Monday, December 31, 2007

From my Christmas kitchen


Here’s a photo of some of the output from my Christmas kitchen this holiday season. I always have fun preparing my Christmas kitchen gifts for giving.

On the left are two of my mulled cider spice mixes. As I’ve detailed before here at my Christmas blog, I wrap the spices up in coffee filters and tie with string, then package in small paper bags with a sewn-on label. This year two of my granddaughters (ages 4 and 6) helped me put the spices in the filters, then helped me place the filters in the bags and position the labels for sewing. Highlight of this experience: they both gasped with delight at their first glimpse of my tomato pincushion filled with multicolored pins. “That is SO pretty!”

I made three kinds of loaves -- apricot cake, pumpkin butterscotch bread, and fruit bread -- and three kinds of fudge -- four-chip fudge, holiday fudge, and chocolate-peanut butter fudge. I wrapped my gift breads and fudge first in plastic wrap, then in foil, and lastly in this really nifty gift wrap for food. I don’t know if this stuff is even made any more, but it’s something I’ve hoarded for ages and never used. I decided that this year it was high time to use it . Then I tied each little package with a contrasting metallic cord or ribbon -- I buy such things for pennies at Walmart’s after-Christmas sales and then use them liberally the following year. It makes me feel rich to have such lovely things to use in wrapping my gifts for others.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Embellished work socks make nifty decorative stockings


Here is a fun and easy project you might like to try. I found this idea in a Gooseberry Patch Christmas book -- I think it was book #1. Basically, you take old work socks or boot socks and embellish them with patches of Christmas fabric, Christmasy buttons, etc. I sewed the patches on by hand, and the ones on the heels actually are covering holes in the socks. I love the way these gray socks with the red and green stripes look, embellished this way -- so festive looking. But you could also use (and I have) the brown/ecru “monkey face” socks with the red heels.

I made stockings like this with each of my grandkids’ names on them too, just for fun -- used the sew-on red alphabet buttons. These socks are really too stretchy to be used as a proper Christmas stocking, but they make nifty additions to your Christmas decor.

Hope others may have as much fun with this idea as I have!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Kitchen report and recipes


Yesterday in the Christmas kitchen I made up some hot chocolate mix and also the double-decker chocolate peanut butter fudge we call “Heavenly Delight” in our family. I also baked a cranberry coffee cake for some friends who have a houseful of family visiting. Perhaps others might like to try these. Any of these would be delicious any time of year, not just at Christmas.

Here is my hot chocolate mix recipe:

HOT CHOCOLATE MIX
5 cups instant nonfat dry milk
2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups instant chocolate drink powder (like Quik)
1 cup malted milk powder, chocolate flavor
1 cup malted milk powder, malt flavor
1 cup non-dairy powdered creamer
1/2 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
*And here are two optional ingredients*:
2 cups of miniature marshmallows
1 to 2 teaspoons powdered vanilla (you can find this in the King Arthur catalog, probably other places too)

Using a very large bowl, mix all ingredients together thoroughly. I like to use a slotted spoon for mixing. Transfer to one or more airtight containers. A jar filler type of funnel works well for the transfer to jars. I often use clean instant coffee jars to package the mix, but tins also work.

Include these directions with mix:
* Place 1/3 cup of mix in a large mug. Fill mug with hot water and stir to dissolve. *


And here is the recipe for Heavenly Delight:

HEAVENLY DELIGHT
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 1/2 cups sugar
7-ounce jar marshmallow fluff
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1 tsp. vanilla

Line an 8-inch square pan with foil, extending the foil over the edges of the pan. Measure the peanut butter chips into a small bowl, and measure the chocolate chips into a second small bowl. Set aside. In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, combine the sugar, fluff, evaporated milk, and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils. Boil and stir 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Immediately pour half of the hot mixture into the peanut butter chips. Stir until the chips are completely melted and incorporated into the hot mixture. Quickly pour the peanut butter mixture into the prepared pan. Stir the remaining hot mixture into the chocolate chips until they melt and are completely blended in. Quickly spread this mixture over the peanut butter layer.

Cool the fudge completely before removing it from the pan. Lift the fudge out of the pan by the foil, put it face down on a plastic cutting board and peel off the foil. Cut the fudge into 1-inch pieces.
 

This terrific recipe is also from Cook & Tell. Its actual name is "Double-Decker Peanut Butter Fudge". But when Esther, my daughters' college roommate and friend, tasted this, she promptly named it "Heavenly Delight". And so it has been, ever since.

CRANBERRY COFFEE CAKE

3/4 cup margarine, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups sour cream
16-ounce can whole berry cranberry sauce
Chopped nuts to taste

In a large bowl cream the margarine and sugar. Add unbeaten eggs one at a time, beating after each on medium speed of mixer. Beat in the flavorings. Mix together the dry ingredients (I prefer to sift them) and add them to the creamed mixture alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.

Pour half the batter into a greased 13x9-inch pan. Stir the cranberry sauce with a fork and scatter about half of it over the batter. Swirl gently with a knife. Sprinkle on a few nuts. Repeat layers.

Bake in preheated 350º oven for 55 minutes or a bit more, until toothpick comes out clean.

This recipe is adapted from one that was given me years ago by a dear friend of our family. It is rich-tasting and so pretty for Christmas!

That’s it for today’s kitchen report. Hope all of you are having fun in your own Christmas kitchens today!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Fruit Bread


I tried a new recipe yesterday which we really liked quite well. Neither Mr. T or I are big fruitcake fans, as we just don’t care for the bitter peels and citron in most fruitcakes. Yet I really like giving fruit-filled breads and cakes at Christmas; they seem so festive. I have a Golden Apricot Cake recipe which is always a big hit with the recipients, but am always on the lookout for more recipes like this. Yesterday I tried this one, adapted somewhat (including the name) from an older Country Woman magazine.

CHRISTMAS FRUIT BREAD

1 15-ounce box raisins
2 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 8-ounce package chopped dates
5 1/2 cups flour (divided use)
4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple (do not drain; use juice and all)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 6-ounce jar maraschino cherries, drained and quartered

In saucepan cook the raisins in water for about 15 minutes, until plumped. Drain the raisins, reserving the liquid. Set both liquid and raisins aside to cool, separately.

In a very large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Add the reserved liquid from raisins; combine well.

In a smaller bowl, combine the drained raisins, the dates, and 1 cup flour; stir this into the creamed mixture. Sift the remaining 4 1/2 cups flour with the baking soda and the salt; stir into creamed mixture. Fold in the pineapple/juice, nuts, and cherries. Fill well-greased loaf pans about 2/3 full of batter. Bake at 350º for 30 to 60 minutes depending on size of pans. When a toothpick comes out clean, the loaves are done.

This recipe calls for four 7 1/2x3 1/2 x3-inch loaf pans. I used 3 that were smaller than that, and also 9 smaller ones. This is a LOT of batter. It says you could also use 16-ounce to 20-ounce tin cans, clean and well-greased, instead of loaf pans, and if you do this the batter will fill 8 to 9 of these cans.

The bread is very tasty -- we sampled one of the loaves, as we wanted to be sure it was good before we gave any of this bread away.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Four-Chip Fudge ... again


Here's the fabulous fudge recipe I mentioned in the preceding post.

FOUR-CHIP FUDGE

3/4 cup butter, plus a little for greasing the foil
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
3 Tblsp. milk
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
11 1/2 ounces milk chocolate chips
10 ounces peanut butter chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
7 ounces marshmallow creme or fluff
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, if desired

Line a 13x9-inch pan with foil; grease foil with a little butter. Set pan aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, melt the 3/4 cup butter over low heat. Add the next five ingredients. Cook and stir constantly until smooth. Remove from heat; stir in butterscotch chips, marshmallow creme, and flavorings. Stir until very well blended. Stir in the nuts if you are using them.

Spread fudge in prepared pan. Refrigerate until set. When fudge is firmly set, lift it out of the pan using the foil. Invert on a cutting board; remove foil and cut into squares.

Yield: about 4 1/2 pounds fudge.

This amazing fudge recipe is a new favorite of mine. It came from Taste of Home, the December/January 2002 issue. I first tried this for Christmas 2005 and made it again in ‘06. It makes lots of delicious fudge which you can stash in the freezer for kitchen gifts, adding to cookie trays, serving to drop-in guests, taking to potlucks, etc. Hope others enjoy this as much as we have!


What's happening in the Christmas kitchen


The Christmas kitchen has been busy of late! It’s been a good way to stay warm, being in the cozy kitchen with a wood fire going and the oven too.

Yesterday I made 2 kinds of cookies and 9 little loaves of Christmas cakes:

* Golden Apricot Cake

* Sacher Torte Cookies

* Chocolate Spritz Cookies

Sunday I made some Special Holiday Fudge -- dark chocolate, with raisins and nuts. Let it stand overnight and packaged it for the freezer yesterday.

Saturday, my granddaughter and I made some Four-Chip Fudge. It’s so easy to put together and doesn’t require a lot of stovetop time. Mostly just melting ingredients together. Even though the recipe is here in the Christmas kitchen (back in the June archives, I think) I’ll post it again now, for those who missed it and don’t have time to search.

Also in the freezer:

* Gingerbread Men

* Charleston Cherry Bars

* Whipped Shortbread

* Double-Drizzled Pecan Cookies

* Lime Spritz Christmas Trees

* Chocolate-Dipped Maple Logs

* Date-Oatmeal Cookies

* Raspberry Almond Thumbprint Cookies

Today I hope to do some more baking and crafting. On my agenda are little loaves of Christmas Fruit Bread, hot chocolate mix, and maybe some Heavenly Delight (chocolate/peanut butter fudge).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A special gift for a special person -- making a Prayer Journal Kit


Here’s a thought for those of you who still need a gift for some special women friends or relatives. Make sure the recipient is someone you know well enough to be certain they would welcome such a gift. In my case, the recipient had admired my prayer journal and had expressed the desire to make one for herself “someday”. This project is quick and easy to put together once you have gathered all of the components.

MAKING A PRAYER JOURNAL KIT AS A GIFT

I have enjoyed my prayer journal so much that I got the idea to make up a prayer journal kit as a gift for a friend. I didn’t want to give it to her all assembled, because putting the journal together is half the fun. Here’s what I did:

1. I bought a small binder with the clear “view pockets” front and back. I made cover inserts for both pockets. For the front insert, I used scrapbooking stickers to spell out “Terry’s Prayer Journal” and to decorate it, as this would be the cover. For the back insert, I wrote out some of my favorite quotes about prayer and added stickers to this also.

2. Since I was using a small binder, I cut card stock sheets in half and punched holes in some and placed them in the binder. The rest, I put into a ziptop bag which was going to hold all of the other prayer journal kit materials. I cut sheets of plain white paper in half and added them to the bag, along with a hole punch. I added anything else I could think of that might enhance my friend’s prayer journal -- lots of stickers, some double stick tape, clear photo corners, pictures and quotes that might be useful, some of those cute “Pass it On” cards with Scripture, etc. I also included a nice scrapbooking marker with a fine point. You may well think of other great stuff to include.

3. Now I had a binder for the journal itself and a bag full of materials, but I needed some sort of container to keep them all together. I looked at various plastic containers and even some tins, but nothing seemed right. Since Terry’s full-time home is an RV, the container needed to be compact so she could stash it away, but had to look nice for times when she might want to leave it out.

What I ended up with was a photo/video storage box. It worked perfectly! I paid less than $3 for it. They come in all sorts of colors and prints. Mine (which I already had on hand, having previously bought three of them for another purpose) was just a plain brown papier-mâché box -- exactly right, since Terry’s motor home is decorated in earth tones! To decorate the box, I sort of half-followed some directions I had for decorating a Christmas memory box. Those directions called for making a color copy of a Christmas card or postcard to decorate the top. I thought I might make a copy of some fall cards I had on hand, but nothing seemed right. I ended up using some clip art I had gotten off the internet of a cup & saucer full of flowers. I cut this out -- there was a “dried flower” perched on the saucer and I cut around that so I could thread a charm on it. I glued the picture to the box using a glue stick, but when I threaded the charm on, I hot-glued the charm in place. (I used a neat little metal heart that says “made by hand with love”. I bought these from the Home-Sew catalog.)

I also made up a couple of little signs in the word-processing program on my computer, one saying “Terry’s Prayer Journal Kit” and the other reading “Prayer Changes Things.” (You could use Scripture, or any other sayings about prayer you like.)

The finishing touch was one I borrowed from the Christmas memory box idea. I took a little frame (I had a package of 4 of these I’d bought at the dollar store -- the perfect size!) and took it apart and cleaned the glass. I cut a piece of scrapbooking paper to fit and glued it to the inside of the frame backing to make a background. Then I took some alphabet stickers made to look like typewriter keys (bought these at Jo-Ann’s) and arranged them on the backing to spell T-E-R-R-Y. (Wish I had thought to use some of those “Pop Dots” to make them more 3-D, but maybe for the next one!) Then I put the whole thing back into the frame, replacing the glass, and hot-glued the whole thing to the top of the box. It looked so nice! I added a few more stickers here and there, and voila! The box was finished.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A fun small gift for children


Here’s a neat idea which I came up with for my grandchildren (ages 2-1/2, 3-1/2, and 5-1/2 at the time) last Christmas. It would work for probably any age up to 10 or so, using age-appropriate puzzles.

I was in the dollar store and noticed some really cute, good-quality kids’ puzzles. It occurred to me that if I combined the puzzles with a hot-cocoa packet and one of microwave popcorn, I might have a nice gift that would give the kids (and parents) some much-needed downtime during the holiday season.

So I made wrappers for the cocoa and popcorn packets that coordinated with the puzzles -- Strawberry Shortcake for the girls and Thomas the Tank Engine for the boy -- and tied each set (1 puzzle, 1 cocoa packet, and 1 popcorn packet) together with a ribbon. I added the tag which I’ve shared above, writing a poem to explain the purpose of the gift.

The kids and their parents seemed to appreciate this gift. Perhaps you have children in your life who would enjoy this little treat as well. Feel free to borrow my tag or poem if you like. Have fun with this idea!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas Goodies in the Freezer


I had really hoped that once December came, I could post here at the Christmas kitchen every day. Sadly, that hasn’t happened due to too much going on in real life. But I thought I would check in and note that I have a few Christmasy things stashed in the freezer:

* 4 miniature loaves of Pumpkin Butterscotch Bread

* A tin of Gingerbread Men

* A container of Chocolate-Dipped Maple Logs (a new recipe for me this year, and delicious!)

* A container of cherry-topped Date-Oatmeal Cookies

* A tin of Whipped Shortbread

* A container of Double-Drizzled Pecan Cookies

* A container of Charleston Cherry Bars

The last 2 recipes are new to me also. They came out very nicely.

You can see that I’ve been busy in my real-life Christmas kitchen. I hope that each of you is also able to spend time cooking, baking, and preparing gifts in your kitchen at this blessed season. Have fun!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Great Christmas reading, great Christmas cooking!


Today I needed to bake some treats for a children’s Christmas party. I decided to bake gingerbread men. For a recipe, I turned to one of my favorite recipe sources: Cook & Tell, a cooking newsletter published by Karyl Bannister on the island of Southport, Maine. I keep all of my old C&Ts and wouldn’t dream of parting with one. Every month I get out all of the C&Ts for that month -- years worth -- and use them to help plan my menus. (Alas, C&T is only published 10 months out of the year now, but Karyl really does need some time off now and again!)

December Cook & Tells are my favorite ones to re-read. Every one is like a personal Christmas card from Karyl, filled with wonderful recipes to serve one’s family and/or guests or to give as a gift. They include meaningful essays by Karyl, and also evocative sketches drawn by this multi-talented lady. Need a good dose of the Christmas spirit? Reading through (and cooking from) even one December issue of C&T will do it! Many of my very favorite, must-make Christmas recipes come from C&T.

What’s really neat is that, even if you haven’t subscribed to Cook & Tell, you can still purchase back issues of the newsletter. Head on over to Cook and Tell and check it out if you’re interested in either back issues or a subscription.

Karyl also has written a wonderful cookbook, called Cook & Tell as well. There’s a great holiday section in the book, called “Best Wishes, Best Dishes.” This book can be purchased from Karyl herself (and she will autograph it for you!) or you can also find it on

Amazon.

Hope others will enjoy Cook & Tell as much as I have!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Gift tags from old Christmas cards



One of the most obvious and easy ways to use your old Christmas cards is to make gift tags from them. There are a couple of ways to do this.

Sometimes you can use the entire front of a card as a tag, if it has enough blank space to write the to/from information. These are especially nice for family members -- for example, you might have a card front that says "Merry Christmas to a Dear Granddaughter." This is a natural to paste to the top of your granddaughter's Christmas present. These can add a real decorative element to a package wrapped in a solid color like red, green, blue, silver, etc.

The other way is to cut shapes from your old cards to make tags.
You can make simple shapes like rectangles, squares or circles. Current, Inc. sells a set of tag templates which work very nicely and has quite an assortment of shapes. A book of children's Christmas stencils would also work well. Once you have cut your shapes you can punch a hole in each one and add some red or green string to make a hanging tag.

This simple project is a fun way to keep your kids busy during Christmas break -- and I personally find that doing a project like this, even all by myself, is very relaxing and a great stress reliever.

Have fun with this idea!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas card "kissing ball" to make


Here is another wonderful use for old Christmas cards. I have made many of these through the years. I've already posted these directions here in the Christmas kitchen, so just go to this link to find them:
Christmas kissing ball

Have fun!

A Reprint: Christmas Traditions for the Empty Nest


I posted this back in June, but decided to re-post it right now. Maybe someone is facing their first Christmas with an empty nest and needs to read this. I hope this is helpful and encouraging to someone else!

Christmas traditions for the empty nest

Sometimes it can be really traumatic when all of the kids leave home and things are just not the same as they used to be at holiday time. It's unrealistic to expect them to stay the same, however. Even if your married children live in the same town as you do, they should be encouraged to begin their own special traditions as a new family. If they live in another state or even another country, they should not be pressured to "come home for Christmas". Maybe they want to make that a part of their own holiday tradition -- and hooray if they do! -- but we shouldn't pressure them to do so.

I have found that beginning some new traditions of our own (and tweaking some older ones) as empty-nesters has been really helpful in keeping the blues away at holiday time. Here are a few ideas:

* On the day of the first significant snowfall in our area (usually sometime in November) I bake the first Christmas cookies of the season to freeze.

* I decorate to my heart's content! Lots easier without little kids underfoot.

* I often plan special pre-Christmas gifts for my married kids and their families. Christmas books, foods, decorations and crafts to enjoy throughout the coming season.

* We always do some of our Christmas shopping at a very special group of shops (in an old mill) where we traditionally visited when the kids were younger. We like to go in the evening when the street lamps are lit, carols are playing, and a light snow is falling.

* I pack Christmas boxes to send to those family and friends who are far away. It is so much fun to plan what goodies to include. I just want the box to say "Merry Christmas!" when they open it.

* My husband and I fill Christmas stockings for each other. This is lots of fun and something special to look forward to on Christmas morning.

* We enjoy our traditional Christmas Eve Soup whether we have company or not.

* I make a special breakfast on Christmas morning -- usually including an egg bake of some sort (prepared the night before and baked fresh that morning) and a coffeecake or muffins I've baked ahead.

We plan to have "Christmas" together with all of our kids and grandkids whenever we can all be together, no matter what time of year it happens to be. The times all together are so rare we want to savor them fully.

Well, those are just a few thoughts. But above all, let's not forget that "leaving and cleaving" is biblical. Once our married kids leave home, they are a new family and we need to set them free to function as such in every way.


Some ideas for Christmas cards


Well, it's happened -- we've received our first Christmas card for 2007! It actually arrived the Saturday after Thanksgiving. So I thought I'd share a few thoughts concerning those incoming cards.

Each year I display the cards we receive in our front hallway as they arrive. Once I've sent a card in return, I roll up masking tape and tape the cards around the frame of the doorway to the living room. I also tape them to the adjacent wall of the hallway. They pretty much take up the space available and make a very festive display. I keep them up until a couple of weeks after Christmas.

When the cards come down, they go into a pretty wooden basket. They will reside there until the next year's cards take their place. We like to pull out a card a day and pray for the family or person who sent the card. Ideally, we keep rotating through them. We don't always stick with this, but every year we aim at it!

What do we do with the previous year's cards when the present year's cards replace them? Well, we don't throw them all away! Some are so beautiful that I save them to display at future Christmases. For the others, I have several projects for which I like to use old Christmas cards -- some of them are already posted here, but I plan to share a few more in the days to come.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Another easy, lovely cookie



Here is another cookie recipe that is super easy, but fancy looking. These have a definite Italian accent with the ricotta and candied cherries. Note that you need to fill these 4 hours before you want to serve them. Arrowroot biscuits can often be found in the baby aisle of the supermarket near the teething biscuits, zwieback, etc. FRUIT AND CHIP-FILLED COOKIES 15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips (or you may chop regular ones)
1/4 cup red candied cherries, chopped fine
1/4 cup green candied cherries, chopped fine
Arrowroot biscuits
Confectioners sugar for topping Combine the first 7 ingredients and mix well. About 4 hours before serving, make little cookie sandwiches, using the cheese mixture and sandwiching it between 2 arrowroot biscuits for each cookie. Just before serving, sift additional confectioners’ sugar over the platter or plate of cookies.

Two quick but fancy-looking cookie ideas



Here are two ideas that will make your cookie plates look fancy with very little work on your part:

1) Poinsettia Brownies

My mother always made these to add to her gift trays of cookies at Christmas. Bake brownies as usual and let them cool. Before cutting, frost the brownies with a simple white butter frosting and mark them into squares. Using slices of candied cherries (note: NOT maraschino cherries, which could make quite a mess), form poinsettias on the top of each square. Cut the brownies along the marked lines. You can make this even simpler by using brownie mix and canned frosting.

2) Fancy Fig Cookies

These start with purchased fig bars (like Fig Newtons®). Cut the bars in half lengthwise to make sticks, or in half diagonally to make triangles. Dip the pieces in melted chocolate, then in chopped nuts. Place on foil-lined baking sheets and chill until chocolate is set.

Enjoy!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Red satin ribbon


I grew up in the 1950s, and I find myself growing ever more nostalgic for the Christmases of those days gone by. One thing that just seems to say "old-fashioned Christmas" to me is red satin ribbon. It seemed to be used so often in those days to lend a festive holiday touch. I inherited many of my grandmother's Christmas wrappings, so I've been able to use some of her old ribbon.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that this beautiful ribbon is still available, for a reasonable price. (I purchase mine through Home-Sew, a mail-order and online sewing supply catalog.) The one-half inch or three-quarter inch sizes are most versatile. I use them to wrap packages, to tie bows on the handles of gift bags, to trim crafts, tie up bunches of greenery, and for decorating in many other ways. Using luxurious, vintage-looking satin ribbons to decorate my home and gifts is one way of helping to re-create those happy Christmases of my childhood.

Little boxes to make from Christmas cards



Most people have probably seen those little boxes made from Christmas cards. These are the easiest directions I have ever found. Most of the instructions I've seen involve a lot of folding and drawing of complicated lines, etc. These are actually easy!

The boxes can obviously be made from any greeting card, not just Christmas ones. These make great little gift boxes or can be used to hold office or craft supplies like paper clips, tacks, push pins, beads, etc. Christmas ones can be hung on the tree or piled beneath a miniature tree.

Here's what you do:

1. Cut apart a greeting card along the fold, separating the front from the back.

2. Start with the back part of the card. Using a ruler, draw lines from corner to corner on the unprinted side of the card to form an X. The center is where the two lines of the X meet.

3. Fold up each of the four sides of the card to meet the center of the X. Crease the folds well.

4. Open the card back up to reveal the creases you've made. Now, holding the card vertically, carefully cut on the two vertical crease lines at the top and bottom of the card, just to the point where they intersect with the nearest horizontal crease.

5. Fold in the tabs you just created by following step 4. You can now see how this is going to form a box. Tape the tabs inside the box. (You may find that each end of the box -- the part between the tabs -- stands up a bit higher than the rest of the box. If this happens, it is not a problem. You can simply fold the excess down inside, over the tabs, and tape it in place. Or, if you prefer, you can simply trim off the excess card before taping.) You have just made the bottom of the box!

6. Now, repeat steps 2 through 5 with the front part of the card, which will make the top of your box.

7. Obviously, this produces a box top and bottom which are exactly the same size, which sometimes means that the cover doesn't go on too easily. Usually, if you just squeeze the sides of the box gently, the cover will go on just fine.

These directions look far more complicated than the process actually is. I've made loads of these boxes with kids over the years, and it really is easy enough for even a 5-year-old to do. So have fun with these cute little boxes!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A 1950s cookie recipe



Here’s a nostalgic cookie recipe straight out of the 1950s. This is my mother’s recipe, and it was a “must” on her cookie trays every year. Back in those days it seemed as if dates and other dried fruits were used more in festive holiday baked goods. I suppose that’s because they were more in the luxury category back then. These cookies look like the classic Christmas cookie of those days -- perfectly round, with half a candied cherry placed in the center of each one. If you’d like to try a genuine 1950s Christmas cookie recipe for your own baking this year, here’s your chance. These cookies freeze very well.

DATE-OATMEAL COOKIES

3/4 cup crisco or softened butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3 Tblsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups chopped dates
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
Candied cherries

Mix together thoroughly shortening, sugar, eggs, milk, and vanilla.
Sift together flour, soda, and salt; stir in. Stir in oats, dates, and
nuts and mix thoroughly. Chill dough until it is easy to handle.

Roll dough into balls the size of large walnuts. Place 3 inches apart on lightly
greased baking sheets. (I prefer to use teflon liners.) Flatten cookies to 1/4-inch thickness with the bottom of a glass dipped in flour. Place half a candied cherry on top of each.

Bake at 375° for 10 to 12 minutes. Makes about 3 dozen.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sparkly Heart Ornaments


Today I thought I would share how to make some very pretty ornaments from simple supplies most crafters might have on hand. I have made many of these for gifts and for decorating my own home. I like to use them on my front-door wreath, but they are also nice for hanging on the tree or anywhere else you like. Some folks I have given them to like to hang these sparkly hearts from the kitchen cupboard doorknobs, to spiff up the kitchen with a holiday air. They would make nice package tie-ons, too. Years ago, I saw some similar ornaments for sale in a catalog and figured out an easy way to make them. Here's how:

SPARKLY HEART ORNAMENTS

You will need:

Red felt
Polyester fiberfill
Needle and red sewing thread
Gold star sequins
Gold glass seed beads
Red rocaille beads
Small shiny brass jingle bells, optional

For each ornament you wish to make, cut 2 heart shapes -- I trace around a a heart cookie cutter to make them uniform -- out of red felt. Add beads to one heart from each pair as follows: Thread a needle with red thread, then bring the needle up through the back side of the heart to the right side. Thread on a gold star sequin, then either a gold seed bead or a red rocaille bead. Insert the needle back into the star sequin and through to the back side again, so that the thread holds the bead tightly in place. Repeat this process to add as many sequins/beads as desired. (I used about 7 beads/stars on most of my ornaments.)

Now, using small neat stitches, sew the 2 heart shapes together about 1/4 inch from the edges, leaving an opening for stuffing the ornament. Stuff the heart ornament tightly with fiberfill (it won't take very much) and sew up the opening. If desired, sew a jingle bell to the bottom point of each heart. Now use the needle to pull a length of thread through the center top of each heart; knot to form a hanger.

The sparkly beads and sequins on these ornaments catch the light beautifully, and if you use the jingle bells, they add the sound of Christmas as well. Another really nice thing about these ornaments is that you can leave them up right through Valentine's Day!

Two Victorian-style projects


Here are a couple of quick and easy craft projects you can make with old Christmas cards or wrapping paper.

The first project is a pin, the second is an ornament.

For the pin, find a small Victorian motif on an old Christmas card or a scrap of wrapping paper. (I have seen several wrapping papers that are basically a collage of Victorian motifs.)

Glue the motif to posterboard or thin cardboard and let dry.

Carefully cut around the edges of the motif through both paper and the board it is glued to.

Hot-glue a pin back to the back side of the cardboard, centering it near the top.

Coat the front of the motif with mod podge at least three times, letting it dry between coats. If desired, sprinkle glitter on the motif before the last coat of mod podge dries.

For an ornament, you could follow the same steps, only instead of a pin-back, hot-glue a loop of gold cord to the center back of the cardboard near the top.

I made my pin round and ran a thin metallic cord around the outer edge. I was quite pleased with the way it came out, but my son persisted in referring to it as my "panic button" so I didn't wear it too often!

I made my ornaments rectangular or oval, trimmed the edge with decorative cord, and glued a tassel made from tinsel to the bottom center of one ornament. I want to make more of these. The photo shows two of the oval ornaments.



Hope someone else has fun with this idea!

Monday, November 12, 2007

My simple Christmas-card system


Here's another reprint from my regular blog that really deserves to be posted here!

My simple Christmas-Card system...

So many people struggle with trying to get their Christmas cards sent out. For years I watched my mother labor with a list, checking off cards received, listing cards sent out... and when I started sending my own Christmas cards, I did the same. Then came a couple of very busy years when cards just didn't get sent. Finally I decided to try a different way of handling this... something that would make it a blessing rather than a chore, that would keep the enjoyment in this special way of keeping in touch with friends and family.

I decided that when we received a card from someone, then I would send that person a card. It keeps the task very manageable. Writing only a few cards a day keeps it enjoyable and gives me time to add a little note to the card if I like. This system is almost foolproof. The only thing that keeps it from being ideal is that invariably we receive some cards from people at the very last minute, like the day before or the day after Christmas. I noticed this the first year, so the next year I bought a couple of nice New Year's cards to use for those people. (If you are trying this for the first time, I suggest buying a couple of New Year's cards right now, to have on hand for this inevitable happening.) By now, I have it pretty much figured out who is going to be late with their cards -- in our case, it's only two people -- and I just send their cards now before we receive one from them.

This system works beautifully for us. Is it perfect? Of course not. But it sure beats struggling to get your cards sent out or just giving up on sending cards entirely, as many people have done. Give it a try and see what you think!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Old-Timey Tin Icicles



Here's another idea from the December archives of my other blog:

Years ago, my sister-in-law told me about an easy, fun tree decoration. You can actually make these all year whenever you finish a roll of foil, wax paper, etc. Basically, they are icicles which you make from the metal cutting strip* on the boxes of these wraps. (In case you haven't noticed, this is not a craft small children should help with.)

Here's what you do: When you finish up a roll of foil or whatever, very carefully remove the metal cutting strip from the box. Once you get the end started, it will come off quite easily. Then take a pencil and, again working very carefully, wrap the metal strip around the pencil in a spiral pattern. Once the icicle looks the way you want it to, slip it off the pencil. There is your tin icicle! These metal strips often have holes spaced along them, and you can slip an ornament hook through the topmost hole. If your metal strip has no holes, you can simply bend the top of the icicle a bit to stay on a tree branch.

These icicles look charmingly old-fashioned on your tree, and they catch the glimmer of the tree lights beautifully. Have fun with this idea!

* I have noticed that many wraps are beginning to have a plastic cutting strip instead. So if you use up a package with a metal cutting strip and you have any interest in this project, snag it right away!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Velvet Ribbon Garlands


Last year, over on my other blog, Across my Kitchen Table, I posted a different Christmas idea every day for the month of December. Some of those ideas have been posted here as well, but others have not. So I'm going to copy and paste a few of them over here for those who may not have seen them on my other blog. Have fun.

Here's an easy idea to trim that hard-to-decorate area -- make these ribbon garlands to drape across your window tops.

Years ago, I wanted to make something special to help decorate our living room for Christmas. The problem was that the colors in this room -- gold, green, rust, etc. didn't look all that great with what I could find for trims.

However, I had been given some spools of stiff velvety craft ribbon about 3/4-inch wide. Among the usual reds and Christmas greens there were also some spools of gold and moss green ribbon. I cut pieces of ribbon perhaps 4 inches long, formed one into a loop and stapled the ends together. Then I slipped the next piece of ribbon through the loop and stapled its ends... and so on, and so on, exactly as one would do to make a paper chain. I alternated the gold and moss green colors in the chains, and made each chain long enough to drape across the top of a window, with part of the chain hanging down straight at each end. I simply pinned them in place with straight pins. They really dressed up the room while not clashing with its colors.

Of course you can use any type of craft ribbon you like. I would not recommend using ribbon any wider than one inch, however, and I wouldn't use any sort of ribbon that frays easily. But use your imagination when it comes to colors and ribbons. I can picture a garland of red plaid ribbon looking very nice indeed, for example.

These garlands may be used anywhere you'd like, of course -- mantels, hutches, corner cupboards -- even on the Christmas tree.

Have fun with this idea!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fun idea for packaging gift breads


 
I don't have pics of my more rustic packaging ... maybe this year.  These are wrapped in the shiny food-safe gift wrap.

I love giving small loaves of quick breads or fruitcake for Christmas! These make nice gifts for family, friends, or neighbors, and are a nice little thing to have on hand when someone drops by at holiday time and you’d like to give them a small remembrance. They also work exceeding well in care packages to send to faraway family and friends, because they are sturdy and keep well.

I have a way of packaging these little loaves that is so much fun for me. First, of course, when they are cool I wrap them in plastic wrap and then in foil. I almost always bake these ahead and freeze them, so I want to be sure they are well wrapped.

Next, I wrap them in something else -- either plain brown kraft paper, or -- my favorite -- a cut-apart paper bag. A country shop in our area uses bags which are brown with black print and which look just like an old-time newspaper. I always make some purchases at this shop around Christmas time, and I always save the bags. Regular newspaper might look neat, too.

Then I tie something around the loaf, just as you would tie ribbon around a gift package. I might use red ribbon, or colored raffia, or jute. I stick on a label indicating the contents of the package -- “Chocolate Banana Bread” or “Eggnog Fruit Bread” or whatever. And then, under the bow, I’ll often tuck something decorative, like a sprig of fir, or some silk holly, or I’ll glue on a couple of tiny pine cones.

(And of course, if your tastes run more to the sparkly and elegant, you can wrap your loaves in gold or colored foil paper and use pretty ribbons and shiny trims like mini Christmas balls or charms.)

These little gifts look so lovely and festive! I hope others will have as much fun as I do with this idea!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Packaging Cookie Trays


Cookies you send out of town require special packaging to get them to their destination safely and in good shape. That’s a topic for another day.

But for cookie trays you give to nearby family and friends, here’s an easy packaging tip. I used to think it was necessary to buy special Christmas plates or trays (usually paper or foam) for my giveaway cookie plates. Then I switched to plain white foam plates and added a Christmas paper doily under the cookies.

I’ve come to realize that just the plain white foam plates work fine. (If you don’t wish to buy foam, you could use white or red plastic plates, or heavy paper plates like Chinet. I wouldn’t use flimsy paper plates, not even doubled or tripled. They just buckle too easily under the weight of cookies.) The point is that the cookies themselves are so decorative, they really don’t need a decorative plate.

I arrange a bunch of different kinds of cookies on one plate, using several cookies of each variety. I group each kind together, and I try to vary the colors on the plate. For example, if I have 2 different kinds of chocolate cookies, I don’t put them next to one another on the plate.

When the plate is arranged as I like it -- and I like it to look generous but not overloaded and definitely not skimpy -- then I cover it with one or two sheets of plastic wrap and wrap it securely. I then add a gift tag of the stick-on type. A stick-on bow is another nice addition. If I am going to include a Christmas card or tract with my cookie tray, I do it this way: wrap curling ribbon around the tray as if I am wrapping a gift, crossing the ribbon under the tray and tying a bow on the top. If I am using a Christmas card, I tuck it under the bow and perhaps tape it in place so it doesn’t slide out. If I’m using a Christmas tract, I punch a hole in the top corner and slide the tract onto the ribbon before tying the bow.

I tend to bake all of my cookies ahead and store them in tins in the freezer; then I can assemble the cookie trays as needed. Near the time I’ll be giving them away, I try to make up several cookie trays and freeze those as well. That way, if a neighbor comes to our door with a treat, I can quickly pull out a frozen cookie tray and give it to her. It would be really nice if I could make up all of my cookie trays ahead, but I seldom get to doing this. And I must say, it does add an element of festivity and fun to be packaging them up shortly before Christmas day.

Monday, November 05, 2007

"Neighbor Gifts"



When I was growing up, my family always gave gifts of food -- fudge, or cookies, or holiday breads --to the neighbors at Christmas time. Mr. T and I have carried that tradition on with our own neighbors. It’s really neat to see how others in our neighborhood now give “neighbor gifts” of their own. We always receive a yummy pie from one neighbor, salsa from another, cookies from others. It’s fun and gives us a nice contact with our neighbors. When I give a cookie tray I often tie on a pretty Christmas tract or card containing the true message of the season.

For years, we always gave our neighbors trays of homemade cookies. In recent years, I’ve changed that up a bit. We may give cookies, or maybe something else, like muffins and hot chocolate mix, or scones or tea breads and a pack of pretty napkins.

I have found it very, very helpful to list down each neighbor we give to and to note what we give to each one each year. I also note if something was a special favorite. Golden Apricot Cake, for example, always draws rave reviews from some recipients. If someone really enjoys a particular cookie or other treat, I will be sure and give them that again sometime.

If you have never given “neighbor gifts” before, why not choose a neighbor or two to visit with a little homemade remembrance this year?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Last installment of My Christmas Notebook


My Christmas Notebook -- Odds & Ends

I really should go ahead and wrap up the story of my Christmas notebook by sharing what's in the front and back pockets of it.

The back pocket is easy. That's where I store my menus from past Thanksgivings -- the meal plan, who brought what, etc. I also keep a list of what serving dishes and utensils I typically need for Thanksgiving dinner.

The front pocket of the notebook is quite a bit more of a mess. I've tucked in several pretty Christmas pictures (from catalogs, etc.) that I thought inspiring. (But now I have a better place to put them -- my scrapbook-type journal!) There's a Christmas card or two in there that I hope to frame. There are lists and ideas that just don't seem to fit anywhere else -- but as I look these over now, I realize that they could fit into other places in the notebook if I really think about it. Some examples are lists of open-house appetizers and desserts, our menu from last year's "Christmas dinner" (held in February!), and a couple lists of homemade mixes I've given to our parents for Christmas. There are centerpiece ideas, a holiday shipping/mailing guide from the US Postal Service, a clipping detailing how to host a cookie exchange -- even a list of gift ideas for myself, because people sometimes ask and I seldom can think of anything quickly.

Finishing up the description of my Christmas notebook has been a great thing to do today, because it has given me new enthusiasm to get the notebook reorganized and set for a new holiday season!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Easy "Patchwork" Coasters


I shared the instructions for these over on my other blog, but thought I would post them again here because they make very nice gifts. Four of these coasters, made from holiday fabrics and tied in a stack with holiday ribbon, would make a lovely hostess gift when you visit family or friends during the Christmas season. It’s also fun to enclose some of these coasters in a gift bag along with your other kitcheny gifts such as homemade goodies or mixes. These are super simple to make and require no sewing skills other than being able to sew in a straight line and turn corners. Have fun with this idea!

“PATCHWORK” COASTERS
(a great project for using up fabric scraps)

For each coaster you will need:

FABRICS: Five 5-inch squares of different coordinating fabrics
One 5-inch square of thin cotton batting OR flannel (be advised that thicker batting will not work)

DIRECTIONS: Choose the fabric you want to be the back of the coaster. Lay this square, right side up, on top of the batting square. Pin in place.

Fold the remaining four squares in half diagonally, wrong sides in. Press the resulting triangles so the folds are crisp and smooth.

Lay 2 of the triangles just formed on top of the fabric/batting layer. The folds of the triangles should meet at the center, and the raw edges should line up with the outer edges and corners of the squares beneath.

Do the same with the remaining 2 triangles, but slant their folded edges in the opposite direction -- like an X. Interlock the triangles like a pouch.

Pin along the outer edges of the entire stack -- 4 layers -- batting; square of fabric for back; set of 2 triangles; set of 2 triangles.

Stitch around all 4 sides in a 1/4-inch seam.

Trim seams if necessary and clip off each corner.

Turn coaster right side out and push out the corners so they are nice and square. Press coaster .

If you like, make the coasters in sets of 4, 6, or more, and tie them together with ribbon or jute for gifts. These make wonderful hostess gifts! It’s also fun to make these up in holiday fabrics for the different seasons.

I must hasten to note that this is not my original idea. A new acquaintance kindly shared this pattern with me a number of years ago, but I’m not sure who actually originated it. In any case, I’ve made a couple of refinements to the pattern as I received it. It’s probably still not as clear as it might be, but it takes so long for me to load photos that I probably won’t be trying to write a tutorial for it anytime soon. It’s a lot easier than it sounds -- you will just be straight stitching around the edges of a square and turning it right side out, but the result is impressively complicated looking and very pretty.

Hope others have as much fun with these coasters as I have!

Great idea for kitchen gifts


With Christmas less than 2 months away, it’s high time I got back to posting here! I hope I can share something every day that might help with your Christmas planning and gift ideas.

Today, I want to pass on something neat that I don’t recall seeing in catalogs before -- bakeable corrugated paper loaf pans. You can bake your quick breads, fruitcakes, etc. in these and then give them away in the same decorative pan you baked them in.

So far, I have seen these advertised in two catalogs -- Gooseberry Patch
and the King Arthur Baker’s Catalogue.

The Baker’s Catalogue offers other sizes and shapes of these pans as well -- even star-shaped ones! You might like to check these out for yourself and see if they would be helpful for your kitchen gifts this Christmas.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

How I adapted the "Christmas in a Can" idea


As I mentioned yesterday, I was really taken with this idea of packing a clean, unused paint can with all manner of Christmasy objects as a family gift. But I knew my own adaptation of it would need to involve a box or a large sack rather than a measly gallon can!

I really wanted to give my kids and grandkids some things that I had made, things they could bring out every Christmas season even after I’m gone, and say, “Mom (or Grammy) made these special things.” I also wanted to give these things to them near the end of November, so they could bring them out at the beginning of the Christmas season. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, and it has all blurred together in my mind which things I gave them in which years. But here are some of the things I’ve done:

* Handmade advent calendars

* Gooseberry Patch Christmas books

* Children’s hardcover Christmas books

* Microwave popcorn with handmade Christmas wrappers

* Packets of hot chocolate, with handmade Christmas wrappers

* Holiday teas

* Handmade Christmas fabric table runners

* Handmade ornaments

* Hand-crocheted personalized stockings

* Mr. T’s old work socks, embellished with holiday fabric patches and buttons

* Cross-stitched bread cloths with Christmas motifs

* Personalized Christmas address labels (designed and printed by me)

* Cookie cutters

* Christmas paper napkins

... and more!

Maybe others would be interested in adapting my ideas for their own families.

Oh, and ... there are only 4 more months until Christmas!

Friday, August 24, 2007

"Christmas in a Can"


Christmas in a Can

A few years ago I came across this idea on a site I was visiting. I wanted to do this for my married kids and their families. It was several years before I actually got around to doing anything about it, and my results ended up being quite different from the original idea I had found, but thought others might enjoy hearing about this early Christmas gift anyway.

The original idea begins with a clean, unused, gallon paint can. You can cover the outside with Christmas themed kraft paper. You can make a label with clip art and a nice font that reads “Christmas in a Can” and add “Packed with care” or whatever else you like. You can make a similar label, only round, for the top of the can.

Then the can is packed with items to get a family in the Christmas spirit. Suggestions include:
* Microwave popcorn
* Wassail or spiced cider mix
* Hot chocolate mix
* Candy canes
* Cookie cutters
* Cookie mix
* Ornaments
* A short Christmas story or memory, printed in a neat font with clip art, folded in half and rolled up like a scroll.


For the microwave popcorn, you can make holiday wrappers that fold right around the packet of popcorn. Same with individual packets of hot chocolate or spiced cider mix. If using larger amounts of hot chocolate or a dry wassail mix, it was suggested to package 1 to 2 cups of these in the holiday printed plastic bags you can buy and staple a card stock label, with instructions, to the top.

This site also suggested including a gingerbread cookie mix, which is simply a spice cake mix taken out of the box but left in its packet. Then you staple a card stock label to the top, with these instructions:

GINGERBREAD COOKIE MIX
Mix one medium egg, 2 Tblsp. water, and 1/4 cup soft shortening with cookie mix. Makes a stiff dough. Mix well, chill dough. Roll out on floured surface and cut with cookie cutters. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 375º for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool and decorate as desired.

You could probably think of other ideas. When you finish packing the can, place the lid on top and give to the family of your choice.

I thought this was a really neat idea for a family gift! Hopefully tomorrow I can share how I adapted this idea to give to my own married kids and their families. In the meantime, I hope someone else will have fun with this idea.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Less than 5 months....



Yes, there are less than 5 months left until Christmas! I had big plans to do a lot of Christmas crafting in the week just past, having reviewed my lists and having seen just how far behind I actually am in the Christmas crafting department. Very little actually got done toward Christmas, but I am pleased at least that I’ve looked at my lists and do have a grasp of how much I need to accomplish in the next 4 months. I would like to be mostly done by then and be able to just enjoy all the activities of December with a light heart!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Zesty Italian Dressing Mix for gifts


Finally! Here is another recipe for a gift mix and for the recipes I plan to include with it. I’m not sure yet exactly how I will package this mix -- in individual packets, or if I will make up a bunch of it and say that 1 Tblsp. of it equals 1 packet of mix. As you can see, I also came up with a couple of tags/labels for this mix. Enjoy!

ZESTY ITALIAN DRESSING MIX

1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. each: pepper, oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, sweet red pepper flakes
Pinch of paprika

In a custard cup or small bowl, mix all together. Whirl briefly in a blender if you like a finer texture (I skip this step). Makes the equivalent of 1 packet Italian dressing mix. May double or triple the recipe if you need more than one packet of mix in whatever you’re making.

CUCUMBER SANDWICHES

8 ounces cream cheese
1 pkg. dry Italian salad dressing mix
Party rye bread (about 1 loaf)
Cucumber slices (1 to 2 cucumbers)
Paprika or salad seasoning, optional

Combine the cream cheese and salad dressing mix. Spread the mixture on slices of party rye bread. Top each open-face sandwich with a cucumber slice. If desired, sprinkle each with paprika or dry salad seasoning. Refrigerate until serving, and be sure to refrigerate any leftovers.

These little sandwiches make a great appetizer. They also work very well as a tea party type of sandwich.

BAKED POTATO SALAD

4 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut in 3/4-inch chunks
1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil
2 envelopes Italian salad dressing mix*
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped (optional)
4 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
5 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1 Tblsp. vinegar
1 Tblsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder

In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with the oil and the dressing mixes. Place in 2 greased or foil-lined 13x9-inch baking pans. Bake, uncovered, at 400º for 45 minutes or until tender. Cool. Transfer to a large bowl; add peppers, onions, tomatoes if using, eggs and bacon. Toss gently. Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl to use as a dressing; mix well. Pour over salad and stir gently. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Yield: 12-16 servings.

This great salad recipe is one I tried out on a team of college guys who did a building project at our church. In spite of the long list of ingredients, this is very easy to make and serves a large group.

MARINATED BROCCOLI SALAD

1 bunch broccoli, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 large green pepper, minced
2 4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, drained (or use fresh ones)
1 16-ounce can black olives, sliced or simply cut in half
1 small can sliced water chestnuts
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes (either halved or left whole)
Dressing:
2 pkg. dry zesty Italian salad dressing mix
1/2 cup vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup water
1 Tblsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Combine all vegetables in large bowl. Combine all dressing ingredients in covered jar; cover and shake well. Pour over salad; toss well. Cover salad and refrigerate overnight.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ranch Dressing Mix


Well, here is the first installment of my ideas for using spice mixes in little cloth bags -- packaged in ziplocks inside the cloth bags, along with instructions and a couple of recipes for using the mix -- for neat little gifts. Here's my Ranch Dressing Mix recipe, along with 2 recipes I use this blend in. I've also made a couple of little tags so far -- anyone may feel free to use these, or design your own. Enjoy!

RANCH DRESSING MIX

2 Tblsp. plus 2 tsp. dried minced onion
1 Tblsp. dried parsley flakes
2 1/2 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Store in airtight container -- a jar, tin, or small plastic container would work well. For each packet of ranch dressing mix called for in a recipe, use 1 Tblsp. of this mix.



RANCH FRENCH BREAD

1 1/4 cups warm water
4 Tblsp. buttermilk powder
2 Tblsp. canola oil
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 Tblsp. ranch dressing mix
1 tsp. salt
4 cups bread flour
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

Place all ingredients in bread machine. Choose the dough setting and press the start button.

When dough is finished, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it in half. Roll each portion into a 14-inch by 12-inch rectangle. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with a long side; pinch seam to seal and tuck the ends under. Place seam side down on a parchment-lined (or greased) baking sheet. With a sharp knife, make 5 shallow slashes across the top of each loaf. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Bake in a preheated 350º oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Brush lightly with butter. Remove to wire rack to cool.

Yield: 2 loaves

CHRISTMAS PARTY PINWHEELS

2 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 pkg. (.4 oz.) ranch dressing mix
1/2 cup minced sweet red pepper
1/2 cup minced celery
1/4 cup sliced green onion
1/4 cup sliced stuffed olives
Recipe says 4 10-inch flour tortillas -- I say more.

Beat cream cheese and dressing mix until smooth. Add red pepper, celery, onions and olives; mix well. Spread mixture evenly over tortillas; roll up tightly and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill at least 2 hours. Slice in 1/2-inch pieces.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Nifty idea for Christmas giving




Sometimes ideas just come out of nowhere, apparently. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say ideas are everywhere. An idea came to me unexpectedly this week that I think will be so much fun to use.

I think I may have shared on my other blog how I make personalized cookbooks for gifts for showers, weddings, etc. Briefly, I am working on typing all of my recipes into a word processing document. (I had them all on a floppy disk some years ago and somehow the disk became corrupted and I lost the entire thing. Be that as it may, I have added many more recipes to my list of favorites since then!) Anyway, when a gift-giving occasion comes up, I print out the recipes I think the particular couple will enjoy. Then I embellish the pages with bits and pieces I’ve cut from catalogs and magazines, slip each page into a clear page protector -- I actually put 2 recipes in each one, back to back -- and then put the pages into a binder. I make a nice front and back cover to slip into the clear covers of the binder.

This week I was making one of these books for a bridal shower. As I sorted through my old catalogs to snip out embellishments for the pages, I came across a wonderful idea. The catalog (from 1998) offered for sale neat little packets of spices enclosed in homespun fabric bags tied with raffia. For example, there were things like apple pie spice, chicken soup herbs, etc. Each little bag also contained recipes which made use of the particular spice blend.

I’m sure I had seen these items back when the catalog was new, but it never really clicked with me that these are something I could make for gifts. I love making my own spice and herb mixes and blends and do it all the time -- apple pie spice, pumpkin pie spice, italian and ranch dressings, taco seasoning mix. I can easily stitch up some little fabric bags and print out some recipe cards which will go with each mix.

Doesn’t this sound like fun? I’m anxious to get started, but know that realistically I don’t have the time in the next couple of weeks. I will, however, begin listing down what mixes I’ll make and what recipes I can use to go with each one.

Friday, June 29, 2007

A favorite fruit punch




Here's my pick for an easy fruit punch to serve at a Christmas open house.

FAVORITE FRUIT PUNCH

2 12-ounce cans frozen cran/raspberry juice cocktail
2 1-liter bottles chilled orange-flavored carbonated water* (the raspberry-lime flavor is great, too)

Mix together in a large punch bowl or -- for a picnic -- in a gallon-size insulated jug or a jar. Serve with ice. For a punch bowl, a fruit-filled ice ring is a nice touch. We used this punch for 2 weddings but have also used it for open house at Christmas or New Year’s. It is so easy and delicious! Of course, you may multiply the ingredients for more servings.

Yield: 20 servings.

* Note -- be sure to get the flavored club soda and not just the flavored carbonated waters which are so popular. The flavored water contains aspartame or splenda and makes the punch much too sweet.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Fabulous Eggnog Recipe


EFFORTLESS EGGNOG

1/2 gallon cold milk, divided use
1 pkg. (3.4 ounces) French vanilla instant pudding mix (vanilla will work)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

In a large bowl, whisk 3/4 cup milk with the pudding mix until smooth. Whisk in the sugar, vanilla, and spices. Stir in the remaining milk. Refrigerate until serving, and be sure to refrigerate any leftovers.

Yield: 2 quarts

I first tried this wonderful recipe from Taste of Home magazine at Christmas 2005. It is so easy, and there’s none of the worry or mess of using raw eggs. This is delicious! Most people tell me that if I hadn’t revealed the secret of the instant pudding mix, they would never know this wasn’t “real” eggnog!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"Simple Joys of Christmas"






Today I thought I would share about another favorite Gooseberry Patch book of mine. This is one of their special (but, I think short-lived) "Simple Joys" series. These books -- there was at least one other, Simple Joys of Friendship -- are absolutely beautiful, keepsake-type books. I believe they are out of print, but I bet you could find one on line or at a consignment shop. I got mine for free because I have a recipe published in it.

Every page of this gorgeous book is enhanced with beautiful retro-looking watercolor illustrations. It just says "1950s" to me, with so many of the decorations and trims looking like the ones that I remember. It would be a favorite book of mine just for the illustrations alone. There are four sections to this book: Blessings, Delights, Memories, and Gatherings.

The Blessings section is subtitled "Sharing memories from the heart" and its first page is just a visual delight. Multicolored retro Christmas lights dance all over a yellow/white plaid background. A square of green & white polka-dot fabric, with pinked edges, serves as a backdrop for a cluster of colorful aluminum bells. A rectangle of the same fabric, edged with green rickrack, is the backdrop for the title.

The Blessings section is filled with heartfelt memories, but on each facing page there is a recipe. Some of the recipes are those mentioned in the memories -- others are just good Christmas recipes. Here are a few of them --Festive Cheese Ball, Fireside Dip, Best-Ever Popcorn Balls, Warm Cinnamon Twists, Heavenly Potato Soup, Pumpkin Coffee Cake. (I can vouch for that last one -- it's wonderful!)

The "Delights" section is subtitled "Cheery holiday fun..." and it is filled with wonderful memories as well. Among the recipes are Broccoli-Wild Rice soup -- I've tried that one, halved the recipe; it's great), Candy Cane Cookies, Snow Ice Cream, Cookie Jar Gingersnaps (yummy!), Grandma Ruth's Cherry Cake, Creamy Hot Cocoa, and more.

The first page of the "Memories" section (subtitled "Sweet holiday recollections") is delightful too. On a pale green background are scattered red-handled rolling pins, red & green-handled cookie cutters, and sets of measuring spoons. The red & white striped "fabric swatch" on this page serves as a backdrop for a delicious-looking cake on a jadite cake plate.

Along with sweet memories, there are more recipes here -- like Mom's Christmas Fudge, Cherry Winks, Christmas Cheese Ball Wreath, Nana's Butter Cookies,Mint Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball, and Chocolate-Pistachio Cake.

"Gatherings" is the last section, and it contains more memories of families and friends. Recipes like Angel Torte, Winter Wonderland Chili, Wassail, Cherry Crumb Pie, Almond Roca, and more are interspersed with memories and more beautiful artwork.

When these books were being "retired" by Gooseberry Patch, they were available at quite a low price. I bought one for each of my daughters and my daughter-in-law. Now they can all own the book with "our" special recipe in it!

June 25...


... was Rudolph Day for June!

I must confess I did very little to celebrate. Once I remembered that it was in fact Rudolph Day, I did do a couple of things:

* Looked over my timeline for completing Christmas crafts. (I'm several months behind, mostly owing to eldercare responsibilities, craft planning and preparation for Vacation Bible School -- which started yesterday -- and increased busyness with writing projects. But I'm beginning to think about getting back on track with my Christmas crafting and can see a ray of light at the end of the tunnel -- I hope.)

* Looked through a couple of magazines for ideas for Christmas kitchen gifts for the coming year.

* Checked in at the Organized Christmas craft forum, a place I haven't made time to visit in weeks. Found I had a message from a lady who'd stumbled across my Christmas Kitchen blog and is enjoying the posts. That made my Rudolph Day!

* Glanced through my Christmas notebook in the Rudolph Day section and discovered that the main emphasis for June's Rudy Day is on gathering up our Christmas recipes. Yay! I can say I've been working on that one...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

My Christmas Notebook, Part 5


Here's the last "official" section in my Christmas notebook:


The last section in my Christmas notebook is labeled Christmas Past. Here is where I file things from past Christmases.

I have lists of what we gave people for Christmas, going back to Christmas 2001, which is when I started trying to be more organized about the holiday. It's been a real help to me to save these lists, because I find I will often have the same gift idea for the same person and would otherwise not be able to remember whether I actually gave them that gift or not. I can look back at my lists and know for sure.

These lists also include what we gave to people whose names we drew in our Sunday School gift exchange.

I even include on these lists a notation as to what food gifts I shared with our neighbors each year, and if any of those were particular favorites with the recipients.

Also in this "Christmas Past" section are lists detailing any entertaining we did, starting with Thanksgiving dinner and going through cookie exchanges, open houses, Christmas Eve, Christmas dinner, etc. etc. It is really helpful to look back and see what we served, or, in the case of Thanksgiving, who brought what, etc. For the big occasions, I also keep a list of what serving dishes I will need.

Organized Christmas has a printable Christmas Debriefing form which is very helpful. Each year after Christmas, take a quick look back at what worked, what didn't, and how you can improve in your planning for the coming year. I keep my debriefing forms in the Christmas Past section too, very appropriately.

Technically this ends my Christmas notebook, but I have a few items stuffed into the front and back pockets of the notebook which I'll share another time.