Monday, November 28, 2011

12 Weeks of Christmas- Week 7: Make-Ahead Cookies!

I am a little behind on my 12 Weeks of Christmas!  I had planned on posting this past weekend after the Thanksgiving festivities and Black Friday shopping, but unfortunately Bryan and I got very sick over the weekend. I'm very thankful that we are feeling better now, and that it's all over.

Now that it IS all over, I feel ready to post about today's Christmas gift- a delicious cookie recipe! If you're wondering why I'm sharing a cookie recipe with still about a month until Christmas, it's because you can make the dough ahead of time and freeze it! You could make a few batches and then have home made cookie dough on hand for gifts next month!

I got this recipe for Dorie Greenspan's Chocolate Sparkler Cookies from Serious Eats. These cookies are all that their name promises- sparkly and VERY chocolatey. They're not super sweet, but have more of a rich, real chocolate flavor. They're a little flaky and a little chewy. I LOVED them.



(The finished product)

This recipe is really pretty simple. For the dough, you will need:

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder

  • Pinch of cinnamon

  • Pinch of salt

  • 2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  • You make this dough just like most others. First, combine the butter, sugar and vanilla. Mix together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, and then add them slowly to the butter/sugar/vanilla mixture.

    Here's the dough when it's finished- kind of crumbly- looking, but the flour mixture is well incorporated. If you want to test the texture of your dough, just take out a small piece and try to form it into a ball.

    Next, you take the dough out and divide it into two even balls. Then, wrap them separately in plastic wrap or in Ziploc bags.

    (I realize they don't look super appealing here- they will get better).

    Expect it to be a LITTLE challenging to form them, because the dough really needs some time in the fridge to set up properly.

    Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

    After 30 minutes have passed, take the dough out and give yourself a nice, clean space to work on. Form each dough-ball into a log: just like you would find with a store bought cookie dough! Make sure to roll them so that they are not hollow in the middle!! That is SO important! Wrap the logs airtight in plastic wrap.

    If you want to just give the DOUGH as a gift instead of baking the cookies yourself, you could wrap them in plastic and then wrap them in parchment paper to make them a little prettier. If you do that, remember to add instructions for the last steps of the recipe, and remember that this dough is more of a "going-over-to-their-house-and-put-directly-in-their-freezer" gift rather than a "put-under-the-tree-for-a-week-and-let-it-go-bad" gift if you know what I'm saying.

    As long as you seal them airtight in plastic wrap, they will last for up to 2 months in your freezer. So if you plan on actually baking these cookies in December, you're done for now! If you're making them immediately, 1 to 2 hours in the freezer should do the trick.

    I wanted to try out the whole recipe so here's what you (or the recipient of the frozen dough if you choose that route) will be doing about 1 month from now:

    You'll need one egg yolk- slightly beaten. Lightly brush the two dough logs with the yolk. Next, roll the logs in a good amount of sugar. I did this part in a clean baking pan so I wouldn't have sugar all over my counter top.


    Now- cut some slices to make cookies!!! The recipe says the cookies should be about 1/2" thick. I just sort of estimated.


    Now, bake them at 350 degrees F, for about 15 minutes- keep your eye on them! They don't spread much at all, so you can fit quite a few on a pan. Oh, and don't use the baking pan you used to roll the logs in sugar unless it is cleaned really well. The sugar will BURN!

     After baking, let them sit for a minute before removing them from the pan or else they may fall apart.

    Sidenote: We bought a silicon baking mat about a year ago, and it is seriously one of my favorite things in my kitchen! I feel like they make our cookies turn out SO much better! I definitely recommend them! If you don't have one, I suggest parchment paper.

    These cookies are a great Christmas present, and I think they would go great with some coffee! That would make such a cute gift set!

     I also love that you can make these ahead of time! Many other cookie dough recipes can be made and stored this way, but I know that some work better than others. If you have a specific recipe in mind, you might want to do some research (aka Google it) first just to be sure it's safe to freeze!

    Saturday, November 19, 2011

    12 Weeks of Christmas- Week 6 : Handpainted Tea Towels

    Once upon a time, I took a sewing class. We were told to go out and buy an entire bolt of unbleached muslin (a somewhat inexpensive cotton fabric).  The sewing class ended up going really badly for me. I struggled in it, fell behind, and then I stopped trying and doing assignments and then I failed the course.

    So... long story short, I have a TON of muslin left over.



    After looking around online, I found out that you could make tea towels (or dish towels) from muslin! And it's really easy. I was so excited.

    If you don't have a large amount of muslin taking up space at your house like I do, you could buy the tea towels from Wal-Mart or someplace like that and then decorate them. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

    I found this tutorial for making tea towels from old tablecloths and then stamping them with fabric paint over at A Beautiful Mess- a blog all about fashion and creativity!

    For my tea towels, I used one I already had to measure my fabric. Make sure to add a little for seam allowances. Then, based on the tutorial, I folded each raw edge over twice (1/4 inch each for each fold) and then pressed them carefully with my steam iron. This gives you neat little edges.

    Then I sewed all of the folds in place.

    After you do your sewing, you'll want to steam iron/press all of the folds down again just to keep it all nice and flat.

    Next, using my Marks-Be-Gone fabric marker (that I used back in the embroidery tutorials ), I made some shapes on the bottom third of my fabric- mostly just freehanded. You could do any sort of design you wanted!

    Then I took some fabric paint (VERY cheap at the fabric store) and a small paint brush and filled in all of my lines.

    Here's the result:

    The paint is still drying in these photos. The bottle says to let it dry for 72 hours before washing it. Oh and be careful drying it- this IS 100% cotton!

    I think I'm going to keep this particular towel for our house! We really need a new one of these (the one I used to measure my fabric is getting pretty yucky).

    Tea towels are a very versatile Christmas gift! Not only are they good for washing dishes, they also really come in handy when baking- making cake rolls, covering food to keep it warm, or covering bread dough while it rises. This would also make a great housewarming gift!

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Anniversary!

    Yesterday was our 3 year marriage anniverary. I am so thankful to have Bryan as my husband- there is absolutely no one in the world like him. He is kind, selfless, smart, hilarious, adorable and unique. He is a great husband who has made great decisions for our little family and I love him so much.

    Yesterday was really a nice day. Bryan was so sweet and bought me a special present- A NEW PHONE!!!

    I've wanted this phone, the LG Lotus, for SO LONG!!! I tried to get it the last time we bought phones. The salesperson said they had ONE left, but he couldn't find it anywhere in the stores. Now they don't sell it at all! But Bryan found one and I am ECSTATIC! 

    IT'S SO PRETTY!!! And so much better than the phone I had.

    I made him a delicious (atleast I hope it was) dinner and dessert!

    For dinner: Lasagna WITH REAL MEAT! Since I'm a vegetarian, I obviously don't eat meat, and I don't really cook it either. But I thought it would be nice to make this for Bryan- it is a VERY SPECIAL day after all.

    (Of course I still didn't eat any).

    And for dessert: Bread pudding made with vanilla spiced eggnog,  cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and sweet icing!

    Yep it was a pretty great day! And this is only year 3! I'm so excited to spend the rest of our lives together!

    I LOVE YOU BRYAN!!!!!!

    P.S. Come back later this week for a new "12 Weeks of Christmas" present!

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Atlas Shrugged- Finished!

    First of all, Happy Veteran's Day everyone! Thank you to everyone who puts their lives on the line and serves to keep our country safe. I am proud to have family members and friends who serve/ have served in the military like my dad, my sister, my grandpa and many more.

    So today's post is about this painting I've been working on. Back in September, a friend of mine asked me to make a large painting of the cover for the book Atlas Shrugged as a present for her boyfriend. I showed you the beginning of my work and what I wanted it to look like. Well the painting is all done now and I'm happy to be able to give it to them! I thought I'd show you all the final product!

    Here's the actual book cover:



















    And THIS was my progress in September:



















    And now here it is, all finished (minus a few final touches maybe):

















    I'm really happy with the way it turned out and I hope she is too. I really love to paint, but I don't do it too often because it's kind of an expensive hobby. This project was great because I didn't have to pay for any of the supplies!!! :) I was so thankful!

    Thanks for coming by today! But before you go, have any of you been able to make any of the 12 Weeks of Christmas presents yet? If so, could you send me a picture??

    I'd love to see what you've done, and  (with your permission) to share the pics with all of my friends on here!

    Thanks!! :)

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    12 Weeks of Christmas- Week 5: Spiced Chai Tea Bags

    Normally, I post my 12 Weeks of Christmas post toward the end of the week, but today I found some things online that I wanted to do and I couldn't wait another day to make them. I immediately went out and bought the ingredients, and then immediately after THAT I went home and put them together. And now I'm IMMEDIATELY posting about them.

    So what am I so excited about?

    Homemade Spiced Chai Tea Bags!
    (And I mean really making tea from scratch and then filling your own tea bags!!!)




    I found the recipe to make this Spiced Chai over at The Kitchn. Personally, I'm not much of a tea drinker, but a lot of my friends are and many of them love Chai.

    Here's what you'll need:

    12 green cardamom pods
    1/2 teaspoon whole red peppercorns (optional)
    1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
    1 tablespoon fennel seeds
    1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
    1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
    1 4-inch cinnamon stick
    3 tablespoons chopped candied ginger
    1/2 cup loose black tea
    And some Fill Your Own Tea Bags (YES THEY EXIST! SO EXCITED!)

    A lot of these items can be found at a grocery store like Schnucks, Dierbergs or Shop N Save. HOWEVER, I highly recommend going to the Green Earth Grocery in Edwardsville IL or a similar specialty store if you have access to it. They had the tea bags and the cardamom pods which were hard to find. You might also be able to find these items at Whole Foods, but it gets a little pricey (even though I LOVE W.F.).

    Here are the basic instructions on how I made the tea bags. Be sure to look at the original recipe post for more information too!


    First, I put all of the ingredients (EXCEPT the ginger and the tea) on a cookie sheet. I put a piece of foil over my pan just in case. I broke open all of the cardamom pods. I put the spices in the oven at 350 F until the spices became fragrant (5-10 mins).


    After I took the spices out of the oven, I allowed them to cool off. Then, I put them into a ziploc bag and ground them all down using a rolling pin. This was Bryan's idea- he's so smart!



    After the spices were ground, I put them into a bowl with my loose tea and chopped candied ginger. I mixed them together thoroughly after this picture was taken- I just thought it looked pretty this way!

    Once the spices were mixed, I put one tablespoon of the mixture into each of my teabags.

    As it says on the package, these tea bags are "heat sealable". This means that the tea bags are pre-sealed on 3 sides, with one side open. All you do is put your tea inside, and then use a clothes iron set on the cotton setting to seal the 4th side.

    And then...TA-DA!! You have a tea bag!



    I am so excited about these! I already made like 20-something tea bags, and I am ready to make more!

    I'm planning on giving them with a set of instructions and maybe in a cute envelope like these from "Frog, Goose & Bear. (These are not mine)

    (Source: Frog, Goose & Bear)

    But for now, I'm just going to keep the bags in a tupperware bowl with a lid to keep them as fresh as possible until I am ready to give them.

    Sunday, November 6, 2011

    Danish Dreamcake

    As you may already know- I LOVE to try to bake things inspired by other countries and cultures. Click here to see some of the cool things I've tried in the past.

    The recipe I made today is for a traditional Danish cake. It was given to me by a really sweet friend named Signe who actually lives in Denmark. She and her husband Marty are such dear friends to Bryan and I, and I was THRILLED when she sent me this recipe. It makes me feel closer to them somehow, which is exactly what I love about baking: the love and feelings that go into it.

    Here are some photos from the process, just to give you an idea of how it's made. The recipe follows below:

    DANISH DREAMCAKE

    Cake Batter:
    • 4 eggs
    • 10½ ounces sugar
    • 8½ ounces flour
    • 3 tea-spons bakingpowder
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 7 ounces milk
    • 1½ ounces butter melted

    Topping:
    • 3 ounces butter
    • 5 ounces shredded coconut
    • 8 ounces brown sugar
    • 1½ ounces milk

    The fun part about this recipe is that I had to get out the food scale to make it! I tried looking up some conversion charts online, but the math was kind of driving me crazy, so I just decided I would weigh everything.
    • Baking time approx. 25 min. at 400°F (without topping)
    plus 5 min. at 425°F (w/ topping)

    First you make the cake batter. Whisk the sugar and eggs until they are light and frothy, and add the vanilla. Then mix together the dry ingredients and add those to the bowl. Then heat up the butter and milk (do not overheat) and add it to the mix. The cake batter is done! Now, just pour it into a greased 9x13 pan. Let it bake for about 25 mins.

    While that's baking, put all of the ingredients for the topping into a saucepan and heat to a boil. When the cake is ready, spread on the topping. Bake for 5 more minutes.

    Ta-DA!!!!


    I don't know if I made it perfectly, but I do know it was absolutely delicious! The cake is so moist and fluffy, and the topping is sweet and coconutty.

    Signe, thank you SO much for sharing your recipe with me!!! <3

    Saturday, November 5, 2011

    The Upcycle Exchange!

    Have you ever wanted to try out a crafting project but you were afraid to spend the money? Sometimes it's hard laying down the cash if you're not sure how it will turn out. Trust me- I've experienced more craft mishaps than I can count and I HATE the feeling of having wasted money.

    Well I recently experienced an amazing store called the Upcycle Exchange!

    (Photo Source: Upcycle Exchange on Facebook )

    Have you heard of this store? It's in St. Louis and essentially, it is a pay-as-you-wish thrift store for crafters! No seriously! Crafters drop off unused supplies and then customers can name their own price to purchase them and give the supplies a new purpose.

    SO COOL!

    The picture above is of their fabric and yarn wall. They allow you to get on step ladders and climb around and rummage through anything and everything they have!

    I went there with two of my friends and we went a little crazy! It's hard not to!! Wanna see what I got?



    If you want the total count of items, here goes:
    • 11 balls/packages of yarn- most of them barely used
    • 6 things of embroidery floss
    • 1 small bag of jewelry beads
    • 1 bag of clear craft stones
    • 3 stamps
    • 1 white stamp pad
    • 4 good-size pieces of fabric
    I paid around $15 (plus tax) for all of it, and I could've paid even less! Can you imagine what it would have cost at the craft store???

     The owner of the store told us that there were suggested prices on everything, but told us to feel free to pay whatever we thought the items were worth. She didn't pressure us or anything.This store was super cool, and I promise you they didn't ask me to write this post for them or anything.

    So if you're planning on crafting for Christmas like I am, you should DEFINITELY hit this place before you run to the more expensive craft stores! The owner told us that the store would be moving to a larger space soon, so make sure and keep up with their website and/or Facebook page to stay up to date on their location.

    (Oh and P.S. If you're hungry after digging through all the crafty goodies at the Upcycle Exchange, my friends and I had the YUMMIEST lunch right down the street at the Urban Eats Cafe! I LOVE these local businesses!!!)

    Friday, November 4, 2011

    12 Weeks of Christmas- Week 4: Peach & Vanilla Bean Jam

    If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you may be wondering why none of my Christmas present ideas have included anything edible yet. I love to bake, and yet the last few projects have included sewing, hot glue, and embroidery. My thinking behind this was that I wanted to make presents that we could all make RIGHT NOW for Christmas. For instance, if we made cookies now, they would be gobbled up stale by the time Christmas rolls around.

    So, I decided to make something edible for this week's project that COULD be made in advance. The answer?

    HOME MADE JAM!



    This, my friends, is Peach and Vanilla Bean Jam!

    Oh my word. I was so excited when I stumbled upon the recipe for this amazing jam here and  here. The ingredients are so simple- peaches, vanilla beans, sugar and a little lemon juice!

    The more complicated part of the process- for me at least- was the idea of CANNING this jam. I learned a lot about canning through some internet research and through making this jam myself. I am in NO way an expert, but I'll share what I've been reading to give you some tips at the end of the post! Don't be scared of canning!

    So first things first, here is the more specific list of ingredients needed:

    3 lbs. ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and coarsely chopped
    3½ cups sugar
    1-2 vanilla bean(s), halved lengthwise, seeds scraped out
    Juice of 1 lemon

    I decided that instead of fresh peaches (I don't even think they're in season right now), I would use thawed frozen peaches. Frozen peaches are just as good as the real deal and are already peeled and pitted. Can't beat that. Also, due to my laziness, I decided not to "coarsley chop" my peaches, but instead to throw them in my food processor. If you choose to use a processor, be careful not to over-process it and turn it into peach puree! You want to have medium size pieces of peaches still intact (see below). You could obviously still hand chop them if you don't have a processor.


    Next, I put all of the ingredients into my medium sized stock pot. You will want to put it both the vanilla bean seeds AND the pods. Just don't forget to take the pods out before canning your jam.


    The seeds from two vanilla beans go a very long way!  SEE?

    Click on the picture and look closely!  There are a ton of seeds!


    (* A note on vanilla beans: Don't buy them from the baking/cake mix/spices aisle. I found them there for $9/ PER VANILLA BEAN! Yikes! Instead, you can usually find them in the produce section by the dried fruits and spices- I've found them at Schnuck's and Dierbergs- for about $3-5 per bean. It still seems expensive, but like I said a little goes a long way.)



    I brought the mixture to a boil, and then lowered the heat to let it simmer for about 1.5 hours, stirring and checking on it occasionally. Prepare for your entire house to smell like peaches and cream- it is SO AMAZING.

    After it has simmered for 1.5 hours or so, the mixture should be all carmelized (browned) and delicious looking. Take a little sample of it out of the pot and put on a cool plate to see if it "gels" when cooled. If it does, its ready to can!


    So here is what I learned about canning jams/ jellies. I'm adding a link for each piece of information so you can read them over yourself, just in case I made mistakes.
    • Before filling your jars with jam, sterilize them (and the lids and rings) by putting them in the oven at around 175 degrees F for about 25 minutes ( Ina Garten- Barefoot Contessa )
    • After filling and sealing the sterilized jars, put the jars in a large stockpot with boiling water (1-2 inches of water covering the jars) for 5-10 mins ( Pick Your Own )
    • Now, CAREFULLY take the jars out of the water and put them on a towel or heat proof surface to cool. Place them on the towel for 15mins upside down, but after 15mins turn them right side up again. Leave them to cool overnight. The lids should make a popping noise (but not necessarily) to signify that they have been sealed probably ("My Sister's Kitchen" )

    P.S. Is the recipient of your gift not into sweets or jams? My friend KellyBeth has a really awesome blog, Life at the Polish Palace and a while back she had a post about making and canning your own salsa.

     You should definitely read her post here:
    SALSA! Life at the Polish Palace

     I really hope my jars end up sealing properly- since I've never done it before, I'm a little nervous. But what I CAN say with absolute certainty is that this jam smells and tastes SO GOOD and I think anyone would be happy to get it as a gift! I love it. I hope that you will give canning a try this week too!
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