shape into a ring. Pinch ends together to close ring. With kitchen scissors, make cuts 2/3 of the way through the ring at 1-inch intervals. After ring has been cut, pull out each piece carefully and turn on it's side. Let rise until double, 40 to 60 minutes.

Repeat method with other half of dough.

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Bake for 23-29 minutes, or until golden brown. If tea ring browns too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil.

In a bowl, stir together the powdered sugar, milk and vanilla. Spoon over warm or cooled tea rings. Decorate with maraschino cherries if desired.
Tea Ring before adding the glaze.

Notes: The best part of this recipe is that it makes two!  One to eat and one to share.  that is exactly what my mom did when we lived in England for five years.  She would make several tea rings then we would deliver them to friends to share on their Christmas morning. 

Have a blessed Christmas!  Thank you for sharing in my 12 Recipes of Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Spiced Spritz

I have been making spritz cookies for my husband for almost as long as we have been married.  His Grandma and mom both used to make them every Christmas, and so I started making them, too.  We always made the basic butter variety, simple and delicious.  Through cookie exchanges I have tried chocolate spritz and frosted spritz, but never any that were as good as the basic butter version I had been  making for years.  Then I saw this recipe for spiced spritz cookies and thought that I must try these.  I am so glad I did.  So are my kids.  And the husband.  They still love the traditional butter version, and these do not replace those.  But if you are looking for something a little different, something with a lovely spiced flavor, then this recipe is for you!

Spiced Spritz

1 cup butter, softened
⅔ cup sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2¼ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1½ cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Combine butter, sugar, egg, salt and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Beat at medium speed until creamy and well combined. Add flour and all the spices. Beat on low until mixed well.

Place dough into cookie press fitted with desired disc. Form cookies 1-inch apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 6-8 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Remove to rack to cool.

To make glaze: Stir together the powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth. Drizzle over cookies.

Notes: If dough is too soft after mixing, refrigerate for 30-45 minutes.  Place cookies on a cooling rack with wax paper underneath. When drizzling cookies with glaze, glaze will drip onto wax paper instead of your counter.  Glaze can be drizzled over warm or cooled cookies. These cookies will perfume your kitchen with spicy sweetness!

Only 1 more recipe until Christmas!  (It is a very special one - come back Monday for my last recipe of the year!)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Chocolate Caramel Thumbprints

Whenever I think of thumbprint cookies, I think of the traditional butter cookie with jam in the middle.  My husband loves these.  They were never a part of my holiday traditions growing up, and I'm just not a huge fan of jam in baked goods.  Seems too healthy.   So when I came across this gem of a recipe, I knew I had to make it.  And let me tell you, these do not disappoint!  It is a chocolatey cookie (tasty in it's own right) then filled with gooey caramel, then drizzled with more chocolate!!!!  Oh yes, this is a good cookie!

Chocolate Caramel Thumbprints
from Christmas Cookies: 50 Recipes to Treasure for the Holiday Season by Lisa Zwirn

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1¼ cups sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt

Caramel Filling:
20 caramels, unwrapped
¼ cup heavy cream, (or whipping cream)

Chocolate Drizzle
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in the whole egg and egg yolk. Mix in the vanilla extract. With the beaters on low speed, add the flour, cocoa powder and salt. Mix until well combined. Gather the dough into a ball, then divide in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line cookie sheets with parchment or a Silpat.

Remove one dough half from the refrigerator. Roll pieces of the dough into 1-inch balls. PLace about 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets. Make an indentation in the center of each ball using the handle end of a wooden spoon (or your thumb), being careful not to go all the way through the dough.

Bake for about 13 minutes or until the cookies feel just slightly firm. Immediately upon removing the cookies, again use the handle on the wooden spoon to reinforce and slightly widen the indentation. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

For the Caramel Filling:
Heat the caramels and cream in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until the caramels are melted and the mixture is smooth, about 5 minutes. Using the smallest, narrowest spoon you have, spoon the caramel into the indentations of the cookies, filling just up to the rim. If the caramel becomes too thick, place the saucepan back over low heat for a few seconds. Let the caramel set before drizzling the cookies with chocolate.

For the Chocolate Drizzle:
Melt the chocolate in the microwave at 30 second intervals on medium power, stirring after each interval, until melted and smooth. If not too hot, spoon (or pour) chocolate into a disposable decorating bag. PLace the cookies close together, but not touching, on racks set over wax paper. Cut just the tip of the decorating bag and drizzle chocolate in a zigzag pattern over the cookies. Let the chocolate completely set before storing cookies.

Store layered between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container.

Yield: 60 cookies

Notes:  This cookie is like a Rolo in cookie form!  For longer storage, store in refrigerator.  I used a metal 1/8 teaspoon to spoon the caramel into the cookies.  Any spoon small and pointy will work best for this.

Only 2 more recipes until Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Peanut Butter Tart with Chocolate Ganache

This is another one of those Pinterest finds.  I saw this recipe and knew I wanted to try it.  Peanut butter and chocolate.  They should be best friends, and in this tart they are.  The shortbread crust is a nice foil to the rich peanut butter filling and decadent chocolate ganache topping.  This dessert is a showstopper!

Peanut Butter Tart with Chocolate Ganache

10 ounces shortbread cookies, crushed
6 tablespoons butter, melted
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
½ cup heavy cream
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spray a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom with cooking spray. Mix cookie crumbs with butter and press mixture evenly into pan. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely.

Place cream cheese and peanut butter in mixing bowl. Beat with mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add the powdered sugar and butter and beat until fluffy. Thoroughly fold in half the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture. Gently fold in remaining whipped cream. Spoon into crust and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 1/2 hours.

Heat 1/2 cup cream in microwave until very hot, about 1 minute and 15 seconds. Add chocolate chips and stir until smooth. If not already cool, cool until lukewarm and spread over peanut butter filling. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 1/2 hours.

Notes:  This was LOVED in my house by ALL the inhabitants, young and old alike.  Be sure to use creamy peanut butter for a smooth and velvety filling.

Only 3 more recipes until Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Chocolate Shortbread Wedges

I have looked at many shortbread recipes and notice how simple the ingredient list is.  I have longed to make shortbread, but worry I'll be the only one in the house to like it.  Then I found this recipe.  And I decided it didn't matter whether I was the only one who liked it, or everyone liked it,  I was going to try this recipe.  And I'm so glad I did.  These not too sweet shortbread wedges are rich, crumbly, and oh so chocolatey.  The perfect accompaniment to a hot cup of coffee in the late morning or early afternoon. 

Chocolate Shortbread Wedges

1½ cups all purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grease a 9 1/2-inch tart pan with removable bottom.

Beat the butter in a large bowl until creamy. Add the sugar and beat well until fully blended. Mix in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, mix in the flour, cocoa powder and salt until fully incorporated. Spread the dough in the pan, pressing evenly with your fingers to make the dough as smooth as possible. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until firm.

Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Prick the dough with a fork all the way to the bottom of the pan in two concentric circles. Bake in the upper middle of the oven for 63-65 minutes or until the shortbread feels mostly firm around the edges and semifirm in the center. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.

Carefully remove the outer ring of the tart pan. Place the shortbread, still on the pan bottom, on a cutting board. Using a pizza cutter, cut the shortbread into quarters while it is still warm. Cut each quarter into 4 equal sized wedges. Using a spatula, carefully transfer wedges to a wire rack to cool completely.

Notes: Be sure to cut the shortbread while warm (too hard to cut when cool) and cool on a rack - they are difficult to remove if left to cool on pan bottom.

Only 4 more recipes until Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Peppermint Patties

I have caught the Pinterest bug.  There is no denying it, that website can suck hours from my week, and I justify it by saying, "It's better than Facebook.  I get all kinds of great ideas on there!"

And that is true.  I am never angry after looking at Pinterest.  (Same can't be said of FB.)  I haven't played any games that wasted a half an hour of my day (or more!).  (Same can't be said of FB.)  And I find lots of amusing or delicious things to make or do, even if I rarely have the time to do or make them (Probably because I'm wasting too much time on FB!)

And here is my proof.  This recipe came from Pinterest.  Well, that is where I found it initially.  And it is a Pinterest worthy recipe.  Cool, minty, yummy, and incredibly like a real York peppermint patty, but better, because I made them!

Peppermint Patties

3 cups confectioners sugar, separated
1 ½ tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 ½ teaspoons vegetable shortening
1 candy cane , crushed (optional)

In mixing bowl, beat 2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar, corn syrup, water, peppermint extract and 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening until well combined.

Place a sheet of wax or parchment paper on your countertop. Pour 1/2 cup confectioners sugar on wax paper. Add mixture from mixing bowl on top of powdered sugar and work in with your hands by kneading and smooshing ingredients together. (This can be quite sticky, you may want to spray your hands with baking spray before starting to knead dough together.) Knead dough until smooth and powdered sugar is completely worked in. Dough should no longer be sticky but is still pliable. Shape dough into a log about 2 inches by 8 inches long. Wrap tightly in parchment paper and freeze until very firm, at least 1 hour.

Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Remove dough and slice into rounds with a sharp knife. Place rounds onto parchment lined baking sheet. Use your fingers to flatten and make the discs round. Place baking sheet in the freezer and freeze until the rounds are very firm, at least 2 hours (or overnight).

When ready to dip the peppermint rounds, place chocolate and 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable shortening into a double boiler pan over hot (but not boiling) water. Over low heat, stir chocolate and shortening until completely melted. Turn heat off on stovetop.

Line another baking sheet with parchment. Take a few patties from the freezer at a time. Dip one at a time into chocolate and coat completely. Allow excess to drip off and place on parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with crushed candy cane if desired. Repeat until all peppermint patties are coated.

Let patties stand until chocolate is set, about 1 hour. Store at room temperature in an airtight container between layers of wax paper. If kitchen or house is hot, store in refrigerator.

Here is a picture of the middle:
 Looks delicious, doesn't it?  It is!

Only 5 more recipes until Christmas!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Giveaway Winner!

Sorry this post is about five days late!  I got busy with substitute teaching, Christmas shopping, and Christmas baking. 

The winner is . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Congratulations, Rachael!  I will be e-mailing you soon to get you address so I can send out your goodies!

Thanks to all who entered my first giveaway!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Buttermilk Biscuits

In the last few years I stopped buying muffin mixes and have been making all of my muffins from scratch.  I also make homemade rolls and pizza dough.  I don't make biscuits often, but my husband likes them, so I decided to try my hand at homemade buttermilk biscuits.  Am I glad I did!  These biscuits are flavorful and flaky, and best yet, fast and easy to make!

Buttermilk Biscuits
Adapted from Southern Living: 30 Years of our Best Recipes "Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits"

2 cups all purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup cold butter, cut up
¾ cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450ºF. Line baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat.

Put flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. Stir to combine. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly. Add buttermilk, stirring with a fork just until flour is moistened. Turn dough out on to lightly floured pastry cloth. Knead 4 or 5 times.

Roll dough to 3/4-inch thickness. Cut with 2 1/4-inch round cookie cutter. Place biscuits on prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden.

Yield: 16 biscuits

Notes: If you do not have parchment or a Silpat, grease the baking sheet.  After initially cutting out biscuits, gather dough scraps and re-roll and cut biscuits again.  If you don't have a biscuit or round cookie cutter, the mouth of a drinking glass works great.

Only 6 more recipes until Christmas!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cranberry and Pistachio Icebox Cookie

I heard about the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap in October and found myself intrigued.  I love a good cookie swap, and thought it would be fun to mail my cookies to someone else.  I looked into it and signed up.  I have received two of my three packages and the kids and I have enjoyed tasting and eating them!

So far I've received Double Tree Chocolate Chip Cookies from David over at From Ballparks to BBQ and Peanut Butter Hot Fudge Cookies from Susan at The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen.  Both were super yummy!  I hope whoever gets my cookie creations enjoy them, too!

These cookies are a sturdy butter cookie studded with salty pistachios and sweet cranberries.  The combination is out of this world! 

Cranberry and Pistachio Icebox Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook Icebox Cookies recipe

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2½ cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup pistachios, chopped and sifted
½ cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
½ cup sugar, for rolling

Beat butter and sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla extract and beat to combine. Add the flour, salt, pistachios and cranberries. Mix on low until combined.

Divide dough in half. Take one half and roll into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap log completely with parchment paper, making sure to cover ends. Repeat with second half of dough. Refrigerate until firm at least 1 hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove one log at a time from refrigerator. On clean surface spread out 1/2 cup sugar so it is the length of the cookie log. Unwrap cookie log and roll in sugar to coat outside completely. With sharp knife, slice dough into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Place rounds 1 inch apart onto prepared baking sheets. Bake 13-15 minutes or until cookies are golden brown around the edges. Leave on cookie sheet one minute before removing to cooling rack to cool completely.

Yield: 50 cookies

Notes: If you want to make half of the dough plain for a delicious icebox butter cookie, cut pistachio and cranberry amounts in half. Instead of adding them with the flour, spread half of dough on a piece of wax paper. Cover with chopped pistachios and cranberries. Gather dough up and work the pistachios and cranberries in by kneading the dough with your hands. Roll into log. Proceed as above.

Only 7 more recipes until Christmas!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Almond Poppy Seed Bread

I am an almond lover.  I love raw almonds, flavored almonds, almond extract, almond paste, almond anything!  When I saw this recipe in a magazine I subscribe to, I knew I had to try it.  This is a great bread to gift to friends, family, teachers, bus drivers, neighbors, or  anyone you want to share a delicious treat with.  (In fact, enter my giveaway and bake it in the cute foil pans I will send you if you win!)

Almond Poppy Seed Bread
Adapted from Cooking Light "Almond Bread"

6.75 ounces all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons poppy seed
⅔ cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 (7 ounce) package almond paste
2 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup almond milk

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

In a small bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds.

In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, butter, oil, and almond paste. Mix at medium speed until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg. Beat in vanilla. At low speed, add half of the flour mixture and beat just until combined. Add almond milk and beat just until combined. Add remaining flour mixture and beat just until combined.

Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 55-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack.

Yield: 1 loaf

Notes: If you do not have a kitchen scale, 6.75 ounces is a little more than 3/4 cup.  You can use this calculator to convert ounces to cups.  If you do not have almond milk, don't buy it just for this recipe.  Use regular milk.  I use almond milk because I have to buy it for myself every week and figured almond milk in almond bread was a perfect fit.  This is a moist and lovely cake; for added elegance sprinkle 1/4 cup sliced almonds on top before baking.

Only 8 more recipes until Christmas!

Friday, December 07, 2012

Fluffy Lime Salad

I'm not sure where I got this recipe, but I do know that it is fabulous.  Yummy, sweet, and green, perfect for your holiday table!  (And because it uses gelatin, it is make ahead, perfect for those busy Christmas dinners when the kitchen is crowded with dishes being prepared or heated up.)

Fluffy Lime Salad

1 can (8 oz.) crushed pineapple
1 pkg. (3 oz.) lime gelatin
3 tablespoons water
1 pkg. (8oz.) cream cheese, softened
½ cup peanuts
1 cup mini marshmallows
1 container (8 oz.) whipped topping (like Cool Whip)

Drain pineapple, reserving juice; set pineapple aside. In a small saucepan, combine gelatin, water and reserved pineapple juice. Cook and stir over low heat until gelatin is dissolved. Refrigerate until syrupy, about 20-30 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Mix in gelatin mixture until smooth and well mixed. Stir in peanuts, marshmallows, and reserved pineapple. Fold in whipped topping. transfer to clean serving bowl if desired. Cover and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

Yield: 10-12 servings

Only 9 more recipes until Christmas!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Garlic Chicken Puffs

I cook and bake a lot.  I make dinner almost every night for my family, as well as bake goodies for friends, teachers, doctors and family members.  I really do enjoy being in the kitchen and feeding others.  But one recipe area I lack is appetizers.  That's why I was so happy I tried these yummy (and easy) chicken puffs.  These were a snap to put together and a hit with young and old alike.

Garlic Chicken Puffs
adapted from: TidyMom's Garlic Chicken Puffs Recipe

6 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon garlic salt
¾ cup canned chicken breast, shredded
2 (8 count) cans refrigerator crescent rolls

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Line a cookie sheet with foil and spray with no stick spray.

Mix cream cheese, garlic powder, garlic salt and chicken with spoon in medium mixing bowl until well blended.

Unroll crescent rolls and divide rolls into four rectangles (two triangles rolls in each square). Cut each rectangle in half, then cut each half diagonally to create 4 triangles. (You should get 16 triangles from each package of rolls.)

Place 1 teaspoon of chicken mixture onto the center of each triangle and fold corners up and over the filling.

Place puffs on prepared cookie sheet and bake for 11-14 minutes or until lightly browned.

Yield: 32 puffs

Notes: I just mashed the chicken with  a fork to shred it quickly and easily.  You could substitute your own cooked, shredded chicken for the canned chicken.  These also reheat in the oven well!

Only 10 more recipes until Christmas!

Don't forget to enter my giveaway!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

12 Recipes of Christmas 5th Anniversary Giveaway!

This is my fifth year of publishing my annual 12 Recipes of Christmas, and let's face it, without it I wouldn't be much of a blogger!  By the time my 12 recipes are up on the blog this year, I will have brought you 60 delicious recipes that have been tested by me and ready for making!  I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing these recipes.  The first few years they were mainly family favorites, but as the years have moved along, I've tested and sampled many recipes just to find the right ones to share with all of you.

Because of all the fun I have posting these recipes, I wanted to have a giveaway in honor of my 5th year!  This giveaway is open to residents of the continental USA.  It is also open to my family and friends because you probably make up 95% of my readership! 

What am I giving away? 

Heather's Recipe's Giveaway

I am giving away five baking items that will get you in the spirit to try some new recipes and have fun in the kitchen.  There are two packs of cupcake wraps - one in green with a Christmas tree and snowflake motif, the other in red in a lovely scroll design.  Six Wilton Christmas cookie cutters (gingerbread boy, gingerbread girl, snowman, stocking, tree and candy cane).  Wilton Linzer Cookie Cutter set and 3 red foil baking pans for gifting homemade breads in. 

Are you ready to enter?  Here is what you have to do:
Look through my 12 Recipes of Christmas and choose one of the 49 recipes already posted that you would like to try.  Leave a comment on this post about which recipe you want to try.  Make sure I can contact you via e-mail by either having your comment linked to your e-mail address or leaving your e-mail address in the comment section.

That's it!  I will run this giveaway until 10:00 PM central time December 10.  I will choose a winner by random draw.  I will post the winner on December 11.  If I cannot contact the winner within 48 hours, I will draw a new winner.

Good luck!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Mint Frosted Brownies

This recipe came about from a favorite brownie recipe called brownie meltaways.  That recipe is a box brownie mix doctored up with a homemade vanilla frosting and chocolate on top.  I changed the frosting to a mint flavor and adjusted the amount of chocolate on top and came up with these pretty and yummy brownie treats worthy of any Christmas gathering.

Mint Frosted Brownies

1 13x9-inch pan your favorite brownies
⅓ cup butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
¾ teaspoon peppermint extract
2 tablespoons milk
1 square (1 oz.) bittersweet chocolate
1 teaspoon butter

Prepare your favorite 13x9-inch pan of brownies, either from a mix or from scratch.  Cool completely.

Mix butter with electric mixer until fluffy. Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time to butter and mix until incorporated. Add peppermint extract and milk. Mix until creamy and easy to spread. Spread over brownies. Refrigerate until frosting is firm, about 30 minutes.

Heat chocolate and 1 tsp. butter until melted. Drizzle chocolate in lines in one direction over frosting, then drizzle remaining chocolate in lines in the opposite direction of the first lines.

Refrigerate until chocolate is firm, about 10 minutes. Store in refrigerator.

Notes: These brownies are so easy and delicious.  Aren't those usually the best recipes? 

Come back tomorrow for a little giveaway I am having to celebrate my fifth year of doing the 12 Recipes of Christmas!

Only 11 more recipes until Christmas!

Friday, November 30, 2012

It's Coming Next Week!

My annual Twelve Recipes of Christmas will be here on Monday!  I can't believe this will be my fifth (5th!) year of sharing favorite recipes with you.  So please come back on Monday for my first recipe and on Tuesday for a little giveaway in celebration of my five years of Christmas recipes!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A 40th Birthday

This year my husband and I are both turning 40.  Our original plans were to not actually have a party for either of us, but to go away for 4-5 days (without kids!) while my Mom and Dad watched the kids.  We have never gone away for more than a weekend since having the kids and it has been several years since we've even done that.  Unfortunately, both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer this year.  My Dad's prostate cancer was discovered first and successfully removed and his bill of health is excellent.  Unfortunately my mom was diagnosed with stage IV inoperable liposarcoma in early August and passed away on September 16.  It has been a difficult adjustment to life without her, and on top of that her birthday (would have been her 70th) was the day after my husband's 40th birthday.

I had to wrap my head around everything and so planning for Brendan's party was put off a little until I finally got in the mood to celebrate.  When I finally did I had about three weeks to get everything together for a little family soiree.  I decided on a DC superhero theme, as Brendan is a huge Batman and DC comics fan.  I tried to make the theme both fun and not too juvenile.

What I finally came up with was a few neat decorations, a fun cake, and some themed drinks and snacks.  My kids helped by making some posters and Emma even made herself a "Super Emma" costume that I somehow did not get a picture of.  (In my defense, she took it off by the party, getting tired of tripping on her blanket cape.)

My first concern was the cake.  I have a Wilton Batman pan and have made Brendan a Batman cake with it, so I felt he needed something bigger and better.  I asked him what kind of cake he wanted, but he told me to make what I wanted.  So after much internet searching, I was inspired by this Cakes Infinity cake and made my own little version.  The top two tiers are pumpkin spice cake with cinnamon buttercream filling.  The bottom tier is chocolate chocolate chip cake.  Vanilla buttercream frosting with marshmallow fondant decorations.  My brother-in-law told me, "Best cake yet!"  A pretty good endorsement!
3-Tiered Batman Cake

I have also been inspired by all the beautiful tablescapes fancy party planners put on the internet and all over Pinterest, so I made a few decorations for our party table.  First, I made labels on my computer for the party beverages.  I chose four of the top Justice League Heroes and chose names and drinks to go with their hero name.  My first creation was "Flash Fizz."  Since his main color is red, I bought Jones Soda Strawberry Lime flavor and removed all the labels.  I attached the new labels voila, four bottles of Flash Fizz.  I repeated the process with "Green Lantern Soda" (Jones Soda Sour Apple),  "Batman Brew" (Guinness Draft) and "Superman Suds" (Blue Moon Beer).  After making four of each bottle, I placed them on either side of the table so everyone could see them.
Superhero Drinks

Next I made my husband's initials with paper mache letters from JoAnn Fabric.  I painted them blue then used Mod Podge and some pages from an old Batman comic book to really personalize them.  (And let me tell you - first time for using Mod Podge and I love it!) 
Batman Initials

Finally, I bought some sour apple rings from my grocery store on a whim. I called them "Green Lantern's Rings" and then labelled a bowl of pretzels "Riddler's Twists."  Overall I think the table turned out really neat and I know my almost four year old nephew thought it was really cool!

Superhero Party Table
Overall, it was a successful party.  My husband appreciated the fun little details and I had a great time creating them.  Now to figure out how to celebrate my 40th in about six weeks.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cookie Swap

I am so excited!!!!  I just signed up for the "Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!"  You can, too.  If you are a food blogger and want to make cookies for others, then receive cookies others made, then sign up quick!  You have until November 5! 

Here is the link: The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012

Monday, September 03, 2012


So this has been quite an ordeal from my last post to today.  Let me update to what is going on.

On the night of August 10, my mom was sent to the James Cancer Center in Columbus, Ohio by ambulance.  By this time she had been in Blanchard Valley Hospital for five days.  She was having her pain managed by intravenous dilaudid.  She handled the trip well and my dad followed in the car.  She was admitted that Friday night and tests commenced quickly on Saturday.  CT scans and blood draws.  As the week progressed, she had more tests, a PET scan among them.  I arrived on Tuesday after a long but uneventful drive from the Chicago area.

On this evening when I came, she looked good.  Tired, a little worn out, her hair was dirty from not having a proper shower, but otherwise, good.  She was happy to see me.  Got out of bed, hugged me, talked to me about what was going on.  We were waiting for the diagnosis/ prognosis that the doctors would deliver on Thursday.  We were hopeful, despite knowing the situation was grave. I stayed for about three hours before heading over to my sister's house to see my Dad.  He was preparing for prostate surgery the next day.  He had been diagnosed in the Spring with prostate cancer.  Despite putting off the surgery a few times, at my mom's urging he went ahead with it.  He had his surgery at Riverside Hospital in Columbus, less than 5 minutes away from the James Center.

Wednesday was a good day, too.  I stayed Tuesday and Wednesday with an old friend from high school whom I hadn't seen in about 13 years.  She opened her home up to me and was the most amazing and gracious host.  I left her house after filling up on pancakes and bacon to spend the day with my mom.  My brother Mark and his daughter Hannah and my sister Leanne were taking care of my Dad during his surgery.  We wanted someone to be with Mom.  I was happy to take the job.

We talked and reminisced.  We joked and giggled.  We worried and cried.  We were relieved when someone from the desk came and checked my mom's phone in the room, it was off the hook and my brother couldn't call us with updates.  (I had turned my cell phone off due to hospital regulations.)  My Dad's surgery went off without a glitch.  The cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes and was completely contained within the prostate.  Except for some difficulty in the recovery room with low blood pressure, he came through with flying colors.  How I wish we could have stopped time on Wednesday.  Wednesday was such a good day.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Living Far Away From Those You Love

When I moved to Aurora, IL 12 years ago, I didn't think about how hard it would be to be away from my family in Ohio.  I knew we wouldn't get to see each other as often s we had when we lived in Cleveland, but we would make it work.  And we have.

We go home at least three times a year and my parents come out here at least three to four times a year.  My sister used to come out every summer with her three girls when they were younger and my brothers have been out a few times with their families when they were making a trip to Chicago.

But now that there is a health crisis with my parents, it feels like there is a million miles between us instead of the mere 300 from here to Findlay.  In the Spring of this year my Dad was diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer.  He scheduled his surgery in July, but then my mom came down with what we thought was pneumonia.  Turns out it wasn't.  Her left lung filled up twice with fluid, but no pneumonia.  The doctors don't know why this is happening.  (Don't get me started on her general practitioner - aaargh!)

What has been discovered are two large growths on her spleen.  She is due to have a needle biopsy today.  I wish I could be there with all my might.  But I have responsibilities and 300 miles between us.  It doesn't make sense for me to go until we know what is going on.  For now she is stable and doing okay.  My dad is there and capable of taking care of her.  My sister and brother are going to go up and be with her.  I am so thankful that they will be there.

I sure wish I was.

Monday, July 09, 2012

New Favorite Drink!

I spotted a recipe in a coupon circular and saved it until I could gather the necessary ingredients.  I had to shop around and had a hard time finding a few of the things I needed, but I'm glad I found everything.  This smoothie is not only delicious, but healthy, too!  And the best part - you only need three ingredients!!

Pineapple Coconut Smoothie - only 3 ingredients
Pineapple-Coconut Smoothie

1/2 cup Pineapple Orange Juice (I used Dole brand)
1 cup almondmilk coconutmilk blend (I used vanilla Almond Breeze brand)
1 1/2 cups frozen pineapple chunks

Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. 

Yield: 1 large or 2 medium smoothies

By my own calculations, making this as one serving is about 266 calories, so for two it is only 133 calories!!! 

The original recipe only called for pineapple juice, but I wanted to buy the small cans and my grocery store only had pineapple orange juice in the small cans. 

Enjoy staying cool this summer with this smoothie.  Or make it into a low cal pina colada  by adding some rum.  Yum!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Marinated Flank Steak

This recipe is for the best steak marinade, EVER!  Once we had this, I stopped looking for a great marinade for steaks.  This one is it.  So easy and so delicious!!!

I got this recipe from The Weber grill cookbook that came with our first Weber kettle grill we bought after we bought our first house.  That grill was a traditional black kettle grill, we used Kingsford charcoal briquettes (we didn't know there was anything better out there) and lighter fluid to start the grill.  We've since graduated to a gas ignited, hunter green Weber kettle grill and we now use hardwood lump or chunk charcoal.

Every time I make this steak, my husband hugs me and the kids dance around singing, it is that good.

Flank Steak

Flank Steak Marinade

½ cup vegetable oil
⅓ cup soy sauce
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon pepper
1½ pound flank steak

Combine marinade ingredients in shallow nonmetal container. Place steak in marinade turning to coat completely. Marinate covered in refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight. Remove steak from marinade and grill as desired.

Let steak stand for 10 minutes and cut across the grain into thin slices.  Enjoy!

Father's Day Dinner 2012 - Marinated Flank Steak, Taffy Apple Salad, and Red Potatoes

Monday, June 18, 2012

Father's Day 2012

Brendan with the three kiddos!
 Father's Day is always a fun one around our house.  This year was no exception.  With no where to go (went to church in Saturday night, my Dad is fishing in Canada and Brendan's Dad is in Turkey) we had a relaxing morning of Breakfast in bed and hanging out together. 

Emma and Zoe made ties from the Chicago Tribune for Brendan to wear.
The kids got up and made cards for their Dad while I went and bought doughnuts for breakfast.  When I got back I took the dog on a half hour walk.  The girls wrapped Brendan's gifts for me in DC superhero wrapping paper and finished up their special cards.  We then got out the tray, put two chocolate frosted cake doughnuts on a plate along with some orange juice in a glass, and went upstairs to "surprise" Dad with breakfast in bed. 

The morning was a success!  Brendan got an Emerald Isle Classic Notre Dame t-shirt, the new Sherlock Holmes DVD, and a bag of M&M's. 

Flank steak, buttered red potatoes and taffy apple salad
For dinner I made some of Brendan's favorite foods: marinated flank steak, taffy apple salad, buttered red potatoes and ice cream cake.  Definitely dinner fit for a king!  I will share the recipes soon!

Father's Day Ice Cream Cake

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Capture The Moment - Maid of the Mist

I was asked to substitute in my daughter's 2nd grade class while her teacher went to Florida to celebrate her 5th anniversary.  I spent two days with the students and was asked to model some writing for a "Slice of Life" assignment where the students were asked to bring in a picture from an event in their life, then capture the essence of the experience in their writing. 

I chose a picture from our summer vacation when we went on the Maid of the Mist boat at Niagara Falls.  I had forgotten how much fun writing like this could be, and decided I would make myself write one capture the moment experience every month from the photos I have on my computer.  Here is my first installment, written in front of 2nd graders.

Me on the Maid of the Mist - Niagara Falls
It was a warm day as I waited in line to get onto the Maid of the Mist.  I was very excited to see the Horseshoe Falls up close.  When the man working at the front of the line told us we could get on, I rushed up the stairs to the top level of the boat.  I wanted to have a good spot to see the waterfall. 

I heard lots of giggles and nervous chatter as we waited for the boat to move.  Across the river happy, wet people waved at us as they came back form their trip to the Falls. 

The boat moved forward and I saw the Bridal Veil Falls and the hundreds (maybe thousands) of seagulls.  We got to the Horseshoe Falls and the boat swayed drunkenly in the churning river.  I couldn't hear my husband talking over the crashing water.  By the time we turned to go back, I was soaked!

What a ride!

Friday, March 02, 2012

Baby Cake

My husband's cousin Katie was hosting a baby shower  a few weekends ago and asked me if I would make cake for the shower.  She had a picture and wondered if I could make a similar cake.  I looked at the picture and said I would (and could) do it.

I love making new cakes and challenging myself with how I can make it.  For this cake, Katie wanted a pregnant belly (and breasts) in a fancy dress.  Oh yes, she wanted a little foot kicking the inside of the belly.

Pregnant Belly Baby Shower Cake
 I looked at what I had to work with and decided on baking the cake in my largest Pyrex bowl for the rounded belly and my smallest Pyrex bowl for the breasts.  Then I made two layers of a 9-inch round cake and one layer of a 5-inch round cake to go underneath the belly and breasts.  I ended up having to carve off the edges of the large bowl cake as they were a little too big for the 9-inch cake base, and were a little dry and hard because they cooked faster than the middle of the bowl part of the cake.  I then frosted and stacked all the layers and placed them on a cake board in the correct shape.

Close-up of the little baby foot
 The next step was to make a little marshmallow fondant foot and place it on the belly after I frosted, but before I covered the cake in more mmf.  This part went well until I covered the whole thing in the fondant.  The foot part was visible, but I hadn't made the toes big enough to see through the top layer of fondant.  I picked the fondant up off the cake (yikes!) and of course it tore on both sides of the belly.  I replaced the original toes I made with round balls of fondant and replaced the fondant dress cover.  I was able to mend the tears somewhat with water and smoothing, and covering with the black zebra print fondant pieces.  I was happy with how the foot looked now, but a little bummed with the cracked fondant.  In the end it turned out beautiful, and now I know to make the toes bigger!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Homemade Valentine's Day!

In our family, Valentine's Day means making special valentines (that usually include some kind of candy) from paper, felt, stickers, sequins and other artsy craftsy materials to give out to teachers, classmates and friends.

This year was no different.  However with Pinterest and all kinds of ideas out on the internet, we had lots to look at and decide from.  My oldest daughter chose to make felt fortune cookies with a different silly fortune in each one.  She got the idea from her American Girl magazine and so we made 25 colorful felt fortune cookies over the last few days.  Unfortunately I did not get a picture of them.  They were, according to Emma, a hit with her class.  I also made little paper boxes that Emma filled with three Hershey kisses and decorated with heart stickers for each of her classmates.  Also, sadly, no picture.

However, I did get pictures of my youngest daughter's valentines for her second grade class.  (probably because she had hers done a week early, instead of finishing the night before like her older sister!) Zoe chose super hero valentines to make.  I found the idea here: Zakka Life.  I cut out the capes and masks.  Zoe wrote "Have a SUPER Valentine's Day" and put on heart stickers on the capes and drew the eyes on the masks.  We then taped the masks to the sucker and punched a hole in the cape and slid it up the stick in place.  I saw as the kids in her class flew them around the room and compared what color super hero they got at the class party.  Zoe was thrilled with them, and so were the recipients.

Finally, I made candy pencils for the teachers, pairing them with a Valentine's notepad for their gift.  The girls were thrilled to give these out, and I had so much fun making them! The pencil is a pack of Rolo's with a Hershey's kiss for the tip.  I found the idea for the pencils here: Simply J Studio

I actually made my husband  a homemade valentine, but he ate part of it before I took a picture of it!  Anyways, I think I will miss the flurry of activity at the beginning of February when we are deciding on what valentines to make when my girls get older.  I'm going to enjoy it now, while I still can!