Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Tradition 3 - New Jammies!

Every Christmas Eve we would go to my grandma's house. And when we would come home, Santa's elves would have left us new pajamas! My mom insisted that they had magic dust on them that would make us very sleep. I always was very sleepy and never attributed it to an entire day of running around with my cousins and the 12 pounds of turkey and cookies we had consumed.

This is a tradition that I am excited to continue with my own children. I don't believe that Santa will be sending a matched set of family pajamas... but this was the first picture I found. I believe Buddy the Elf will be leaving their new jammies as he heads back to the North Pole - at least that's what my daughter has decided will happen. And she's usually right. Now to find some of that magic dust...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Tradition 2 - Gingerbread Houses

In spite of some good intentions, I did NOT bake any gingerbread this year. I kept forgetting to get molasses at the store. And really - I just decided to simplify a bit. So we tried out two store-bought house kits and they were both really fun.

The kit from Costco had more pieces, more candy and one additional color of icing compared to a different kit purchased from Macey's grocery store. That either amounts to more fun, or more assembly for mom and dad while the kids consume more sugar. You'll have to decide.

This is the house from the grocery store. Minnie and her friend put it together - and they needed more candy. The only complaint I have with the kits is that they don't use real Royal Icing. So instead of drying with the cement-quality hardness and structural stability of homemade gingerbread houses, the icing stayed a little wet and pliable for a long time. Consequently the roof kept sliding off due to the extreme candy weight. On the other hand, the house pieces in the kits are actually straight and I can never get mine to bake up quite right. So it's a give and take. Maybe we'll make our own icing next year.

I cleverly gave this house to Jenny so that her kids could admire it and my kids could not eat it. Hahahaha.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Tradition 1 - Elf on the Shelf

Only a few days until Christmas! I hope that you are getting things wrapped up and enjoying the holiday season. I thought that I would share a few of our family Christmas traditions this week.

Last year Jenny told me about this fabulous book - Elf on the Shelf. It's the story of the elves that Santa sends to watch over you during the Christmas season. Every night he tells Santa how good you have been. And every morning he hides in a new spot in the house! At Christmas, he will go back to the North Pole with Santa and be back next year!

The set comes with the elf story book as well as your very own elf. My kids are the perfect age for this tradition - they have been so excited to have an elf living here. Our elf is named Buddy (creative, I know) and they love talking to him and looking for him each morning when they wake up. I have even heard them whispering to each other "let's not do that! Buddy is watching and will tell Santa!"

Friday, December 19, 2008

Simply Handmade

If you love things that are beautiful, hand-made or just plain craft-a-licious, then I have the blog for you!
LinkLinkThe company that I work for started with a scrapbook magazine, and now publishes several idea magazines - one for card-makers, bead/jewelry fanatics and now one just for those who love handmade projects. Our new publication is called Simply Handmade. It's a beautiful book, full of trendy projects that are easy enough to complete and cute enough that you actually want to do them! Check out this crafty Christmas ornament that you can make with scraps of fabric and ribbon! Must... resist... urge... to... redecorate entire Christmas tree...

For the techno-savvy crafter, they have just started the new Simply Handmade blog, which is full of even more inspiration, ideas and fun projects. So check them out!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Photoshop Tutorial

So my friend Becca suggested that I do a series of Photoshop tutorials for simple things like collages and filters and basic photo editing. Nothing advanced or weird - but things that would help the everyday photographer spruce up their pictures. So I'm going to pick a day each week and share a different Photoshop technique!

If you have a specific Photoshop question, post a comment. This won't start until the new year so don't be looking for anything tomorrow. And then you'll all be dying to try all these tips out with the new cameras that Santa's going to bring!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Digital Christmas cards

Christmas is almost here but you may still be thinking about Christmas cards (or know someone who is). If you don't want to wait for printed cards to be shipped to you, try digital delivery! Get your custom-designed card in a full-resolution file. E-mail them, make your own prints or post your card on your blog! Click here for the details.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

12 Days of Cookies - day 12

Whoa, the very last day of cookies! I'm going to finish off our 12 cookie recipes with another family favorite.

I always thought these were Italian cookies because the recipe comes from my mom's Italian family. When I finally asked about it... turns out the recipe is actually Hungarian. Who knew? It's my great-aunt Rose's super-secret recipe that took 27 years for my mom to get out of her. You'd better copy it down before Guido and Mario track me down.

Anise Twists
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 oz. anise extract
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
2-4 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time. Mix in milk, anise and baking powder. Add enough flour to make a stiff dough (it should be just not-sticky enough to work with but not so stiff that the cookies are dense and hard). Cover and chill for 1/2 hour.

Take a 2-inch ball of dough and roll it into a long snake (about 10 inches long and as thin as your pinky-finger). Holding the middle of the roll, twist the ends around (not too tight and not too loose). Place on a greased cookie sheet. Brush with evaporated milk.

Bake at 425 for 10 minutes or until just golden. Remove from oven and let cool for 3-5 minutes. Place warm cookies in a plastic bag. The steam will soften the tops and prevent the cookies from being crisp. If you can keep from eating them all, they freeze nicely. I usually make 3 batches at a time and freeze enough to last a while.

I hope you have enjoyed these cookie recipes as much as I've loved sharing them with you. Nothing is better in the winter than a cookie and a warm mug of hot chocolate. Merry Christmas, from my family to yours!

Monday, December 15, 2008

12 Days of Cookies - day 11

So you now have all the award-winning recipes from our cookie swap and hopefully you've enjoyed one or more of them. Today I'm sharing the recipe that I picked to win. I have a thing for coconut. I think I love it slightly more than chocolate. So these were my favorites for the prize.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons
1 (14 ounce) can Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 egg white, whipped
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1 (14 ounce) package flaked coconut

Preheat oven 325 degrees F. Line baking sheets with foil; grease and flour foil. Set aside.

In large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk, egg white, extracts and coconut; mix well. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets; slightly flatten each mound with a spoon.

Bake 15 to 17 minutes or until lightly browned around edges. Immediately remove from baking sheets (macaroons will stick if allowed to cool); cool on wire racks. Store loosely covered at room temperature.

Friday, December 12, 2008

12 Days of Cookies - day 10

Some of the cookie recipes have been a little labor-intensive. So lets have a simple one to start the weekend off right. These yummy cookies are as easy as - you guessed it - 1, 2, 3

1, 2, 3 Cookies
1 German Chocolate cake mix
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons water

Add eggs and water to dry cake mix. Stir with a fork until moistened. Sprinkle in nuts, Andes mint chips, crushed candy canes or chocolate chips. Form into 1-inch balls and roll in powdered sugar. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes or until edges crack and cookie is set.

Wow, that was easy! And they're so delicious. I really can't get enough of these.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

12 Days of Cookies - day 9

While not exactly a holiday cookie, this recipe is one that is special to me and my kids. This is my daughter's own recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Like everything else she does, it starts with my basic recipe and she adds a little something special that makes them unique. From my family to yours...

Minnie Chip Cookies
1/3 cup butter flavored shortening
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dark chocolate MnM's
1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
4 Tbsp rainbow sprinkles

Have Mom cream shortening, butter and sugars together. Crush eggs over bowl, remove bits of shell, add vanilla. Have Mom mix well. Stir in flour, salt and soda (add the last 3/4 cup flour slowly, depending on your altitude and humidity, you might not need it all). Wipe or sweep up all the extra sugar and flour that you may have scattered about.
Measure out your favorite cookie 'bits' (MnM's, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, nuts, raisins, craisins, coconut, candy bits, chocolate chunks, dried cherries, etc...) and mix into dough. Use small measuring cups (1/4 or 1/8 cups) so that they're easy to handle and you get to measure and pour many times. Roll cookies into loose 2-inch balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

12 Days of Cookies - day 8

I think this is my husband's all-time favorite cookie... if he has a favorite anything. They're definitely a change from the same-old-same-old cookies that you get this time of year. Give it a try!

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Cream butter and sugar together, add eggs and vanilla, mix well. Sift together flour, soda, salt and cream of tartar and mix with liquids.

Mix the 2 tbsp sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Form dough into 1-inch balls and
roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 400 for 8-10 minutes or until set and edges are golden. Immediately remove from cookie sheet.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

12 Days of Cookies - day 7

I made you wait an extra day for that last winning cookie recipe huh? I hope it was worth it. Here it is...

The Queen of the Cookies. Missy and her recipe for Butter Cookies

Butter Cookies
1 lb butter softened (the original owner of this recipe insists this is best done on the counter overnight)

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

teaspoon salt
4 cups flour

Beat butter and sugar together well. Beat in egg and vanilla until mixture lightens in color. Gradually sift in salt and flour. (Sifting is very important for texture as well as ensuring that the dough won't clog the cookie press.) Fill cookie press using rectangle disk (produces long flat strips – or use whatever you want.) Press onto un-greased cookie sheet. Bake 10 min at 375ยบ or until golden and just starting to brown at the edges. If doing strips, immediately cut into 2" strips with edge of spatula while still on tray.

Monday, December 8, 2008

12 Days of Cookies - day 6

I know you can buy your own gingerbread house kit from the store... but isn't it more fun to make your own (the answer is yes). So here's a fun family-night activity for you. For the truly ambitious, here is how to make your own gingerbread house. For the fainter of heart, gingerbread men are always fun. Last year I let my husband be in charge of the decorating table and we ended up with NBA All Star gingerbread men, Masked Mexican Wrestler gingerbread men and even little missionaries in shirts and ties. He's an artist.

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup water

Cream shortening and sugar. Sift flour with salt, soda and spices. Blend flour mixture into creamed mixture alternately with molasses and water. You should have a very firm dough. Chill at least 1 hour.

Roll your dough out to a desired thickness (about 1/4 inch). Cut your gingerbread men, or the shapes you need for your house. Bake at 350 for 8-12 minutes (less for soft gingerbread men, more for crispier house walls). Cool and decorate (or assemble).

If you take on the Gingerbread House Challenge, I want to see your creations! E-mail me at joesgirljeri {at} gmail {dot} com. I am planning to make one too.

Friday, December 5, 2008

12 Days of Cookies - day 5

Today we're sharing the Most Beautiful Cookie recipe from our cookie swap. Winning this category hands-down was sweet Kelsey from Vanilla Joy and her Circus Animal Cookies. It was almost impossible to get a picture of these - my kids could not stop eating them!

Kelsey's Homemade Circus Animal Cookies
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 cups flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Cream butter and sugar together, add eggs one at a time and mix well. Sift dry ingredients into the wet and mix until dough forms. Refrigerate dough for 2 hours.

Roll dough out to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes and transfer to baking sheet. Obviously Kelsey did darling star shapes but you can use any little cookie cutter you like. Bake at 375 for 8 minutes or until set and slightly golden.

Melt one package of almond bark according to package instructions. Add 2 spoonfuls of shortening to thin the mixture. Dip cookies into melted almond bark and lay on wax paper. Coat with sprinkles immediately. Let dry 30 minutes.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

12 Days of Cookies - day 4

Last year I had a cookie swap with a group of friends and it was so much fun that we decided it would be an annual tradition. We vote for prizes each year, in different Cookie Categories. This year we had:

Queen of the Cookie (best-tasting, most festive and all-around best cookie)

Miss Congeniality (gracious runner-up)

Most Beautiful Cookie (swimsuit competition)

So today I am sharing the recipe for the Miss Congeniality Cookies. I'm starting with these because, well... I won! Also I have to get permission to put the other recipes on here. So without further ado.. Cranberry White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies.

I like oatmeal cookies with raisins and cinnamon just as much as the next gal. But not everyone is. So here is my mix-and-match recipe for the perfect oatmeal cookie... just add what you like!

Your Favorite Oatmeal Cookies
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
1/2 cup fruit (dried cherries, cranberries, raisins)
1/2 cup sweets (chocolate chips, white chocolate chunks, dark chocolate MnM's)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds, pistachios)

(You don't have to add the cinnamon if you don't want to. Maybe put in a drop of almond extract with the dried cherries, white chocolate and almonds. Mmmmm)

Cream butter and sugars. Add vanilla and egg, mix well. Sift in flour, soda and salt, mix well. Your dough should be stiff, add more flour if you need to. We live at a high altitude and I find that I always need a bit more flour or my cookies are flat and crisp instead of staying puffy.

By hand, fold in your fruit, sweets and nuts. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for 7 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool one minute and remove from cookie sheets. Enjoy your award-winning cookie.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

12 Days of Cookies - day 3

Christmas is not complete without sugar cookies. They are a great family project - fun to make, decorate and eat together. And, for the purpose of illustration, let's pretend that this is not a pumpkin cookie, but rather something more Christmasy... like a tree.

Best Rolled Sugar Cookies
1 cups butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Cream butter, shortening and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time and mix well. Sift in dry ingredients and combine. The dough should be stiff - add more flour if needed. Cover and chill for at least one hour. Chill the dough. You can chill too... make some hot chocolate or something.

Roll the dough out to your desired thickness. I like big, fat, puffy sugar cookies so I roll mine out to 1/4 inches. Cut the dough with your cookie cutters (this is a great place for the kids to help out) and transfer the shapes onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 6-8 minutes or until the edges are slightly toasted. When cool, decorate and enjoy.

Buttercream icing recipe
Powdered sugar glaze recipe

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

12 Days of Cookies - day 2

These are some of my husband's favorite cookies so, even though they are simple, I had to include them in our Christmas Countdown. If I don't feel like using all of the dough, I seal it in a zip-lock bag and save it for another day.

Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp raw or sanding sugar (the big, coarse-grained sugar) OR un-wrapped chocolate kisses

Cream the butter, shortening, peanut butter and sugars together. Add the egg and vanilla and mix well. Sift the baking soda, salt and flour in and mix to combine. The dough should be thick, like play-dough.

For regular peanut butter cookies, roll the dough into 1 1/2 inch balls and place on an un-greased cookie sheet. With a fork, make a criss-cross pattern and slightly flatten the cookie (you will press the cookie down with the fork 2 times, at right-angles). Sprinkle with the raw or sanding sugar. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes, until cookie is set and edges are just slightly browned. Store in a plastic container to keep them soft.

For peanut-butter kiss cookies, roll the dough into balls but do not flatten them. Bake as directed above. Right as you take the cookie out of the oven, press the un-wrapped chocolate kiss into the center of the cookie, letting the edges crack. The heat of the cookie will melt the chocolate kiss but it will keep its shape. These are the best when they're warm.

Monday, December 1, 2008

12 Days of Christmas Cookies

Mmmm, the holiday baking season has started and it's time to think about my personal favorite treat - cookies! I'm putting together my 12 favorite cookie recipes (some easy, some complex, some traditional) for your baking enjoyment. Happy Holidays!

Anise & Chocolate Almond Biscotti
My grandparents are Italian so this crisp, mildly-sweet little cookie has always been a favorite of mine. Dipped in a cup of hot chocolate, it's the perfect treat on a cold day. If you don't like the flavor of anise, try orange extract!

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup white sugar
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon anise extract, or 3 drops anise oil

In a medium bowl, beat together the oil, eggs, sugar and anise flavoring until well blended. Add baking powder. Add flour 1/2 cup at a time, stir into the egg mixture to form a heavy dough (you might not use the entire 3 1/4 cups). Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.

For the chocolate biscotti, make another batch with the same recipe, substituting the anise extract for 2 tsp almond extract. Add 1/4 cup baking cocoa and 1/2 cup toasted almonds.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Divide each dough into two pieces. Form each piece into a roll as long as your cookie sheet. Place roll onto the prepared cookie sheet, and press down to 1 inch thickness. Make one roll of plain chocolate and one roll of plain anise. Divide the remaining two pices of dough into halves. Sandwich the two halves of different dough together, roll out and twist slightly before pressing down to 1 inch thickness. You should have 1 roll of anise, one of chocolate and two rolls of the twisted dough.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. When the cookies are just cool enough to handle, remove from baking sheet and slice each one crosswise into 1/2 inch slices. Don't let the cookies get too cool or they will crumble when you cut them, and I found that a sharp bread knife worked the best. Place the slices cut side up back onto the baking sheet. Bake for an additional 6 to 10 minutes on each side. Slices should be lightly toasted.

Serve plain or dip 1/3 of the end in melted chocolate.

Blog re-design

I'm not sold on the new color scheme. Thoughts?