Saturday, December 31, 2011

The actual baking list for Christmas 2011

Okay, now it is time for a reality check.  Time to check the tentative baking list against the actual one.  I found that out of the 12 items on my tentative list, we actually made 6 of them.  And then we made 8 items that were not on the tentative list.  So we actually made more treats than planned, just different ones.  As I mentioned earlier, Mr. T did a good bit of the baking and candy making this year.  What a help he was!  As a result, he has informed me that if he ever retires (which is highly unlikely), he would like to spend more time in the kitchen.  Should that ever come to pass, I will not complain!  I love to cook and bake, but I don't mind help one bit.  So here's the list:


Ashley's Granola Bars
Date-Nut Casserole Cookies
Whipped Shortbread
Eggnog Logs
Sacher Tortes
Heavenly Delight Fudge
White Chocolate Raspberry Thumbprints
Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
Almond Shortbread Thumbprints
Secret Spice Cookies
Chocolate Spritz
Cookie Dough Truffles
Fruity Pastel Spritz
Cinnamon Pretzels

We still have a few of these goodies left, mostly in the freezer, and will be using them for desserts at our weekly potlucks at church for as long as they last.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Fun after-Christmas buy from Tractor Supply!

Or, if you prefer, neat stuff for the tree from TSC!

A Tractor Supply Co. recently came to our area and I visited it for the first time this week.  I was hoping to find some neat things on clearance after Christmas, and I did!  I can't show two of them, because they will be gifts eventually and I don't want the recipients to see them.

But I can show the nifty ornaments I found.  I have long admired the glass ornaments shaped like pickup trucks with Christmas trees in the back, but never expected to find any this affordable.  This is a set of 3 ornaments, 2 red trucks and 1 green one, with little bottle brush trees in the back.  Here's the amazing clearance price ~ $3.49 for the set of three!
The set of three

The green truck

If you have a Tractor Supply near you, you might like to go in and see if they have any ornaments left.  Another really neat thing they had (which I managed to resist buying) was the candles which are poured in enameled mugs, little cast iron pans, etc.  The candles smell yummy and look so cute, and when the candles are used up you can still use the mugs, pans, etc.  These are on clearance but they are not at all "Christmasy" so they would make great home accents or gifts all year long.  Happy shopping!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cookie Dough Truffles

(Photo by Taste of Home)
As mentioned earlier, Mr. T did a lot of our baking and candy making this Christmas.  Maybe later I can post our actual baking list (which differed quite a bit from our tentative list!).  I thought I would share one of the candy recipes that we really loved.  You can find the recipe here:  Cookie Dough Truffles.  He made these perhaps just a tad smaller than the recipe said to, and he ended up with over 7 dozen candies!  He had three trays of the cookie dough centers chilling out on the porch, lined up on top of the grill.  It was quite a sight!

The chocolate almond bark coating makes these very easy, but I think this candy would be even more wonderful with a real chocolate coating.  One reviewer on the Taste of Home site said that she made these with melted Ghirardelli chocolate, so we might try that next time.  (On the other hand, we just bought several packages of almond bark at 50% off at our local Hannaford supermarket, so maybe not.)

These have gone over very well with everyone who has tasted them.  They really do taste just like cookie dough, without any worry about raw eggs.   Give the recipe a try!  This candy would be great for Valentine's Day or any other sweet occasion!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Some after-Christmas deals

Here are a few of my after-Christmas deals.  I found a few more today at Tractor Supply, but those will have to wait for another day.  So far everything I've found has been for 50% off, and everything pictured here (except for the tea lights) I found at Walmart.  I'm hoping to find more good deals later when things go to 75% off.  What deals have you found?

"Holiday Sweets" cupcake papers for half price ~ these will be handy to have in the Christmas kitchen for next year!

Red & cream snowflakes and candy stripes on tissue paper

Votive candles in the Cinnamon and Vanilla Cookies scents ~ these smell yummy!

Extra fine glitter for Christmas crafting

A nice bakery type box for cupcakes and the like

Cookie bags including plates and ribbon ~ 2 in each set

And, found at Rite Aid, these battery tea lights for 99¢ a pack.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A quiet morning in the Christmas kitchen

Yes, it's quiet in the Christmas kitchen this morning after weeks of cookie-baking, candy-making and just general merry food preparations for this most special of holidays.  Today is a day of picking up and putting away -- gifts in their places, gift bags and other wrappings and Christmas cards all being reorganized for use another year.  I think, though, that I will not put these items in the attic just yet.  It would be prudent to wait and see what I find at the after-Christmas sales that will need to be put away, also.

I feel as if I should rename this blog "Mr. T's Christmas kitchen", for he has done a great amount of the cooking and baking this Christmas season.  I looked at a cookie tray one day at church and realized that, except for one kind out of a great variety of cookies on the tray, Mr. T had baked every one of them!  He had some downtime at work due to weather in the  past couple of weeks, and cheerfully baked and baked on those days at home. 
Christmas kitchen gifts from a  previous year

One thing about his being home is that it helped us think some things through as to how we might better plan for next year, as far as kitchen gifts and Christmas food preparation in general go.  I always bake cookies ahead and freeze them, but didn't start early enough this year.  I'm thinking, too, that in late fall I might find a pork loin on sale and freeze it right in the marinade, for Christmas dinner, and I might make a coffeecake or some sweet rolls for Christmas breakfast and freeze them too.  I made a nice cran-apple sauce for Christmas dinner yesterday; that would freeze, also...

Just a few random thoughts as I putter in my quiet Christmas kitchen!
Snowman sign on my back door

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Quote for the day

Last night as I was wrapping gifts, I came upon some old gift tags -- not vintage, just old -- that had come from some charity or other.  There were only a couple of them left.  One of them had this quote printed on the back.  I liked it and thought I would share.

"The joy of brightening other lives, bearing each others' burdens, easing others' loads and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts becomes for us the magic of Christmas."  ~ W.C. Jones

It reminds me that as Christians we are to be brightening others' lives, bearing one another's burdens, easing their loads and reaching out to empty hearts and lives with the love of Christ.  All year round.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cranberry Cheese Log ~ a yummy appetizer!

(Photo by Taste of Home)
Last night I went to a ladies' Christmas fellowship and needed to  bring along finger foods to share.  I brought a tray of cookies plus a cheese log and crackers.  For the crackers I chose Triscuits®, which seemed just right with the flavors and texture of this cheese log.  The recipe may be found here:  Cranberry Cheese Ball.  I chose to form the cheese mixture into a log, as I think cheese logs are easier and neater to serve than cheese balls.  I rolled it in chopped toasted walnuts rather than pecans.

This seems to be a very forgiving and adaptable recipe.  Rather than gorgonzola, I used just regular crumbled blue cheese (low-fat) from the grocery store since this is what I had, and it worked just fine.  I left out the chopped red & green peppers because I had none on hand, and left out the celery due to lack of time.  For the onion, I reconstituted 2 teaspoons of dried minced onion in hot water for 10 minutes or so and then drained off the excess water (there wasn't much).  The flavor was wonderful and, although I may add the peppers next time, they are not necessary.  This seemed to go over very well at the fellowship, and I will definitely be making this again and again at Christmas time.  Easy and delicious!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Star Dishcloths to crochet

I saw these adorable dishcloths over at Miss Abigail's Hope Chest and just had to share.  Here is the link to the free pattern, which downloads as a pdf and looks like fun:  Christmas Star Dishcloth  The original pattern calls for gold yarn on the edging part, but as you see Kathleen used red, which to my mind looks even nicer.  Green would be pretty, too.  I am longing to make one of these, but will most likely have to wait until after Christmas.  This looks to me as if it would make a nice doily-type item for Christmas decorating, not just a dishcloth.
Photo by Miss Abigail's Hope Chest

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Free Christmas Letter Templates from Better Homes and Gardens

Have you written your Christmas letter yet?  Or would you just like some nifty Christmas paper to print out recipes and lists on?  Head on over to Better Homes & Gardens for some free Christmas Letter Templates!  I think this link will take you directly to the vintage ornament stationery design, which is very cute, but if you click on "show all thumbnails" near the top right, you will see around 35 different designs to choose from.  These are free pdf downloads and there are many terrific designs.  Have fun!

Monday, December 12, 2011

A nice soup for Christmas Eve

Yesterday I tried a recipe for Crockpot Seafood Chowder for the potluck at church.  It was actually one I first tried from Quick Cooking magazine about 10 years ago and had forgotten about.

We liked this a lot and I think it would make a wonderful meal for Christmas Eve, with a simple accompaniment like raw vegetables and breadsticks ... something like that.  Easy, too ... it could be simmering all afternoon while you enjoy doing other Christmasy things.

I do need to add that I changed some things about the recipe.  First of all, and most important, so pay attention:  One of the reviews at the site mentioned the vegetables not getting cooked enough; too crunchy.  I did cook it quite a bit longer; around 3 hours on High to start with, and then about 3 hours on Low.  So you would probably want to do that, too.

I also changed some things with the ingredients.  We sliced the carrots rather than chopping them fine, and cut the potatoes in cubes about 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch square.  I left out the imitation crab completely; I did buy it and intended to add it, but after the other seafood was in it didn't seem necessary, so I left it out.  I used a 6-ounce bag of frozen salad shrimp rather than the can of shrimp, so the shrimp were larger and seemed like more.  Also, I just added the seafood right at the beginning rather than waiting.  I had intended to garnish with packaged bacon bits, but we had bacon left from breakfast so I just crumbled that on top..  We found this to be quite flavorful.  I guess the canned soups add enough flavor.  And it was creamy without being cloyingly thick as some seafood chowders are.


If I didn't already have a default Christmas Eve soup recipe, I would be making this for Christmas Eve!  Maybe your family would like to try it, too.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Date-Nut Casserole Cookies

I know, I know, strange name.  It's because the "batter" for these confections bakes in the oven before being formed into balls.  I was intrigued by this recipe years ago as a young teen cooking from my mother's cookbooks,  but never tried it, probably because our family already had a treasured traditional date ball recipe.  This year, my favorite cooking newsletter, Cook & Tell, published the recipe.  It's essentially the same as the one in my old favorite Farm Journal Homemade Cookies book, except it contains more dates.  So I just had to try it.

One thing I love about Farm Journal cookbooks is the chatty tone of Nell B. Nichols, their food editor, and the interesting stories behind some of the recipes.  The following is undoubtedly what made me want to try this recipe in the first place:

"A Missouri school teacher contributed this recipe.  She says she makes the confection cookies every yuletide season.  The teachers take turns providing candy daily for their lounge the week before the holiday vacation.  Casserole Cookies disappear quickly, which is adequate proof of their popularity.

"You bake the cookie mixture in a casserole.  A crust forms on top, but it disappears when you stir the hot cookies with a spoon.  When mixture cools, you shape the cookies in 1" balls and roll them in granulated sugar.  The white sugar granules glisten on the dark cookie balls."

Hungry yet?  Here's the recipe:

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 8-ounce package chopped dates
1 cup flaked coconut
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. almond extract
Sugar for coating

Beat eggs well; gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating until mixture is light and fluffy.  Stir in nuts, dates, coconut and extracts and mix thoroughly.  Pour into ungreased 2-quart casserole dish.

Bake at 350ยบ for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and while still hot, stir well with wooden spoon.  Let mixture cool, then form into 1" balls.  Roll in sugar.  Makes between 3 and 4 dozen.

We liked these a lot.  Maybe your family would like to try them, too.  I think they will be great for some of my family members who must avoid wheat and gluten.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Betsy McCall Paper Dolls!

As mentioned yesterday, I think girls today miss out on a lot of fun with paper dolls.  I loved paper dolls as a child and I always liked it when my grandmother passed her McCall's magazine on to us with the paper doll page intact.  Betsy McCall was so cute, had such nifty outfits and fun adventures!  I was in seventh heaven the year my parents gave me a Betsy McCall Fashion Designer Kit (complete with light box and a whole portfolio of components to design literally hundreds of outfits).

So a few years ago I was delighted when my daughter discovered printable Betsy McCall paper dolls on line.  You can check it out here: Betsy McCall paper dolls.  This site has 10 years worth of Betsy McCall paper doll pages, with 12 months for each year.  To access all of the paper dolls for a particular year, just click on the year -- 1951, 1955, etc.  From there you can click on the pictured pages for each month to print the ones you want.
A small cropped version of one of the pages

So much fun!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Winter Holiday Paper Dolls

Here is a link to more free printables.  These adorable Winter Holiday Paper Dolls would make a wonderful gift for a young girl; you could print them out and even include scissors and maybe a nice rectangular tin to keep them in.  These pdf files even include some accessories like a Christmas tree, fireplace, etc.  If you look around on the site you will find paper dolls for other seasons like Halloween and Thanksgiving.  I think that girls today often miss out on the fun of paper dolls.  Why not introduce them to that old-fashioned pastime this holiday?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Patterns for American Girl doll clothes!

Do you have a little girl in your life who owns an American Girl or other 18-inch doll?  Do you like to sew?  Then you will want to check out this link for free patterns for American Girl doll clothes.  These patterns are free pdf downloads.  I believe there are patterns for the wardrobes for six different dolls -- Felicity, Kirsten, Addy, Samantha, Molly, and Josefina.

When my girls were young I bought the American Girl patterns for their dolls, Molly and Samantha.  The patterns were a bit pricey then but far cheaper than buying the clothes.  I made a lot of outfits for them, including a pretty green plaid flannel cape for Samantha.  Now I can make more clothes if I am so inclined.  I actually own a Felicity doll myself (she was given to me) and now I can make a wardrobe for her if I like!

I thought others might enjoy making pretty doll clothes from these marvelous free patterns!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Turning coffee canisters into holiday containers!

In years gone by, I often used coffee cans as containers for Christmas kitchen gifts.  I've wondered a number of times about using the large plastic canisters that coffee comes in these days, and have saved a few of them.  Today I happened to visit to get in on some of their promotions, and found that I could design my own holiday canister.  They have a section here where one can choose from a number of holiday designs (to fit 2 sizes of canisters) and then download the design to print out on sticker paper to affix to one's own canister.  What a nice idea!  I've downloaded a design and will have fun using these recycled canisters as gift containers this Christmas.  I thought others might like to check this out, too.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Cute Christmas Countdown Blocks!

Lots of people on my favorite Christmas crafting forum were making sets of wooden countdown blocks for gifts.  They are a neat idea and I had hoped to make some too.  But it's not happening before Christmas.

If you are like me and running out of time, you may like to know that you can make a set of countdown blocks out of card stock from a free printable download.  Here's the address:  Free Countdown Blocks.  These are a very cute snowflake design and I am having fun counting down with mine!  Even if they do make it very clear how little time I have left for Christmas crafting!
(Photo by Sweet Anne Designs)

Friday, December 02, 2011

Great idea for finding time to do Christmas baking!

I first read this quote from a subscriber in the December 1995 issue of Cook & Tell.   I think of it every year about this time and try to heed the advice.  Laura White's mother was one wise woman!

"... As Christmas started to approach, my mother used to make a huge batch of escalloped hamburg, a gigantic stew, a couple of meat loaves, and soup from the Thanksgiving turkey.  They were to 'sustain' us, while she did the cookies and other Christmasy things which left her no time for creative meals.  Not a bad system."  ~ Laura White

I wholeheartedly agree.  Cooked my turkey carcass yesterday and will be making soup today!