Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Baking on the Back Burner

Sorry no recipe postings for Day 4, 5, and mom did pass away on Saturday evening and it has taken the mojo right out of me. On Saturday DH and I spent the day with her and from all appearances and the Hospice nurse's comments, time was close and she was right. Four hours after we headed back home mom peacefully left that cancerous broken body behind and headed up to greener pastures. We shall meet again in heaven but for now I am trying to get my groove back and my sister-in-law said I could do what Stella did but DH probably wouldn't approve. I've not seen the movie but now I'm curious about it. Probably not an option.

I did make caramels on Friday, 2 batches in fact. The first batch I overcooked and it turned out between the consistency of very chewy caramels and hard candy...teeth breakers if you start biting them. I switched to a new recipe and tried second-guessing my candy thermometer and they did come out better but a teensy bit on the soft side. Kind of drove me nuts so I decided not to post either recipe. I had the fail-success scenario making them last year as well. Need a new candy thermometer it seems!

Last night I made another batch of peanut butter balls...the first one was GONE! They are just too good. I took some up to dad on Saturday and he raved over them so I made some more and maybe they will last until I see him in a few days to share some more.

Still haven't gotten a tree. Did a bit of online shopping in protest but I cannot get motivated to get sewing so I have no choice but to purchase a few things. As I said...I have no motivation other than to work, make peanut butter balls and do a bit of knitting on this crazy cool felted purse pattern that I'll show you when it's done.

And it's colder than a witch's......well you know! It's too cold for men nor beast. Crazy when 32 degrees is downright "balmy" and we're looking forward to those temps to return on the weekend according to the weather man.

So, I'm abandoning the Bake-A-Thon while I take an I-miss-my-mommy "breather." If you only try one of the recipes I have posted so far, please do the PB balls. I promise this is a keeper recipe if you have a family that loves PB and chocolate like I do. I'll try to get the tree up this weekend. And the beat goes on....and I'll be baaaaack and don't take any wooden nickels. : )

Thursday, December 3, 2009

In Between Baking - some sewing!

I have been wanting to share this purse made up from a pattern and fabric purchased during a fabric shop-a-thon that my friend, Stacey, and I did a few weeks back. We found this pattern at Nancy's Sewing Basket in Seattle. I won't mention the pattern designer right now as I can't remember the proper spelling of her name for one thing and for another, I am not sure I recommend her patterns. More on that later. Back to Nancy's - this is a super fabric store, lots of cool buttons and fabrics for garment sewing, over the top stuff really and all in a nice little "hole-in-the-wall'ish" shop with friendly but leave-you-alone type of staff, helpful when needed but not in your face and over your shoulder. I LOVE those kinds of stores where you can visit and talk and feel fabric the live-long day and not feel like you're in a chain store full of stuff that isn't about sewing. Anyhoooo.....I bought some pleather at another fabric store on our trip and a pattern from this new designer at Nancy's because the sample bags at the store were ADORABLE. But in all honesty the bag construction directions were confusing, over-done and construction not logical yet some cool techniques for interfacing. Mixed bag! Excuse the pun. Hand-drawn and written diagrams added to the confusion with messy handwriting that was difficult to read. I find Amy Butler sewing directions in her patterns to be too verbose for me also but at least they are easy to read and you can just skip over the details to the main components and get through to a finished product. I guess I've been sewing too long and I can figure out an easier way to do almost everything but getting there through the verbose scribblings and meanderings of a designer can be the hard part. You start thinking the designer knows way more than you because they are, after all, a DESIGNER and you're an idiot to not understand a thing they are going on and on about in the instructions! NOT! Anyhow, Stacey felt the same way but we have managed to sew up some of these bags. Here's my first attempt...

Daughter-in-law, Emili, got this one for her birthday in November and I believe she actually liked it! I have seen her using I am working on one for DD for Christmas but she has requested a larger one so it's still in the cutting out stage.

With my mom's illness, I haven't sewn like I normally do. Heading up tomorrow to see her again, God willing she is still with us and the pass doesn't get snowed on heavily to prevent my going. Her time is short and our visits are very quiet and sweet now. She sleeps most of the time...lots of morphine on board right now. Cancer is a sad thing to watch progress but thank goodness there are drugs to help people get to the other side of it. Glad we don't have to take our earthly bodies up to heaven with us.

Back to the purse (I know, this has been my state of mind the last few months....can't keep focused on anything for long!) Isn't the trim around the top edge cute? We found that at Pacific Fabrics outlet store on 4th Avenue in Seattle. Again, it's a pleather and you know I love natural fibers but this pleather is fun and affordable and really classy looking with the trims and coordinating glitzy fabrics. Plus my Black Beauty old 1954 Singer sails right through it with a 20 gauge needle (yes, I do remember how to spell gauge after all!). The greatest thing about this design is the inside pockets. Em told me it's the most organized purse she's ever owned because of the nice innards.

I have a couple of wool purses I've been working on too but they are gifts and I can't display them here or might spoil some surprises.....later on those.

Off to make tomorrow's recipe...homemade caramels! Get some heavy cream and corn syrup on hand for this one....until then, happy trails.

Baking our Way to Christmas - Day 3

Well, today friends is the most popular recipe of the Season in my house. It's PEANUT BUTTER BALL day. This is a no-bake day but you will need a double-boiler type of setup similar to this. I don't like a real double boiler but rather use a Pyrex glass bowl over a simmering small pot of water to melt the chocolate and a heat-proof spatula to keep it all tidy as possible.

But, I's the recipe. I will keep it short and sweet today as I need to get to town for a haircut and to pickup my work and make some money. Tomorrow we're making homemade caramels. They are scrumptious.

Peanut Butter Balls
1 c melted butter (do NOT substitute margarine please...these are decadent)
1-1/2 c graham cracker crumbs
1/2 c chopped nuts (I like walnuts)
1 c coconut flakes or shredded, any kind really
1 one-pound box of 10x /confectioner's sugar
1 tbs vanilla extract
1 12-ounce jar of crunchy peanut butter
Melt the following together - I would have an extra bag of chocolate chips on hand in case you're heavy-handed with the chocolate...hey, it happens!
1/2 stick of paraffin (optional)
1 12-ounce pkg of chocolate chips (again, real choc chips, semi sweet or sweeter)

I get out my food processor to crumb up the graham crackers. Then the nuts added to chop. Then I dump this into a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Here is the consistency I get. Keep in mind the melted butter will setup in the recipe and you'll have a more solid "dough" once this happens.

Start melting the chocolate while you're mixing or shaping up the balls. I like 1 to 1-1/2 inch diameter balls. I shape them all and put them on a plate next to my melted chocolate and paraffin mixture. That might sound kind of weird but the paraffin makes the shine nice on them and gives them a nice smooth finish. Your choice on this....I figure if my arteries don't clog eating these babies, what's a little paraffin going to hurt? It's food grade paraffin. Lay out some wax paper to place the dipped PBB on to setup. It's a bit messy so get things setup ahead of time, not on the fly. They need to set for a while before you try to move them. Here is my total setup.

I like to use a fork to roll the balls around in the chocolate. I've tried egg dippers like one would use for Easter egg dyeing but the fork works the best. A spoon holds onto too much chocolate and you get lots of puddles at the base of the PBB's. Here they are all finished. They freeze great by the way. I will tell you right now that I'm going to have to make another batch....we dug into the freezer for some last night while watching TV...didn't hold out enough "rejects" I guess! Happy trails until next time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Baking Our Way to Christmas - Day 2

Good morning, friends. It's day 2 of the get-us-in-the-spirit bake-a-thon. That's a lot of dashes right there! : ) I hope your Wednesday is boom-shakalacking along or at least clunking or trudging...going in the right direction anyhow. I feel my spirits lifting some with the daily devotional Advent reading and a new recipe on the horizon. I have yet to get out Christmas decorations or even ponder a tree, but at least I'm thinking about it. That's progress in the Spirit department. That reminds me of a high school cheer...we won't go there right now.
So, make yourself a treat like I do every day in the afternoon (that's not a bottle of's Starbuck's sugar-free vanilla syrup for my coffee) and don your apron and start messing up the kitchen!

Here's the scene out my dining room as I baked up today's recipe. Those dots are sheep grazing.

Today's recipe is made from the extra bags of cranberries I purchase in the produce department at the grocery store at Thanksgiving time. Stores don't seem to carry them at other times of the year. It's right off of the package, with a few deviations. These cranberries freeze great. Of course if you have some dried cranberries, I know they would work just as well. And awaaaaayyyyyy we go......

Cranberry Nut Bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease your pans. This recipe works well as mini loaves, larger loaves (9x5 inch) or muffins. Baking time is the only difference in what size or choice of pan you make. For sharing, I like to use the mini loaf pans. I got 10 "throwaways" that I wash and reuse for $3 on sale. They are about 4-1/2 x 2 inches at the base and flare out at the top. One recipe fills 4 of the pans so I doubled it and made 8 mini loaves.

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup orange juice
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 tbs grated orange peel
1 egg, well beaten
1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, cooarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped nuts
No mixer needed, just a nice sturdy spatula or a wooden spoon, etc. With quick-breads like this, it's important not to over-mix so the batter/dough doesn't get "tough." Put all dry ingredients in a bowl together and mix. Add the orange juice, oil, peel and egg and mix until it's, well... mixed! Fold in the chopped cranberries and nuts until they are dispersed evenly. I fill the pans half-full to two-thirds full.

Using both racks of the oven, I spread the pans out. The top rack loaves will have split tops so if you care about that, do a switcharoo halfway through baking. The recipe calls for baking a normal sized loaf for 55 minutes so I guaged accordingly with these little pans. They took almost that long but I use the toothpick inserted method. You want it to come out with "heavy" crumbs, not wet.

Cool on racks and throw them in the freezer in a bag until you're ready to share. Keep out any rejects for "quality assurance." That's hubby's job is to be my tester. Enjoy the day. Tomorrow we're making either peanut butter balls or homemade caramels.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Baking Our Way To Christmas - Day 1

Happy December, friends. I know I've been gone. Haven't felt like blogging but it's time to get busy and start thinking about gearing up to Christmas and share some joy with my cyber friends through some recipes and my in-person friends with the ensuing treats! With my mom's cancer at the very end stages, I have to really find motivation somehow to both blog and to gear up for Christmas.

I decided on 2 things. One is to start my Advent meditation book along with a Bible reading from the start of Advent which was last Sunday through Epiphany and gets me focused on why we make such a hullaballoo over this time of year, Jesus and his birth, right? It's a good focus of course know, I love to bake, so it was a perfect fit when I was looking through a Country Living magazine and here was a link to a cookie recipe a day for the month of December, 25 recipes in all. They have some nice recipes although there is not nearly enough chocolate involved, so I am improvising and here on my blog I'm giving you 25 recipes for now until Christmas. I put the link for the Country Living recipes if you want to take a look but trust me....the recipes I will share are proven by the baker/goodiemaker in our family...ME! So live a little and give them a try. Maybe it's just what you need to help you get into the spirit too. I am SO NOT INTO SHOPPING except for ingredients! first word as a baby was "cookie" so that says something, right?
But as a disclaimer, I'm not sticking to just cookies as I like to make caramels, peanut butter balls and some quick breads that are yummy too and festive to share. So, get some containers ready for the freezer as we are going to share these goodies with our friends throughout the Season.

First day recipe Vanilla Cookies

You will need a cookie press or at the very least a rolling pin and some cookie cutters for shapes.

16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
2-1/2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In electric mixer bowl or with a hand-held mixer cream butter and sugar for a couple of minutes until very fluffy and light in color at medium speed. Scrape bowl as needed. Add the egg, vanilla, salt and beat some more. On low speed mix in flour a bit at a time until well blended.

Pack the dough into a cookie press with Christmas shaped disks and press onto an ungreased cookie sheet spacing cookies 1 inch apart. If rolling and cutting, you know what to do. Roll to about 3/8" thick and cut and put on the sheet, etc.

Bake until light golden around edges although I like my cookies slightly underbaked so they remain soft. The recipe says 10 minutes but I use convection bake on my oven and it takes about 8 minutes to get them firm enough to remove but still soft enough to enjoy. Remove from cookie sheet and cool on a rack.

Of course, you can add in food coloring paste to make colored cookies or top before baking with colored sugars but I am putting my baked cooled cookies into the freezer to decorate with icing later. I thought we'd make an afternoon of decorating later in the month as we get closer to Christmas.

Tomorrow is another day, my friends. Get your pantry stocked for baking cause you never quite know what I'm going to throw out there! Sugary hugs to you!

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