Monday, December 30, 2013

Grandma lives in an apron!

I think my grandkids believe that I live in an apron. For all they know, I sleep in an apron. It seems that everytime they see me, I have an apron on. It's probably because I'm always and forever in the kitchen, partly my choice and partly out of necessity. I had the "grandma privilege" this year of baking and decorating sugar cookies with 5 of my grandchildren. The other little grandson that was here was still too little to participate, even though we did give him a couple bites of cookie. I had leftover icing from cupcakes that I made the day before, and cookie dough in the freezer that I had made a few days before, so we were good to go. I rolled out the dough, let them cut out the ones they wanted, and after we baked them, I turned them loose with the icing and sprinkles... lots of sprinkles. I think everyone had fun, including Grandma!
  







Christmas Cupcakes...


I  don't always like doing cupcakes... they are very time consuming, and are hard to keep fresh, but I saw these cute little latching plastic containers at the dollar store with red on the bottom and clear on top with a little handle, so... I couldn't resist. This is what my neighbors and a few others got for Christmas this year. I ended up making 10 dozen cupcakes... 5 different flavors of cake, with 5 different fillings, 5 different frostings, and 5 different decorations. Why can't I ever do something simple? The leftover frosting was perfect for decorating sugar cookies with the grandchildren the following day (subject for another post.) One little perk about living in Colorado in the winter... your garage can act as a huge refrigerator if you need to keep cupcakes fresh until the following day. My son with the expensive camera was visiting from California for Christmas, so he had fun taking pictures of my little creations. 

Here are the flavors:
  • Dark chocolate with peppermint mousse filling and peppermint buttercream frosting
  • Spice with cream cheese pecan filling and cream cheese frosting
  • Dark chocolate with raspberry mousse filling and chocolate buttercream frosting
  • Coconut with coconut creme filling and lemon coconut frosting
  • Chocolate with peanut butter mousse filling and chocolate peanut butter frosting






Sunday, December 15, 2013

What to do with broken candy canes? Make cookies, of course!

'Tis the season for candy canes, but what do you do with the broken ones? One solution is to make cookies. For years, I have made candy cane cookies that are sprinkled with crushed candy canes. Our family loves them, but they are quite time consuming, and I needed something a little quicker to make. Besides, I was in the mood for chocolate. So, I went to Pinterest, typed in chocolate peppermint cookies, and found a great recipe. Now, don't get me wrong... I do not think that every recipe that I find on Pinterest is wonderful. By now, I can tell by looking at the ingredients whether or not it will be a recipe worth trying. This one sounded good, so I gave it a try... yummy! I used dark chocolate chips instead of chocolate chunks and I did add my extra secret ingredient, corn starch, but other than that, followed the recipe as printed. Hint: I have found that you can add a small amount of corn starch (about 2 tsp.) to any cookie dough that has about the same consistency as chocolate chip, and it will keep your cookies from going as flat as pancakes. (At least at our high altitude) Give these a try if you like the taste of chocolate and peppermint... a nice holiday treat! 


DOUBLE CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT COOKIES
 Ingredients
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp peppermint extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp corn starch
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chunks or dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup candy cane pieces
Instructions
1.    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.    Beat butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and peppermint until light and fluffy.
3.    In a large bowl stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, corn starch, and salt.
4.    Slowly add flour mixture to butter mixture until well combined.
5.    Stir in chocolate chunks or chips.
6.    Use cookie scoop to drop cookies onto parchment lined baking sheet.
7.    Press candy cane pieces on top.
8.    Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Be sure not to over bake.
9.    Cool slightly then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Here's the recipe for our traditional candy cane cookies...

PEPPERMINT CANDY CANE COOKIES

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 egg
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix sugar, butter, milk, vanilla, peppermint extract and egg.  Stir in flour, baking powder and salt.  Divide dough into halves.  Add 1/2 teaspoon red flood color to 1 half.  Chill.  Heat oven to 375 degrees.  For each candy cane, shape 1 teaspoon dough from each half into 4-inch rope by rolling back and forth on floured surface.  Place 1 red and 1 white rope side by side; press together lightly and twist.  Place on ungreased or parchment lined cookie sheet; curve top of cookie down to form handle of cane.  Bake as directed.  Mix 2 tablespoons finely crushed peppermint candy and 2 tablespoons sugar.  Immediately sprinkle over baked cookies.  Makes about 4 1/2 doz.

Candy cane cookies amidst other yummy sweets in Christmas goodie tray.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas and homemade candy... the perfect combination!

It just doesn't seem like Christmas without making some kind of homemade candy. Just the thought of making fudge or peanut butter balls brings back a flood of happy memories. I still have some of the recipe cards or little pieces of paper with the original recipes tucked carefully into my recipe binder ... the peanut butter ball recipe from Bruce's Grandma or the fudge recipe from my mom.  I'm still trying hard to stay on my Weight Watchers program, so probably won't make any candy until just before Christmas this year... maybe a fun activity to do with my granddaughters who will be here. Here are a few of our favorite family recipes ... enjoy, and Merry Christmas!


MILLION DOLLAR FUDGE

Combine the following ingredients in a large bowl:

3 large (7 oz.) Hershey Almond bars, broken up
1 (12 oz.) package chocolate chips
1 (7 oz.) jar marshmallow cream
2 tsp. vanilla

Bring the following ingredients slowly to boil, stirring frequently:

1 cube melted butter
6 cups granulated sugar
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk

 Boil 7 minutes at a rolling boil; then pour second mixture over first mixture and let stand for a few minutes. Stir until smooth. Add 2 – 4 cups of nuts. Spread in greased pan. 


GREAT GRANDMA LEAVITT’S PEANUT BUTTER BALLS

2 cups peanut butter
½ cup butter
4 cups powdered sugar
3 cups crisp rice cereal

Mix together and form into balls. Chill and dip in chocolate coating.

TERRIBLY TERRIFIC TOFFEE

1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
40 saltine crackers

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a 15x10-inch jelly roll pan or a 12x17-inch cookie sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray. Lay a flat layer of crackers out on the foil. Melt the sugar and butter until a boil is reached. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5-6 minutes or until mixture is thickened and sugar is completely dissolved. Pour this mixture over the crackers and spread to coat evenly. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the toffee becomes bubbly. After removing the pan from the oven, let it sit for 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle on the chocolate chips, let them soften and melt, and then spread them into an even layer. (You can add nuts, cracker crumbs, etc. at this point.) Let cool or refrigerate until hardened. Break into pieces the size of your choice.
 



EASY OREO TRUFFLES

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 package ( 1 lb. 2 oz.) Oreo cookies, finely crushed (about 4 1/4 cups), divided
2 packages semi sweet dipping chocolate, melted


Mix cream cheese and 3 cups of the cookie crumbs until well blended. Shape into 48  (1 inch) balls. Dip in melted chocolate; place on lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with remaining cookie crumbs. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm. Store in tightly covered container in refrigerator.

COCONUT DIPPED CHOCOLATES

1 can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
1 (2 lb.) bag powdered sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter
1 (14 oz.) package coconut
Your preference of amounts and kinds of nuts and fruit

Combine ingredients, roll into balls, chill, and dip in chocolate coating.

This last recipe I have catergorized under my cookie recipes, but it is so simple, unbaked, and dipped in chocolate, that it could also be thought of as a candy. We make tons of these every Christmas. It is one of my most popular catered items at Christmas time. 


RITZ PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

Ritz Crackers
Peanut Butter
Chocolate candy coating

Spread small amount of peanut butter between two Ritz crackers.  Dip in melted chocolate and decorate or sprinkle with red and/or green sprinkles.  Set on wax paper to harden.  You can melt the dipping chocolate in the microwave, 30 sec. at a time until you can stir it smooth. 


EASY MINT COOKIES

Ritz Cracker or Oreos
Chocolate candy coating
Peppermint oil

Melt chocolate candy coating and add a few drops of peppermint oil (Make sure you use oil and don’t use too much as it is very strong.)  Dip Ritz crackers or Oreos.  Decorate or sprinkle as desired.  Set on wax paper to harden.

Some Christmas party trays...



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Pumpkin... more than just jack-o-lanterns!


Back in the middle of October, we went to Diana's Pumpkin Patch in Canon City with my daughter and her family. It was a fun experience with the grandchildren. Part of the admission price includes a free pumpkin, so we came home with a couple of large pumpkins that I have had by our front entrance door until today. 



Yes, I know I'm a little slow with the seasonal decor, but I finally got around to baking and pureeing my pumpkins. It wasn't difficult, just a little tedious, and now I have my year's supply of pumpkin in freezer bags in my freezer. I didn't know it would make so much. 2 large pumpkins = 18 1/2 (15 oz.) bags of wonderful pumpkin puree. Click here to learn how to make homemade pumpkin puree.




I'm not much of a pumpkin pie fan, but there are other yummy pumpkin recipes that I thoroughly enjoy. Here are a few of my favorite...


PUMPKIN RECIPES

Easy Pumpkin Muffins

1 (18.25 oz.) package yellow cake mix
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 12 cup muffin pan or line with paper liners. In a large bowl, mix together the cake mix, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves until smooth. Spoon equal amounts of batter into the prepared muffin cups. Bake for 20-25 minutes in the preheated oven, until a toothpick inserted in the center of one comes out clean.
Suggestion from Mrs. Leavitt: You can also use a spice cake mix and use only half the amount of spices.
  
Iced Pumpkin Cookies

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour                         Glaze
1 teaspoon baking powder                         2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda                             3 Tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon                  1 Tablespoon melted butter
½ teaspoon ground cloves                         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt; set aside. In medium bowl, cream together the ½ cup of butter and white sugar. Add pumpkin, egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla to butter mixture, and beat until creamy. Mix in dry ingredients. Drop on cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls. Bake for 15-20 minutes in preheated oven. Cool cookies, then ice with glaze. To make glaze: Combine confectioners’ sugar, milk, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add milk as needed, to achieve proper consistency. 

MRS. FIELDS PUMPKIN SPICE COOKIES
  
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup white sugar
¾ cup salted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 cup pumpkin (canned or freshly cooked)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup raisins (optional)
½ cup nuts, chopped (optional)
1 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Yield: 3 dozen

Preheat oven to 300°.
In a medium bowl combine flour, soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice. Mix well with a wire whisk and set aside.
In a large bowl blend sugars with an electric mixer set at medium speed. Add the butter and beat to form a grainy paste. Scrape sides of bowl, then add egg, pumpkin and vanilla. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.
Add the flour mixture, raisins, nuts, and chocolate chips. Blend at low speed just until combined. Do not over mix.
Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased or parchment lined cookie sheets, 1 ½ inches apart. Bake 22-24 minutes until cookies are slightly brown along edges. Immediately transfer cookies to a cool surface.

PUMPKIN CAKE ROLL


3 eggs
1 cup fresh or canned pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar
1 t. lemon juice
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. ginger
½ tsp. salt
1 cup finely chopped nuts

Filling

8 oz. cream cheese
¼ cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 375°. Beat eggs for 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin, sugar, lemon juice and dry ingredients. Mix until smooth. Spread into a greased and floured jelly roll pan. Sprinkle with the chopped nuts. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn onto terry cloth dish towel, nut side down, that has been sprinkled generously with powdered sugar. Roll up into a roll lengthwise to cool. Meanwhile, beat together the filling ingredients. When pumpkin roll is cool, unroll and spread on the filling. Re-roll and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Slice and serve.


Holiday Pumpkin Mousse

1 small package vanilla instant pudding mix
1/2  (15 oz) can pure pumpkin
pumpkin pie spice to taste (or cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves)
1 cup milk
8 oz. cool whip, divided

Crunch Topping
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 crushed graham crackers
1/4 cup chopped nuts (I use pecans)
pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon to taste
1/4 cup melted butter

Combine topping ingredients and spread on baking sheet. Bake @ 350 degrees until browned and crunchy. Cool.
Combine dry pudding mix with pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice. Slowly add milk and beat until smooth. Fold in approx. 5-6 oz. cool whip. Top with crunch topping and more cool whip. For parfaits: in tall glasses, layer the mousse, cool whip, and crunch topping, then repeat, ending with a dollop of cool whip and topping. 


The Whole Enchilada Chicken Soup


3 cups fat free chicken broth
1 ¼ cups finely chopped celery
½ cup diced sweet onion
3 cups green enchilada sauce
(1) 15 oz. can pure pumpkin
(1) 4 oz. can chopped green chilies
10 oz. cooked chicken breast, chopped or shredded
1 cup frozen corn
Hot sauce to taste (optional)
 
In large pot, bring broth to low boil. Add celery and onion and simmer until tender. Stir in enchilada sauce and pumpkin. Once soup returns to a low boil, add chilies, chicken and corn, and mix well. Cook an additional 3-5 minutes, until heated thoroughly. Add hot sauce and serve with shredded cheese, crushed tortilla chips, and sour cream if desired.

Tips:
1. You can add canned chicken to make preparation quicker. I usually add 2 cans.
2. I also add one can of black beans and one can of kidney beans (both rinsed and drained) to make the soup more hearty. 


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Who knew teaching could be this much fun?

I think I have always had a passion for teaching... now combine that with baking, and well, I'm in my zone. Tonight I had several ladies from our church over for a dinner roll and cinnamon roll making class. I set up a table in the living room (which is right next to the kitchen, but where there was more room to set up chairs) and plugged in my KitchenAid mixer and we were good to go. 12 ladies and a couple of kids later and the rolls and cinnamon rolls were about devoured. Thanks ladies for a fun evening, and for letting me share my passion and a few of my skills. I enjoyed it! Click here for dinner roll and cinnamon roll recipes.

Busy mixing the bread dough.
 Ladies intent on learning...
Lauren enjoying her roll. (I wish I had looked this cute pregnant.)
  All that was left from the 2 dozen rolls.
Cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lots and lots of cookies!

This was one of those weekends that really made me appreciate the new double oven. I had a catering order for a cookie and punch reception for 100 people on Saturday night. That meant baking 17 dozen cookies on Saturday, after decorating a cake that morning. So I baked a variety of the large bakery style cookies... all my faves... marbles, snickerdoodles, peanut butter chocolate chip, and oatmeal coconut with cranberries, pecans, and dark chocolate chips (these went fast!). Anyway, however you look at it, that's alot of cookies! My kitchen looked like a little cookie factory for sure, and the house smelled heavenly for about 2 days afterwards. A side note... I was very proud of myself for staying on track with my Weight Watchers program... all those cookies and I didn't get into any. That's a first I think. Miracles do happen!

First of the cookies ready for the serving table

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Wedding cake or party cake?

So, if you are a big superhero fan, why not have a superhero party for your wedding reception? That's exactly what this bride and groom did, and the wedding cake reflected the rest of the decorations. Here is the cake with logos from their 4 favorite superheros... Deadpool, Green Lantern, Captain America, and Batman. The logos and side decorations were all cut out with my Cricut Cake. The most time consuming part, other than coloring and assembling the pieces, was putting all of the little windows around the four sides of the 14 inch square Batman tier. The top and bottom tiers were covered with dark chocolate fondant. I must say that this was the most unique wedding cake I have ever designed. 







Newest Additions to Kitchen

So when I replaced my old oven with the new double oven, I lost the storage space I had in the bottom drawer. Don't get me wrong, I was glad to exchange storage space for a second oven. It's just that now I needed somewhere to put all that stuff that I had stored there. Hubby to the resue, after daughter having a brilliant idea. I had two fake drawer fronts under my counter that we decided to turn into "real" usable drawers... perfect size for the items I needed to store plus extra space. Then we also put flip out drawers for my kitchen sink goodies under the sink. I love being organized and the extra bit of space I acquired. Thanks to my hubby for sacrificing some of his extra time to help me out. A side note... I found a new home for my "old faithful" oven. My old oven still worked well, it was just old, and I needed the room in a double oven. I was hoping to find a good home for it, and yesterday I was able to give it to a sweet young mother from our church. So glad someone will be able to use it. 




 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Autumn and Fall Leaves

Oh, how I love the fall... the crispness in the air, the fall colors, and the leaves changing! One thing I always missed about living in Arizona was all the beautiful fall leaves... it just didn't happen. Being in Colorado, I look forward to this season every year. I designed a couple of pretty little cakes with fall leaves this year. I had lots of fun shading the leaves to look like something Mother Nature would do. Some of the leaves were modeled from modeling chocolate, others were part modeling chocolate and part gumpaste. I started with ivory color for some, and yellow for others. I think I liked the yellow ones the best. There are all shades of petal dusts and luster dusts to shade with. Just pick out ones that you think would best reflect what you see in nature. Some of my favorite are spiced pumpkin, mahogany, old gold, forest green, red velvet, and brown. One hint-make sure you get the kind that are "non-toxic" if you plan on eating the leaves. :) Roll your gumpaste/modeling chocolate out thin, but still thick enough to show the veins after using the veining tool. You can also use the back side of a real leaf as a veining tool. I found this out after I had made mine and I wish I would have used  this method instead, as some of my veins disappeared when I thinned out the edges. Let your leaves dry on pieces of crumpled up foil, so they have more of a realistic look and movement. You need to let them dry at least overnight, so that when you shade them, they won't fall apart. Then just be creative! This is the fun part... just use straight colors or blend them. I just use the same soft brush for all the colors. So much fun to be creative with your decorating! That's one reason I love cake decorating.

 Use crumpled foil to dry on

Be creative with your colors
 Simple little 6 inch anniversary cake
 8 inch birthday cake...I added some pine cones to this one

Here is a great little tutorial on making gumpaste leaves. Thanks to Alice Currah for sharing it.  Fall leaf tutorial

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Experimenting with modeling chocolate...

You can make some really cool stuff with gumpaste, but when you try eating it, it's not so great. So, I have been playing around with modeling chocolate lately, so you can eat the decorations without them tasting "nasty." The latest cake I experiemented with was a flower basket for a little girl's birthday. Of course they would want to eat the flowers, so instead of making them out of gumpaste, I used modeling chocolate. It is a little tricky to work with, but of course, they will taste yummy. The things that I don't like about making flowers from modeling chocolate is that you can't thin out the petals like you can with gumpaste, so they don't look as realistic as they normally would. Also, I noticed that the airbrush color does not go on as well. I had a problem with it beading up and taking forever to dry, so I guess I will have to stick with other coloring methods. Also, the modeling chocolate has a yellow tint, so the color is not as true as it is with gumpaste. I really like the way the basket turned out. It was made with 1/2 modeling chocolate and 1/2 fondant...still tastes good. I like the way it resembled a real basket. For the handle, I wound the 1/2 and 1/2 combination around a 1/2 inch clear vinyl tubing piece, and then let it dry for a couple of days. To insert it into the cake, I put 2 hollow plastic dowels in the cake and then inserted the ends of the handle into those, which gave it more stability. The vinyl tubing kept the handle from cracking. 

See how the basket looks real
Modeling chocolate roses
Mums from modeling chocolate
Leaves and daisy from modeling chocolate - not bad, but thicker than I like
1/2 chocolate, 1/2 fondant around vinyl tubing-I ended up cutting some off of each end
Allow to dry a few days