Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pie.....It's What's for Dinner...

I wish the Internet had a Scratch-N-Sniff, or better yet, a Scratch-N-TASTE feature! I just pulled my "Nadine's Secret Recipe Apple Pie" out of the oven! OMG! I almost can't stand the delicious smell.....but it's too hot to cut :-(  Recipe will be forthcoming (but then, of course, because it's a secret, I'll hafta kill ya, LOL!)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chocolate Heart Cookies

Just in time for Valentines Day cooking, these Chocolate Heart Cookies are scrumptious and look fabulous! The beautiful decorations might seem daunting, but they are easy to achieve! I took this pic of a batch I made a couple of years ago, but you can bet I'll be making oodles of these a little closer to V-Day. Might even have to tuck a few in my V-Day swaps ;-)
Chocolate Heart Cookies

1 Cup Butter, softened
½ Cup Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
¼ Cup Baking Cocoa
1 Cup Vanilla Chips (White Chocolate Chips or candy coating discs)
½ Cup Milk Chocolate Chips
2 Tablespoons Shortening (I used Butter Flavor Crisco), divided

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in vanilla. Combine the flour and cocoa; gradually add to creamed mixture. On a lightly floured/sugared surface**, roll out dough to ¼” thickness. Cut with medium heart-shaped cookie cutter. Place 2” apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until firm. Remove to wire racks to cool.

In a microwave-safe bowl, heat vanilla chips and 1 tablespoon shortening until melted, stirring frequently. Dip both side edges of each cooled cookie in melted chips, dipping them into the chips about ½”, place on waxed paper-lined trays to firm up. In another microwave-safe bowl, heat the chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon shortening until melted, stirring frequently. Using disposable parchment icing bag, with a very small opening left at the tip, drizzle melted chocolate over cookies. Yield: about 2 dozen.

**Sprinkle about a tablespoon each of flour and granulated sugar on your rolling surface; stir with your fingers to mix slightly – this prevents the cookies from sticking and they don’t wind up with as much of an unslightly “coating” of flour as they would if ONLY flour had been used.

These are beautiful cookies!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Requiem for a Cookie Scoop

I gather today (can one person be considered a "gathering"?) to pay tribute to my cookie scoop. Hamilton Beach Model 67 Stainless. Unsure as to its exact birthdate, it nontheless performed tirelessly, scooping perfect balls of Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal, Molasses, Butterscotch and many other batches of cookies over the years.

Scoop. Scrape. Click. RETRACT!

This morning, halfway through a batch of Big Super-Nutty Peanut Butter Cookies, I Scooped. I Scraped. I Clicked......and.....nothing. No RETRACT! I actually had to use my thumb to RETRACT! I finished the batch of cookies with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Had my Cookie Scoop "expired"? After the last pan went in the oven, a post-mortem was performed. And then I saw it - the spring that RETRACTS after Scooping, Scraping, and Clicking had snapped. I guess all those faithful years of toil had finally taken their toll (as in Toll House). Nevertheless, I carefully washed and dried it so I could take a picture before interring it (that is, if I can actually make myself toss it in the trash!).

Then I mosied over to my computer and entered "Hamilton Beach Model 67 Stainless Cookie Scoop" into Google. Holy Cookies! My revered cookie scoop is considered "vintage" and commands upwards to $35 on ebay and other sites! Now, that sinking feeling in my stomach is growing worse, as I consider my options for replacement. While the world has made strides in all kinds of technology in many fields, there are just some things that "aren't made like they used to be." I'm hoping cookie scoops have improved with technology, but the fact that MY cookie scoop goes for $35 USED tells me that today's cookie scoops might NOT be in the "new and improved" category!

So, you may wonder WHY I'm so upset about my cookie scoop's demise? Well, being a 4-H member for 11 years and a 4-H leader for 25 years, it's so ingrained in me that my cookies have to be uniform that I don't think I could haphazardly plop cookie dough onto a cookie sheet and let them turn out small, medium, AND large! At the county fair, our cookies were judged on both taste AND uniformity and we agonized over which 4 cookies to present to the judges. And after I was too old to be a member myself, I became a judge and had to size up the entries, just like mine were scrutinized. I guess I just can't help myself - they must be all the same size and shape ;-)

I did a quick search of cookie scoop reviews and the winner appears to be OXO Good Grips so maybe I'll stop by Macy's and check them out after delivering cookies to the Olympia Fire Department today where my younger son works. Yesterday, Taco Bell received a batch, and I admonished my older son to "Be a Share-Bear" because he doesn't always want to part with any to share with the troops when I bring them in. Wish me luck in my cookie scoop quest!

And oh - the Big Super-Nutty Peanut Butter Cookies I mentioned earlier? Here's the recipe:
Big Super-Nutty Peanut Butter Cookies
(from Cook's Illustrated)

2 ½ Cups All-PurposeFlour
½ Teaspoon Baking Soda
½ Teaspoon Baking Powder
½ Teaspoon Salt
½ Pound (2 sticks) Butter
1 Cup Firmly Packed Brown Sugar
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Cup Jiff Extra-Crunchy Peanut Butter
2 Large Eggs
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Roasted Salted Peanuts, ground to breadcrumbs in a food processor (about 14 pulses)

Adjust oven rack to low center; heat to 350 degrees. Cream butter til fluffy, then add sugars and beat again until fluffy. Beat in peanut better, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla. Measure dry ingredients into a bowl and mix well with a whisk (or sift all together). Stir dry ingredients into butter/sugar/egg mixture. Add ground peanuts.

Drop by medium cookie scoop onto ungreased cookies sheets. Press down slightly with fork (criss-cross) or decorative glass bottom; dust with granulated sugar.

Bake 10-12 minutes (do not overbake – they will not be browned). Let cool on pans for 3-4 minutes, then move to cooling rack. Makes about 5 dozen.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tuna Noodle Casserole

One of my favorite comfort foods is good old-fashioned Tuna Noodle Casserole. I'm a fan of my own cooking, but once in awhile I find something that someone else has made that is so wonderful, I get just plain giddy. I eat lunch with *Lunch Buddies* weekly, usually on Wednesdays. We meet at a small, home-style restaurant in Tumwater called the Mason Jar. They serve homey entrees which change each day. My favorite by far is their Tuna Noodle Casserole - I just refer to it as TNC for short ;-) While my old TNC was passable, I was inspired to try to recreate the Mason Jar's TNC at home. I think I've succeeded pretty well. When I visited my good friend, Aunt Pitty Pat, in Kansas a few months ago, I made my TNC for her. She thought it was so yummy that she coerced me into making a second pan the day before I left so she could put some in the freezer for later. Of course, I obliged! Here's my rendition of TNC (although I do add crushed potato chips and they don't) - and definitely not a "diet" food!

Cheesy Tuna Noodle Casserole

1 cup frozen peas
1 10 3/4-ounce can Cheddar Cheese Soup
2 10 3/4 –ounce cans Cream of Mushroom Soup (I usually use low salt or low sodium)
2 12-ounce cans chunk white Albacore tuna, well-drained (yes, 2 big 12-ounce cans! You won’t say “Where’s the tuna?” in this recipe!)
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt (Johnny’s, Lowry’s, etc.)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 large onion, minced
4 ounces sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 ounces medium cheddar cheese, grated (Yup, more cheese!)
1 inch piece cut from a 2-pound block of Velveeta Cheese, chopped (Yup, even more cheese!)
12- or 16-ounce bag of egg noodles or sprials, cooked al dente and drained
1 Ziploc sandwich bag of crushed potato chips (keep adding chips to a sandwich-size Ziploc bag and crushing them until the bag is mostly filled)

Combine all ingredients except crushed chips in a large bowl and mix well. Spread in a 9x13 baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the crushed chips. Bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Most Beautiful Cup Cozy in the World

I was head-over-heels in L-O-V-E when I spotted this ruffled cup cozy on Sew For Home's blog. I knew I had to make it right away! Well ok, it took me a couple days to get to it, but it turned out gorgeous! I did change up the Velcro closure for a button-and-hair-tie loop though...because the cozy wound up being a bit short for my Venti Starbuck's-size cups from which I consume incredible amounts of Ice-Tea-No-Lemon (as I'm known at certain restaurants, or ITNL for short). I want ICE and I want TEA in my Ice Tea - no lemon, no sugar, no sugar substitute...just ICE and TEA, thank you very much ;-) The next one I make, I'll add extra width to the pattern. It probably was meant to fit the smaller coffee cups, but I didn't have one around to verify that.
I used the same fabric to make a skinny scarf to match - I made the scarf first, and then thought I'd just use the same fabric to try out the cozy. If I had done it the other way around, I probably would have thought to add a ruffle of the raspberry fabric to each end of the scarf - I think that would have been adorable. But I'm not going to take out all my stopstitching on the scarf to add it at this point. However, I'll keep it in mind for my next scarf.
And there WILL be a next scarf, because I've made at least 15 of them since before Christmas! What, or should I say "Who" got me started on this scarf kick was Monique, my partner in a swap...she sent me a scarf made from a charm pack. It got my brain kick-started because they are such an easy, quick gift to make! And once I got started, I just couldn't stop! I've used mostly 2 1/2" strips - I bought ALL the new Bali Pops that just came out...I smiled at the quilt shop lady and said "Merry Christmas To Me" as I picked up the whole armfull of them and handed over my Mastercard. I used faux Minky (the JoAnn's version) or ultra cuddle for the backing. They are so soft and cozy! And cute! I cut thirty-two 6" chunks of the 2 1/2" strips, pieced them, then trimmed both sides to measure 5" wide before adding the backing, clipping, turning, and topstitching. I included matching Shoop-Shoop Bags with these.
So now...with the ruffled cup cozy to go along with them, I see SETS in the future. So if you are my friend or acquaintance, you might just get a set for the next gift-giving or swapping occasion!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fat Quarter Swap

Here's what I got in Aunt Pitty Pat's Fat Quarter Swap last month from Manuela from Portugal! I love the fabrics! I can't read the writing on the spool of thread - but it's very special and I will probably just "keep" it rather than using it, just because it's from another part of the world ;-) How did Manuela know I don't have (and have never made) a tissue cover? The fabric is a cute home dec - I love it! And the little felt candy cane and mini clothespin ornaments are sooo adorable! And she sent 4 pices of ric-rac - the green is unlike any I've seen before - it has a "rounder" and tighter ric-rackie thing goin' on...I will  have to use it on something very special. Thanks so much, Manuela - it's wonderful to get a package from the other side of the world!

And here's what I sent Manuela. This was the first swap where I've had an international partner, other than Canada, but I'm up for more now that I know filling out the customs form isn't hard, and it really doesn't cost an arm and a leg for shipping  ;-)

I had found some Christmas batik fabrics at one of our local quilt shops and just couldn't decide on which ones to include, so I sent two prints each of both blue and purple batiks, plus two coordinating solids. 
I found this FQ folding tutorial and it worked really well, and I tied the batik/solid stacks up with pretty ribbon.
I also included a cute snow penguin print that I found and just had to toss in. It reminded me of the old Chilly Willy comic book character (I think I have some in the basement!).

I included 2 spools of matching thread, 2 packages of ric-rac, some chocolates, and a yarn doll ornie I made.

I'll be putting up a tutorial for the yarn doll in the near future so stay tuned - I'll be making some to tuck in my Valentines swaps! Thanks, APP, for coordinating this fun swap!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cupcakes for the New Year

I found this recipe for Sparkling Cider Cupcakes on a guest post on Tatertots and Jello and decided they sounded too yummy not to try! Basically, you just replace the water in a yellow cake mix with Sparkling Cider, as well as the milk in the frosting, however I did double the amount of butter called for in the frosting recipe provided by Julie and Tara of Crae's Creations (I used 2 pounds of powdered sugar and 2 sticks of butter, plus a little more than half a cup of cider). They turned out very tasty!  A spoonful of apple pie filling in a scooped-out hollow in the top of the cupcake adds a tantalizing taste and texture. I didn't use the printable cupcake toppers supplied with the post because I had more of a blue theme going, but found some by searching for cupcake toppers on One Pretty Thing. I used a large star tip to pipe the frosting, and added some blue and white sprinkles.

I also brought one to a lunch for my good friend, Robin, and wrapped it up in a cute blue snowflake cello bag with some glitzy blue ribbon (I added a 3 1/4" square cardboard insert in the bottom of the bag so the cupcake wouldn't get smooshed). There was a 25-minute wait for a table at Olive Garden, and quite a few of the servers stopped to gush over the pretty cupcake - some of them wanted the recipe and others just wanted to take that cupcake home with them :-)