Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cookies, Cookies, Cookies (and Spicy Nuts too)

Christmas just wouldn't feel the same without some home baked cookies - so both yesterday and today were cookie baking days at my house.  This year I tried several recipies that are new to me.  Both Cinnamon Thumbs and "Mom's" Best Cookies........and they both turned out delicious.  I found the recipe for Cinnamon Thumbs while doing a search on the internet.  The "Mom's" Best are from Margie on the About.com Quilting Forum.  She thinks her Mom must have really loved these - she found the recipe hand-written 3 different times in her Mom's cookie book.  Sounds like a good endorsement to me.  After I made them I can tell why - they're light as a feather and very yummy!

Cinnamon Thumbs

5 TB sugar
1 cup margarine, softened
2 cups flour
1 tsp vanilla
Cinnamon/Sugar mixture for coating:
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar

Cream sugar and butter together.  Pour remaining ingredients (except coating ingredients) into a large bowl.  Mix.  Form into long snake-like logs as thick as your thumb.  Using a butter-type knife, cut pieces about the length of your thumb.  Place on a greased cookie sheet (I used Pam cooking spray) and bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes.  While still warm, roll in coating mixture (cinnamon/sugar mixture).

"Mom's" Best

1 lemon cake mix (or try other flavor - I used yellow cake)
1 egg
4 1/2 oz Cool Whip

Mix ingredients together.  Drop tsps of dough into powdered sugar and roll to coat. 
I used 2 spoons to scoop with and release with.  Worked out pretty well - these are sticky until they get rolled in the powdered sugar.

Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes until light brown. 

I also did the first steps for making Chocolate Coconut Balls, then put them in the refrigerator overnight, and dipped them in chocolate this morning. 

This recipe is from Hilda on the About.com Quilting Forum.  When I was looking over the recipe it reminded me of Almond Joy candy bars so I decided to put an almond in the center of each ball.  Oh my - these are decadent!   I think I'm going to have to give all of these away or I'm going to be in trouble.

Chocolate Coconut Balls

1 stick melted butter or margarine
14 oz. flaked coconut
1 can sweetened condensed milk
4 cups chopped walnuts or pecans (this is where I made the substitution to an almond in the center instead)
4 tsp vanilla
Mix together in a large bowl, stirring well.

Add and mix thoroughly:
2 boxes (2 lbs) powdered sugar
Form into small balls. Chill so it holds together when dipping in melted chocolate.

2 packages chocolate chips
1/4 square parafin
Melt in a double boiler.  Dip each ball and set on wax paper for the chocolate to set up.  If you refrigerate at this point, it will get freckles.

Today I'm still in the kitchen and having a great time.  I made spiced nuts and also made cookies with my granddaughter.  I know, more cookies..........but I just had to make some traditional Christmas cookies too.  You know.......the kind that are cut out with cookie cutters and decorated.  My granddaughter is getting all grown up, she's 16 now, but we still had fun decorating them together.  Here are the recipes we used.

Zesty Spiced Nuts

2 TB butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 TB water
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
dash ground thyme
1/2 tsp salt (slightly less if nuts are salted)
2 - 2 1/2 cups mixed nuts or nuts of your choice

1. Mix spices together and reserve.
2. Heat nuts in dry skillet and cook, stirring often, until they begin to toast (about 4 min on med high). (I found this enhances the flavor of the nuts but this step could be omitted, if desired - I eliminated it today). Remove from heat and set aside.
3. Put remaining ingredients, including reserved spices) in a large sauce pan and cook on med high, stirring until glaze forms, about 1 minute.
4. Return nuts to pan and toss to combine with glaze.
5. Cook for 2-3 minutes until nuts are glazed and are golden brown.
6. Remove and cool for about 10 minutes on a foil lined baking sheet - separate with a fork when cool.
7. At the end I also coated the nuts with a sprinkling of a cinnamon sugar mixture to dry them out more. Mine seemed a little too sticky.  I prefer to add the sprinkling of the cinnamon sugar mixture even if they weren't sticky.
8. Store in an airtight container or put in snack bags for just the right size snack.

The cayenne pepper that makes these a little bit "hot" is optional so you can leave that out if you prefer - this is an Emeril recipe and you know he likes to add the bam.  Here's a picture of how ours turned out.  This recipe only made a small bowl and they go very fast so you might want to think about doubling the recipe if you decide to make them.

Traditional Christmas Cookies (aka Sand Tarts)

2 lbs butter (4 cups)
4 cups sugar
3 small eggs
8 cups flour
Egg wash:  1 egg white & 1 tsp water

Cream butter and sugar with mixer.  Beat in eggs, blend in flour, then roll out real thin.  Cut with decorative cookie cutters.  Put on ungreased cookie sheet and brush top with egg wash.  Sprinkle with colored sugars and sprinkles.  Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.  Also good for frosting with powdered sugar frosting, with or without tint.  Cinnamon & sugar and a half an almond are also good.  We used the cutting left overs and made Snickerdoodles with a sprinkling of cinnamon & sugar on them.

We also made Russian Tea Cakes (I think another name for them is Mexican Wedding Cakes) but I think everyone already has that recipe or one that's similar.  They're the ball cookies with nuts that get rolled in powdered sugar.  Here's a picture:

I guess that wraps up the baking I'm going to do this year.  My counters are full and goodie packages are in process of being assembled for family and neighbors.  My husband's office workers have already had a  sampling of some of the holiday goodies but now they'll get cookies too.  I may try to catch the mailman tomorrow and give him a little bag of goodies too.  I better save a few cookies for Santa and his reindeer too.  Don't you love this time of year! 

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cooking for the Holidays

I had so much fun this weekend.  I spent the whole weekend cooking - and I love to cook!  My grandchildren like homemade goodies; well, so does my husband, so I decided to contribute to their sweet tooths and make some holiday goodies.  I got onto the Chex website and made regular Chex Party Mix (without Worchestershire sauce, which we're not too fond of), added other things to it (M&Ms, cho chips, mixed nuts, and semi-sweet Puppy Chow) to make it a sweet & savory snack. 

That meant I also made Puppy Chow - they call it something else on the Chex site (Chex Muddie Buddies) but it's essentially the same recipe.  I made 2 batches, one that  used semi-sweet cho chips and one that used milk cho chips.  In the above mix, I used the semi-sweet Puppy Chow.  I packaged the milk chocolate Puppy Chow in individual snack sized packages.  We like that Puppy Chow the best.

I also made the Cheesy Ranch Mix.  I have to take it easy on sugar so this mix is one I really enjoy - I'm saving a lot of it for myself to snack on.  I'm having some for a snack while I type this - got to keep my strength up, ya know.

I also used some Chex cereal and some Crispix to make a Caramel Christmas Mix.  This is absolutely delicious.  A friend shared where to find the recipe on-line.  To find it go to Google Books and type in:  Patrick Lose Christmas Mix.  The first item will be an icon for one of his books.  Click on it and it will open right to the recipe.

I only made half the recipe which still made a huge amount. The whole recipe called for 3 boxes of cereal. Yikes! We loved the taste of this recipe but I'll do a few things differently when I make it again.  Namely, the Crispix broke apart badly, the Chex held up well, so I think I'll only use the Chex next time.  The recipe called for cooking the sugar/butter mixture for 5 minutes.  I think that was too long because it got too thick.   I wish the recipe would have had a temperature listed for my candy thermometer and I would have stopped cooking it when it got to that temperature. Next time I think I'll cook it somewhere between 230-250F so it will pour easier instead of setting up so fast.  I also think I'll put the nuts in a separate container and pour the cooked sugar mixture over them separately before mixing them into the other ingredients.  They didn't seem to get coated at all well doing it the way the recipe suggested.  The final result looked broken up and kind of messy but it sure was gooooooooooood. 

I also made Graham Cracker Toffee and Microwave Peanut Brittle.  They're both soooo good and favorites of both my husband and son.

Both Recipes are easy to make.  Here they are if you want to try them.

Graham Cracker Toffee
1 1/2 pkg graham crackers
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup chopped pecans
Line a cookie sheet with foil and spray with Pam or similar baking spray.  Line with graham crackers.  Heat butter & sugar on low to melt together, stirring to combine.  Raise heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Boil for 3 minutes.  Add nuts and bring to a boil again.  Pour mixture over crackers in the prepared pan.  Bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes on a high rack in the oven.  Cool and break into pieces.

Microwave Peanut Brittle
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup peanuts
1 tsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
To prepare the pan - line a baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with Pam or similar cooking spray (also spray your bowl and spoon).  Mix sugars in a 1 to 1 1/2 quart glass container (preferable Pyrex or Corning with some kind of handles).  Cook in microwave for 4 minutes on high.  Add the peanuts, don't stir.  Cook on high for 4 more minutes.  Stir in butter and vanilla.  Add baking soda and stir quickly before it sets up.  Pour out onto your prepared pan and spread out a little bit.  To get off the candy that has hardened onto your bowl and spoon, soak in hot water.

The final thing I made this weekend was Fantasy Fudge.  It's the recipe from the side of the Marshmallow Cream jar.  It's my son's absolute favorite.  Every Christmas for as long as I can remember, I make some for him without nuts, and some for the rest of his family with nuts.  It's kind of a family tradition around here.

I've started some big bags for my son and his family and for my granddaughter, who doesn't live at home, and her friends.  I'm also making some for some of the neighbors and sending some to work with my husband, for he and his co-workers to snack on. 

The big bags are filled with individual snack sized bags, like the picture above with the Puppy Chow.  The big bags are starting to fill up nicely.  This afternoon I hope to make 2 kinds of cookies to help round them out.  Sometime this week my granddaughter is coming over.  She said she wants to cook with me - fun!  I think we'll make some of the traditional Christmas cookies that use cookie cutters and get decorated with sprinkles.   *:-)

Friday, December 18, 2009

I Won Another Blog Drawing! Wow!

I can hardly believe it, I won Hilda's Blog drawing!  She sent me an adorable bib apron made out of jeans.  I just love it!  Thank you Hilda!  I really enjoy cooking so this is something I will definitely use.  I'm looking forward to wearing it to keep the spatters off my clothes while I cook - well, after I just look at it for awhile.  Isn't it adorable..............

Hilda also sent along a little tin with some beautiful beads and buttons in it.  I have a crazy quilt started so these will be perfect to use on it.  What a nice little bonus - thanks Hilda.

Another Christmas Party

I belong to a neighborhood quilting group too.  We get together at each others homes and do handwork, chat, and enjoy each others company once a month.  The hostess for the month makes lunch for us, so we call ourselves the Lunch Bunch.  We had our Christmas Party this week at Louise's house.  It was such an enjoyable day.  But........I forgot to snap pictures at the party this year.  When I got home I did snap pictures of the gifts I received though.  Aren't they great! 

You can tell this group enjoys food, there are a number of food related gifts (home-made candy & chocolates, home-made carmel corn, home-made bread & fudge, etc.), plus some flavored honey, and also a wonderful cookbook.  Did you see the cute oven fingertip mits?  I can't wait to try the Best Press - I've been wanting some of that for my ironing. The cute calendar is a 2-year one for my purse - that will come in very handy.  And did you notice the item in the center back? It's a framed poem about our Lunch Bunch that one of the ladies made for us.  I've already tried most of the goodies - yum!  I don't think I'm going to have to do too much holiday baking this year since this is such a nice sampling to enjoy.

For lunch Louise made a delicious Raspberry Cheese Blintz Casserole for us.  It was great!  All in all, it was a very nice day, with good food, gifts from the heart, and especially wonderful and supportive friends.  What could be better!

Christmas Party

Our applique group had it's Christmas Party last week.  It was at my house this year.  I enjoyed every minute of getting ready for it - from decorating the house and trimming the tree, to getting the house cleaned and polished, to cooking my part of the meal.

I really enjoyed making holiday poppers for table favors.  I filled them with various chocolates and a rolled up paper with guessing game clues written on it.  Each one had clues to an old time movie and then a question that related to the movie on the bottom where the person could tell about some personal memories - such as a memory of their favorite Christmas, for the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life".  The ladies enjoyed the game so much they said they hope to make it an annual thing.

The table turned out festive and nice.  Here's a shot of a few of the ladies around the table.

Of course there was plenty of good food.  Everyone brought a dish to share which always makes it more fun and interesting................and delicious. 

I made the main dish - Autumn Roasted Chicken & Sausages.  It's a Rachael Ray recipe, if you want to look it up on her site.  I included various vegetables that are good for roasting (peppers, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and asparagas).  The recipe calls for black grapes too - I couldn't believe how delicious grapes are when they're roasted.

Oh, and we had presents - wonderful presents.

These are gifts I will use and enjoy and these are friendships I treasure.  It's so nice to get together with ladies who enjoy applique as much as I do and to get to know each other better.  I don't think there's a one of them I couldn't call day or night if I needed help or just an ear to listen or a shoulder to lean on........or cry on.

I forgot to have someone snap a picture of me at the party so asked my husband to do that when he got home.  It was such a fun day and you can tell it made me happy from looking at my big grin.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I won! I can hardly believe it but I won a blog give-away!

I've just recently started blogging and already I'm loving it.  I even won a blog give-away.  How fun is that!  My friend, Kim, had a drawing for her first year blogging anniversery.  I was one of the two winners.  Look at the wonderful goodies I won:

The Candle Beads will look great on my holiday table.  The pretty fat quarter will be perfect for the Baltimore Album applique I'm working on.  And the beautiful multi-colored bracelet is one she made herself.  I just love it.  I wore it already - last night when my husband and I went out to dinner to celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversery. 

Christmas Party

Our local quilting guild Christmas party was yesterday.  One of the things we did was to make pin cushions to exchange.  They were all so adorable.  I would have been happy to take any of them home.  Here are 3 picture of the table with the pin cushions - aren't they cute and all so unique and creative!


These are the two I made to give away.  This first one is an old fashioned sewing machine.  I tried beaded fringe for the first time and also hand made the decorative straight pins I put in it.  I don't remember when the idea for this one struck me, I may have seen a picture of something similar somewhere on the internet.

This second one that I gave for the exchange is a pear.  The pattern for it was on-line at:  UKlassinus.blogspot.com

I received 2 pin cushions in exchange.  One is a rooster and one is a cupcake.  I think they're just adorable.  Here is a picture of them along with the other goodies I got at the party.

In the bottom left are homemade chocolates that Laura made to give us plus some chocolates from Cerretas Candy Company that Patty got for us.  Then there's the gift certificate for a fat quarter and a wonderful quilting book.  We each got a different book - I just love the one I got.  The books were what was passed in a right and left game.  A story is read, in this case, one that Sandy wrote, and each time the word right or left comes up, you pass to your right or left.  You take home what you're holding when the story ends.  It was a cute story and so nice to have such a wonderful book.

Handmade Christmas Gifts for 2009

I've been making Christmas presents this year.  It's been so much fun.  Gifts made by hand are my favorite kind of gifts to give and to receive. 

For a close group of girlfriends I made this nail kit case:

This is the version I made for a few of the guys in my family:

This is how they look when they're opened:

The pattern was free on-line at http://www.dhbuscher.com/

For some of the gals in my family plus another group of close girlfriends, I made these bracelets:


One of my girlfriends, Kim, taught me how to made these adorable bracelets - she's so nice.  The pattern is called spiral rope.  I've also seen this pattern free on the internet if you'd like to search for it.

My neighbor, Chris, also generously gave me a lesson on how to make earrings.  I tried a few pair to give along with some of the beaded bracelets.

I've also been working on a tote bag crocheted from recycled plastic grocery bags.  It's kind of hard on the arm and hand muscles to crochet with the plastic stips so it's taken me quite awhile to finish.  Plus I decided to make mine fairly large so it's taken some endurance and lots of breaks to get it done.  Haven't decided for sure if I'll give it as a gift or keep it - it didn't turn out quite as cute as I'd imagined it would.  Here are a couple of pictures - one shot has a few grocery items in it to show the size scale.

It's kind of deep, isn't it.  Lots more groceries can fit into this handy bag.  My friend, Kim, showed me how to make this tote bag at a class she taught at our local quilting guild meeting.  She brought a couple of handouts of free instructions from the internet - one of them is Marlo's Crochet Corner.