Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Peanut Brittle

20.  Candy and goodies are every child's delight at Christmas.  Though I have to say...I still have a bit of child in me, especially when it comes to enjoying sweets.  Each year, candy making is on my "to do" list along with cookie baking.  Usually I make chocolate covered candies...this year, peanut brittle made the top of the list.  My recipe is about 25 years old...tried and true!
Peanut Brittle   
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 cups raw peanuts
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda

In a 5 quart pot add sugar, corn syrup and water stirring together to incorporate the sugar.  Bring to a boil and cook till hard-ball stage is reached, approximately 260 degrees.  Add peanuts to the boiling sugar and continue to boil, stirring constantly.  Peanuts will begin to toast and brown as well as the sugar.  Bring mixture to hard-crack stage, approximately 300 degrees.  Turn off heat and quickly add vanilla and baking soda.  Stir candy quickly as the mixture becomes foamy and puffs up.  Incorporate all baking soda and pour candy directly onto a heat safe  cold surface or cookie sheet.  Using a silicone sheet is the ideal or marble slab or counter.  Spread candy evenly to the edges of the pan.  Place on a rack and allow to cool completely.  When candy is completely cooled and hardened, pick up large piece of candy and turn over.  With the back of a metal spoon, begin to tap candy.  Cracks will form and candy will break. 
Place candy pieces in air tight container or sealed bags.  Store in a cool place.
or wrap up in delightful little cellophane bags and give as gifts to your friends and loved ones!   Enjoy!

"...Let this season bring a renewing of the mind and a cleansing of our lives by God's pure presence.  Let His joy come to our weary world through us."
G. Kennedy

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chicken and Dumplings

19.  When I think of comfort foods, Chicken and Dumplings remain at the top of the list.  I've tasted many variations of Chicken and Dumplings and have compared a variety of recipes.  So here is my recipe that makes my family say "yum"!

Chicken and Dumplings 

4 chicken breasts or 6 thigh/leg pieces
7 large carrots, peeled and sliced
3 stalks celery with leaf tops, chopped in pieces
1 medium to large onion, chopped small, separate onion in two portions
1/2 cup butter
4 cups flour  (decrease for less dumplings)
salt / white pepper
1/4 cup parsley, chopped or 2 Tablespoons dry parsley
4 cups hot soup stock  (decrease for less dumplings)

Place chicken in a 6 quart stock pot and cover with water, adding salt.  Bring to a boil and cook the chicken till very tender.  Remove chicken from pot and transfer to a bowl or plate to cool to touch. After chicken cools, pull chicken from the bone and cut in small pieces or leave large chunks.  Discard bones and skin.   If you want your stock to be clear,  strain and return to stock pot.  Bring to a slow boil.  Place carrots, celery and one portion of the onions, salt and pepper into the boiling stock and continue cooking.
Place butter and one portion of onion in a 6 cup microwave safe bowl, cover and cook on high for 3 to 4 minutes till onions are tender.  You may also place butter and onion in a small pan and sauté till onions are clear then transfer to a bowl.
Add flour, salt and pepper to the bowl of cooked onions.  With a 1 cup measuring cup, begin to scoop out hot stock, careful not to catch vegetables in cup, only stock.  Pour hot stock into bowl with flour and onions.  Add 4 full cups of hot stock.  With a large spoon, begin to blend onions, flour and stock together to form a sticky, lumpy dough.  Dough should not be runny or too difficult to mix.  Add or reduce amount of stock to adjust dough.  Once you have incorporated all the flour and the dough is lumpy, you are ready to make the spoon dumplings.
Add approximately 3 cups of water or chicken stock to the pot, for volume.  Bring the soup back to a rolling boil.  Using a large spoon, 2 Tablespoon  approximately, (or small spoon if you desire),  heat the spoon in the boiling soup then scrape across the top of the dough and roll the dough in the spoon up the side of the bowl.  You may want to oil the spoon lightly before heating in soup.
(This is a Polish drop dumpling called "knedle", mostly made with potatoes.  My mother would make these for dinner and smother them with fried onions.)
Drop dough from the spoon directly into the boiling soup.  Continue to make the dumplings, heating the spoon between each dumpling.  Stir the soup to keep the dumplings from sticking to the bottom.  Once all dumplings have been made, continue to  simmer till all the dumplings float to the top.  
Cook for 20 minutes more.  If the soup sits, it will turn thick, serving immediately, the soup will be lighter.  Sprinkle parsley over the soup right before serving.
I like to serve this soup with crusty bread or flatbread with cheese slices.  Great winter warm up...or when you need a bowl of comfort!!


John 8:12
 "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cookies Galore!

18.   Christmas in my house, growing up, was an exciting time.  My mother loved to bake and cook and often had many a  family favorite recipe cooking on the stove or baking in the oven .  My father would buy a 25 lb bag of flour and my mom would take a day or two and from morning till night, would bake and create wonderful sweet delights for our family.  She not only made cookies, but is an excellent bread baker.  Her Polish poppyseed and nut rolls were always a highlight and still are.  I would always find my way to the kitchen when she was baking...I would be tasting dough, begging to help, wanting to make my own baked creation, licking the beaters, sneaking cookies from the drying rack.  How sentimental I am when it comes to reminiscing of our families food traditions.

When I married and started my own traditions...I continued with the baking marathon. This past week my daughters and I made about 12 different types of cookies, some tried and true favorites and I always like to make a few new recipes each year. 

Here are a few pictures to enjoy.

"...while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads..."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pizzelle Perfection

17.  The pizzelle is an Italian delight...thin, waffle like cookie, with an imprinted  snowflake design, baked on an iron press.  When Christmas is just around the corner, I begin to plan my cookie baking.  Pizzelles are always the first cookies I make, because the longer they rest, the more delicious they become.  

I've made all different flavors of pizzelles but my most favorite is the traditional anisette.  This year I used anise oil and anise seed.  I crush the anise seed with my mortar and pestle to "wake-up" the oils and flavor hidden in each delightful seed.  
The dough for this recipe is very sticky and wet but not runny.
I use a cookie scoop to measure out the dough and place it on the heated iron.  Your fingers don't get burned, no cookie dough is lost on your hands and every cookie is the same size.  This recipe came from a sweet family in Pennsylvania and it was their "Noni's" recipe.  That is Grandma in Italian and I think it is the best I've ever tried!

Noni's Pizzelle

1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup oil
3 tsp anise oil or anise extract
2 tsp anise seed, crushed
1 tsp vanilla, optional
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3 1/2 cup flour

Cream together the butter, oil, anise oil and seed, vanilla, eggs and sugar.  Whisk together to incorporate the sugar.  Add flour and baking powder and mix till dough stiffens and becomes sticky.  Place plastic wrap over the bowl and let the dough rest 20 min.

Lightly spray a pizzelle iron with oil and heat iron till hot.  Begin to drop dough in 2 inch balls onto the iron.  Wait until the steam has subsided and check for doneness.  It is your choice if you like light, slightly browned or very browned cookies.  Remove from the iron quickly with tongs to a rack and allow cookies to cool and harden.   Store in an air tight tin.  Will stay fresh up to 3 weeks.
Yield approx 25 cookies.

My house is filled with the smell of anise...lovely!
Wish you were here to share a cup of tea and a fresh anise pizzelle made just today!

"Although, it's been said, many times many ways...Merry Christmas to you!"

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Fresh Pine Wreath

16. I love the smell of pine and cedar...the smell "is" Christmas!  Candles scented with pine are yummy smelling...but there is nothing like fresh, cut, crisp, cold, prickly pine.  

Each year when we choose our Christmas tree, I always scoop up the abandoned branches cut off the bottom of purchased trees.  The thought of the treasured branches being stepped over and cast aside makes me want to rescue them!  They can be used in so many ways.  A nice fresh pine wreath, decoration in a fresh pine centerpiece, surrounding a pillar candle...the options are endless.  Years ago, I would collect pine branches, dry them and create a Christmas Pine Potpourri filled with cinnamon sticks, mini pine cones and pine oil with red holly berries.

At our local garden shops the fresh pine wreaths are beautiful but very pricey.  The faux wreaths look really good decorated and can be reused year after year.  But decorating with a fresh pine wreath brings a special aesthetic charm to your home.

My rescued pine branches were ready to become a creation of beauty...so I pulled out the wreath frame, floral wire and my pruners and got to work...
layering pine branches & cedar branches and wrapping floral wire tightly to hold the branches in place.  The first layer is usually skimpy but creates a very good base.
I went around the wreath three times with branches but wanted to keep it tight, not spread out and bushy.

Then I attached a red french ribbon bow with long streamers.  Because the wreath will be hung outside, I tucked parts of the ribbon under the wire to keep the ribbon in tact.
On the underside, take your floral wire and wrap it around four of your fingers about 8 times to create a loop for hanging on a nail or door hook.  You could also lay the wreath on a table and place a punch bowl in the middle or a cake pedestal filled with Christmas cookies or a cake.
I placed the wreath in my front window and it was a perfect fit!

Try creating something from fresh pine or cedar.  You might have a pine tree in your backyard or a cedar bush in your front yard.  Grab your pruning shears and clip away.  Or just add several small branches as a decoration on a platter of cookies or in a fruit cup.

"Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree...how lovely are your branches."

Begonias and Beanie Hats

15. The other day my daughter Emily and I were talking about crocheting. She has been wanting to make a hat...so I said...go grab the yarn and an needle and let's see what we can come up with.
Now, if you crochet...you know it is just like driving a car or riding a bike...it comes back to you very quickly.

My paternal grandmother taught me how to crochet. Her name was Anna...and she would sit by her kitchen window, letting the sun warm her, crocheting for hours. Mostly doilies and trimming on towels, pillow cases and edges of handkerchiefs. I would see her doing this and always wanted to know everything, so I begged her till she finally agreed to teach me. I loved to sit by that kitchen window because she grew begonias in flower pots. In every color imaginable and they were beautiful! I remember hearing her talking and singing to the flowers.
As a child, my stitches were always so tight and my palms would sweat, nervous that I wouldn't be doing a good job. Grandma would always say, "Just relax and let the thread glide through your hand but don't let it take control over you." Sounds like a good life lesson as well! She wouldn't get frustrated with me...I was tough enough on myself!

After an hour or so of stitching, and fitting the "half-hat" to Emily's head, about 10 times, we developed a pattern. I think it turned out so nice.
She wore it today and said it was so warm.
And of course, my 10 year old just had to have one just like her sister, so I made her one as well. I made one for you, my dear friend...here, at my Etsy Shop.
I love to crochet...it relaxes me and I accomplish projects quickly. That's a good feeling!
"The intimate quality of things made entirely by hand!" -Willa Cather

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sweet Potato Crescent Rolls

14. Homemade crescent rolls are wonderful!!!
My daughter, Maggie, wanted crescent rolls to eat. I don't normally purchase the store bought ones...I'm always trying to save my pennys and they are considered a luxury.
But make my own!!!! I can do that!
I found a wonderful recipe on line, last year, and it has taken residence in my "most favorite" stash. This is a Land O Lakes recipe...so yes, butter is an ingredient!

Sweet Potato Crescent Rolls
Preparation time : 45 min Rising: 50 min Baking: 10 min
Serve traditional sweet potatoes in a new way, in a tender, delicious crescent roll!
Find the recipe here!

I used my bread machine and I place all the liquid ingredients in the machine first with the salt. Then, flour and remaining dry ingredients. After the dough is ready, approximately 1hr and 30 min, and continue to follow directions.
Here is the beautiful dough...and it smells wonderful!

Serve them with butter, honey cinnamon butter or pumpkin butter :-)

Try this recipe...you won't be disappointed!

"Many a one has been comforted...by seeing a good dish come upon the table." -E.C. Gaskell

Friday, December 5, 2008

Snowmen Make Me Smile

13.  Snowmen are enchanting characters at Christmas. 
Round face with black charcoal eyes and carrot nose...
Chubby belly sporting charcoal lumps for buttons...
Twigs extending from each side.
Snowmen are another item I enjoy collecting.  There is a special excitement when you find an unusual, unique and fascinating one. 

Several Christmas' ago, a precious friend surprised me with the Mitford Snowmen!  We are both huge fans of Jan Karon's books and we were both thrilled the author wrote a short Christmas story with all the adored characters from her "Mitford" books.  Where do the snowmen come in???  You will just have to read this darling book, The Mitford Snowmen.

My daughters have crafted dozens of snowmen over the years in school.  When my older daughter was in second grade, she made this cute little shadow box snowman...I smile every year I take it out of the packing box and place it on display...It is made from buttons, pompoms, a sprig of greens turned upside-down and glued in a tiny gift box.
This snowman makes me smile too.  It was made by my youngest daughter, also when she was in second grade from foam marshmallows.  I love these treasures!

The sweetest snowman in my collection is this tiny, tiny snowman on a sugar cube.  
Then there is this pencil Snowman.
Each of these Snowmen were  
gifts from my sister.  She has wonderful taste and surprises me with beautiful
They are adorable...and I enjoy adding to my collection.
Do you collect snowmen?  Share them with me!

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"


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