Friday, December 23, 2011

Feeding Friendship: Candy Cane Cookies

When Sarah picked peppermint as our ingredient, I knew immediately that I was going to make my Grandma’s candy cane cookies.  She’s made these every year for as long as I can remember.  The cookies themselves are a basic shortbread-like cookie, but what really makes them are the bright red stripes of peppermint frosting. 

I took a few liberties with the recipe for the dough.  I didn’t have much shortening on hand so I replaced half of it with butter (which I had tons of after overbuying for making gingerbread).  I also increased the amount of vanilla extract and left out the butter flavoring (since I don’t have it and I had added butter).  The result of subbing in the butter was a more puffy and tender cookie than the crisp one I’m used to.  The butter added a nice flavor that I liked, but I missed the crunch.  Next time I may sub only ¼ of the shortening for butter.

Once the dough is made, Grandma uses her cookie press to make cane shapes using a circular die with jagged edges.  I was excited to use my cookie press for the first time and had the dough loaded before I realized that of the twelve dies mine came with, none of them was the one I needed.  Luckily, I own a huge star tip for my piping icing.  Unluckily, my hand gave out after piping about three dozen of the candy canes that way.  I understand now why cookies presses need metal parts – that dough is stiff!  I decided to freeze the rest of the dough for other applications in January.

I went ahead and baked the cookies that I had while I made the frosting. The key is to add enough peppermint extract to get a strong enough flavor to stand up to the plain cookie.  Remember that you will only be putting a small amount of frosting on each cookie.  Once cooled, I piped on stripes and took them to a Christmas party where they were promptly devoured to rave reviews!  It’s so nice to be able to have a taste of my childhood at Christmas.

Candy Cane Cookies
adapted from Grandma Cris
Makes 5 dozen

3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. Crisco
1/2 c. butter, softened
2 eggs
1/4 c. milk
2 tbsp. vanilla

1 c. powdered sugar
1 tbsp. butter, softened
1.5-2 c. milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla
Red food coloring
Peppermint extract to taste

1. Cream together butter, Crisco, and sugar.  Add dry ingredients and mix well.  Add remaining ingredients.
2. Transfer dough to a piping bag and pipe into candy cane shapes onto a lightly greased or lined cookie sheet.
3. Bake at 375 for 6-8 minutes.
4. To make frosting, sift powdered sugar and mix in all other ingredients.
5. Once cooled, pipe lines of frosting onto cookies.

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas (inside)

The only gingerbread I had ever made before this year was graham crackers and store-bought frosting, but I set out to make one completely from scratch. I mentioned this to Veronica and Mike on our trip back from Thanksgiving and we all started brain storming what sort of things we could make - trailers, lighthouses, outhouses, post offices....

In the end, Mike stuck with the unconventional theme and made a replica of the Alamo (see also, their chicken coop).

I went a more conventional route, but I love it.

We used a rather bland gingerbread recipe so when I made the leftover dough into gingerbread men, I followed Veronica's request for chocolate gingerbread men by dunking them in ganache.

They didn't all make it out of the ganache unscathed.

With the house smelling like Christmas, it was time to get the decorations up.  I've been slowly growing our Christmas decorations over the years and they are almost all handmade.  I decided to add a pompom garland to the tree this year following the instructions from One Pearl Button.  I used some scrap yarn I had lying around so I ended up with a pink, blue, green, and silver garland.  A bit unconventional, but I like it.  Plus, the non-Christmasy colors mean it can reappear for other festive events.  Birthday garland anyone?

For the past five years, I have made a photo ornament of Geoff and I. This reindeer is for 2011 - just waiting for a nice picture of the two of us.  Here's the whole tree:

I made a few more decorations with scrap yarn.  I get my craftiness from my mom who made all of the decorations for she and dad's first several trees. A few years ago, she made me a set of red crochet snowflakes like the ones that decorated their trees thirty years ago.  I had more than would fit on my tree to I made another garland to show them off.

This is all the snow we will be getting in Texas this year - highs in the 60s and 70s all week!  With the house decorated, I wanted to make a little something for my desk at work.  I used this tutorial that I spotted on Craftzine.  So easy.  So quick.  So cute.

I've also been hard at work making Christmas gifts. I'll be sharing most of them after Christmas (so as not to spoil the surprises), but I did want to point any knitters out there still looking for last minute gifts towards this scarflet. I knit it up in some luxurious Malabrigo Rasta in about three hours. It is sooooo cute in this yarn that it was really hard for me to give up. They had a gorgeous mustard skein too that I am thinking about heading back and getting. Maybe a hat for me?

Christmas is also a great excuse to get out of the house and spend time with friends. We went to the McNay Museum of Modern Art (which is just around the corner from us) to see their Nightmare before Christmas exhibit last week and this weekend we attended a Christmas party at the head of my department's house and then donned our Christmas jammies for another party hosted by some friends we met through Veronica.  And now it is just six days until Christmas!!!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Foto Friday {36}

Saturday December 10: Fall
Sunday December 11: Quick and Easy Christmas Gift
Monday December 12: Sweet Potato Minestrone
Tuesday December 13: Angel Tree Gift
Wednesday December 14: More Angel Tree Gifts

Thursday December 15: McNay Museum
Friday December 16: Norman the Gnome

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rye Swirl Bread

Does anyone remember the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry steals a loaf of marble rye from an old lady?  I'm not saying you should knock a stranger down for this bread, but it is pretty darn good.  Every time I make a recipe from the Bread Baker's Apprentice, it comes out perfectly.  This bread was only slightly more complicated to make than the standard multigrain bread I usually make for sandwiches and it was a fun change of pace.  The only thing I would do differently next time is add caraway seeds into the dough.  Great for toast (but not with jam) and delicious for a pastrami, swiss, and hot deli pepper sandwich.  Yum!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Foto Friday {35}

Saturday December 3: Texas Snow

Sunday December 4: Gingerbread House!!
Monday December 5: Bowl of Fun

Tuesday December 6: Tree is Up!

Wednesday December 7: Hank meets our backyard visitor

Thursday December 8: Hot Chocolate

Friday December 9: Mini Tree

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Feeding Friendship: Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes hold a very special place in my heart.  The first meal I ever cooked for Geoff was pork chops and sweet and spicy glazed sweet potatoes.  My mom, grandma and I made a comically large mess (I ended up with sweet potato and coconut webbing between my fingers) trying to craft Paula Dean's marshmallow-stuffed sweet potato balls.  And my contribution to the last several thanksgivings has been mashed sweet potatoes with orange and chipotle.  My latest favorite is sweet potato falafel from 101cookbooks.

I've made these a couple of times, and they are delicious!  You need to plan a bit ahead to allow enough time to bake the sweet potatoes until they are very soft.  You want the sweet potatoes to be completely smooth before you incorporate the other ingredients.  I have made this with both regular flour and chickpea flour and I prefer it with the regular flour (if you can handle the gluten).  This, along with stirring them gently and spooning  blobs onto the pan without compacting them, will result in light and delicious falafel.  I served it with a simple tzatziki and a Greek chopped salad for a light winter meal.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Giving Thanks for Family and Friends

For the last several years, we have been in State College for Thanksgiving because we were too far from our families to make the trip.  This year, however, we are just an 8 hour drive from my family in Oklahoma City (that's close in the Midwest - also, for my East Coast readers, Midwest does not refer to Ohio - but back to my point).  The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we piled into a van with Mike, Veronica, and Veronica's aunt to head up I-35.  Five drivers, two hours each, and a stop for Cain's chicken later, we arrived at my aunt's house while everyone else continued on to Wichita.

On Thursday, my parents and brother drove down from Kansas for Thanksgiving dinner for a total of 24 people at dinner.  24 VERY LOUD people.  Seriously, I'm the quiet one in this family (frightening, right?), and sometimes I forget just how loud we can get.  I love it, though, and miss being around all the madness when we leave.  The picture at the top is almost all of my cousins on my dad's side looking nice and composed, but I think this photo (and the 15 others like it) captures us better.  

On Friday afternoon, my parents, Kevin, Geoff, and I drove up to Wichita so that Geoff and I could attend my 10 year high school reunion.  We met up at a wine bar downtown.  Above are the centerpieces I made for the occasion.  2001 does not seem that long ago! 

Before the reunion, we had dinner with my close group of friends.  We hadn't seen all of the girls since Veronica's wedding so it was great to catch up.  When you have known people for so long, getting back together always feels incredibly natural and we talked and talked like we had seen each other yesterday.

We did have color photography in 2001, I swear.

The reunion was so much fun!  About half the class came (there were only 23 of us ), and it seems like everyone is doing really well.  It's always difficult to tell where peoples' lives will take them after high school, but everyone seemed happy, mostly employed, and in good health - what more could you ask?  There were lots of marriages and masters degrees and a few kids.  A lot of the class has moved away from Wichita, but were able to get back for the reunion.  I can't wait to see what everyone is up to in another five years.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Foto Friday {33 &34}

Saturday November 19: Cutting a new dress
Sunday November 20: Kale, Pancetta, and Grape Pizza is delicious!
Monday November 21: Can't get over the sunsets back in the midwest
Tuesday November 22: the mustache lasted 45 minutes
Wednesday November 23: my baby cousin Finn
Thursday November 24: Thanksgiving with my cousins
Friday November 25: My boys
Saturday November 26: Class Reunion!!!
Sunday November 27: Road Tripping back to San Antonio
Monday November 28: It's getting cold
Tuesday: November 29: Brought a taste of Lawrence home
Wednesday November 30: Puffy Tacos, a San Antonio classic
Thursday December 1: Face masks
Friday December 2: Birthday Girls
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