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!