Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Since Jason has to work until 11pm, I decided for New Years Eve, we would stay in (obviously). I typically go to bed very early, but since a new decade doesn't come along very often.....err once a decade I guess, I will stay up. After all, it's our last NYE before our kiddo comes along.

I usually have some snacks on hand. Jason eats around 7:00 pm and by the time he gets home, he is ready for more food or a meal. Chips and salsa are common, but I wanted to do something special for him this year. He loves spicy food (as do I) and when I told him that a friend of mine had made stuffed jalapenos a few weeks ago for a potluck, I saw him literally salivate.

To surprise him, I made stuffed jalapenos. The recipe is from my coworker Sarah (thanks Sarah!) and they are truly delicious. I won't indulge tonight because if I ate any, I would probably be paying the price with heartburn in the morning. Jason can enjoy the whole pan if he wants to.

These are very easy to make. Honestly, the thought of mixing cheese and then cramming it into peppers wasn't very appealing. Oh what we do for love. All total, I think I spent 30 minutes cutting, de-seeding, mixing and stuffing. They were very very easy.

Depending on how spicy you like your jalapenos, you might want to rinse them before stuffing. I didn't do this, because like I said, we like spicy in our house. You can also change out the cheeses depending on your taste. Instead of smoked cheddar, use regular. Instead of Swiss, use mozzarella or even Havarti. Go crazy! And if you like things really really spicy, add some Tabasco to the cheese mix before you stuff.

This really isn't a recipe that you can follow exact measurements, so be flexible and add as little or as much cheese and other ingredients as you want. I put estimates on what I used in my batch.

These are the perfect finger food and the next time I have to bring an appetizer somewhere, I am going to bring these! Delicious!

Stuffed Jalapenos
from: Sarah

Jalapenos (about 12-15 whole), canned, drained.
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup smoked cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
3 oz. prosciutto, chopped

1. Vertically slice the jalapenos to halve them. Remove all the seeds and veins.

2. Mix all the remaining ingredients together.

3. Stuff approximately a tablespoon of the cheese mix inside each of the halved jalapenos.

4. Place the jalapenos in a baking dish and bake for about 30 minutes (until the filling is nice and light brown) in a 350 degree oven.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Homemade Gifts

I am going to our family Christmas party on January 1st (it's a tradition) and this year, we were all tasked with bringing 15 identical gifts. Now, if you were to buy 15 gifts, that could get expensive. Plus, it's also hard to find a gift that a whole family can enjoy and get use out of. Even if you spent $4 per gift per family, that is $60! I love my family to death, but with a new baby and Christmas over with, I was looking to save some dough.

I looked online for some clever gift ideas that I could make. A few years ago, I made cookie mix and soup mix and put them in jars. I wanted to do something similar but that would take less ingredients and less money. Enter cocoa mix. Who doesn't like hot cocoa?

I found a recipe online and what do you know? It made 15 cups of mix. If you multiply that by 3, that gives you 45 cups of mix. Enough for 15 quart jars with room leftover to add marshmallows or mini chocolate chips to the top of the jar.

The ingredients are very simple. Powdered milk, cocoa powder, sugar and dry dairy creamer. I figured that was easy enough and I could easily make 15 jars in an afternoon. Just add a cute bow or fabric to the top of the jar along with the instructions and that makes a nice gift.

Here is the mix all stirred up and ready to be jarred.

Here are some tips that I used to make this cocoa mix:

* Buy the ingredients in bulk. I went to our local grocery store and bought all the ingredients from the bulk bins. This saved me a ton of money. The dry ingredients (including the marshmallows) were approximately $34. Keep in mind that I have leftovers of some things such as the powdered milk and mini marshmallows.

* If you have time, buy the mason jars from a second-hand store. I didn't have enough time or energy to stalk the local Goodwill, so I bought new. They were $10 for a dozen and I happened to have 3 jars of my own that were from another homemade gift foray several years ago.

* Use a funnel. I don't have one, but I improvised. I made one out of cardboard and it worked really well. A real actual funnel would have been better.

* Make sure your mixing vessel is large enough. My mixing bowl is not that big so I used a giant stockpot.

* Wipe down the jars on the inside before you add the topping. This makes it look prettier and less "powdery". I think it makes a big difference.

* Wipe down the outside of the jars when you are done. I found that the ingredients were a little sticky and it made a mess of my kitchen.

Total cost to make 15 jars: $44 and some change. Less than $3 per jar! I don't think I could have bought a gift that everyone would appreciate for less than $3. I could have saved a little more money had I bought the jars used. With a good cleaning, they would have been good as new.

Keep in mind this mix goes a long way. Each jar has 3 cups of mix. Each cup of cocoa takes 1/3 of a cup of mix. That means there are 9 servings per jar. I don't think that's too bad!

All packaged up and ready to go! I just need to add ribbon and the instructions on how to make a cup.

You can experiment with this cocoa mix by altering the type of powdered creamer. I just used plain, but wouldn't it be yummy to substitute vanilla creamer or maybe even Irish Creme? If I make these again, I might try that.

Hot Cocoa Mix

10 cups dry milk powder
4 3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 cup powdered non-dairy creamer

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry milk powder, powdered sugar, cocoa powder and non-dairy creamer. Stir until thoroughly combined. Makes about 15 cups of mix.

2. For one serving, place 1/3 cup of the mix and add 3/4 cup boiling water. Stir.

or, Pachey's method for jarring:

Pour approximately 3 cups of mix into each quart jar and top with mini marshmallows or chocolate chips to fill jar.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Baking Extravaganza

Happy Holidays! Today was my holiday baking day. Originally, my sister and I were going to bake together, but she has to work most days before Christmas. Darn retail job! Instead, we decided that we would each bake three cookies or goodies and then swap. She would get half of mine and in return, I would get half of her's. Sounds great right? Only half the baking and you get double the treats!

I decided to make the very traditional Christmas cookies. Well traditional in my house at least. I remember all of these cookies as a child growing up. My mom was a stay-at-home mom while her and dad were still married and she would make these three cookies as well as others over the holidays. Spritz, Peanut Butter Blossoms and Chocolate Crinkles. Peanut Butter Blossoms are those fun cookies with the Hershey Kisses on the top of them. You can find the recipe online pretty much everywhere.

Two out of the three of these require rolling. Meaning, you form the cookies into little balls by rolling them in your palms. The joke with the Chocolate Crinkles is that you get "poopy fingers" while rolling. Sophisticated huh? Hey, I never said we were a classy family.

The Spritz requires a cookie press, so if you don't have one, you are out of luck. I suppose you could try and form them another way, but really, a cookie press is the best.

Here are some of the tools that I used today:

My cookie press. Now, I have seen those Pampered Chef ones and even tried several other kinds. Nothing comes close to this model. It's Italian and it works beautifully. My Spritz were pressed in no time flat.

My "vintage" Betty Crocker Cooky Book. I say "vintage" because it's a reproduction that was reissued a few years ago. My mom actually has an original copy from 1960-something.

My fabulous mixer. A Christmas gift from my husband a couple of years ago. I would still be in the kitchen mixing dough if it wasn't for this bad boy.

My Air Bake cookie sheets. I never thought I would love baking pans so much in my life. Jason got these for me last year and I thought "big whoop, I already have cookie sheets". These are great! The cookies cook evenly, the bottoms don't burn and they make for a consistent cookie. Way way better than the ones I already had. I can't sing the praises of these enough. I swear I am not an employee of Air Bake.

Roasting pan. An essential tool when you are making a quadruple batch of Spicy Chex Mix. I could nearly see the tears in my husband's eyes last night when I announced that he would have Chex Mix by the time he got up today.

Time to bake! I started off by unwrapping all the Hershey Kisses this morning while drinking my coffee and catching up on the interweb. I grabbed some butter from the fridge to come to room temperature while I unwrapped. Butter is obviously easier to mix when it's warmer.

Next I made the Chocolate Crinkle dough. It needs to chill for several hours before you can form the cookies. I can't tell you how accomplished I felt when I had dough made by 9:30!

The dough doesn't really look extraordinary. Just like thick brownie batter. Into the fridge it went!

Moving on to the Chex Mix. Here are all the ingredients it takes.

Thank goodness for Costco. They sell the cereal in a three-pack all ready to go. In our house, we like cheese crackers (Cheez It's are the best) instead of the bagel chips that the recipe calls for. Also, you will notice the addition of Tabasco. That's right. It wouldn't be spicy unless you add some actual spice! The more the better. It's nice when you have an afterburn after eating Chex Mix.

In Jason's house growing up, his mom used primarily margarine for cooking. I find this concept completely foreign, but because I love my husband (aka he will complain unless I use margarine), I buy margarine especially for the occasion. I could probably sneak butter in instead, but trust me, the man would know the difference.

While the Chex Mix was baking, I started on the Spritz dough. I am a traditionalist and use almond extract for my Spritz. This is how my mommy did it and I can't change after all these years. To be festive, I add green or red food coloring to my dough. I used the tree plate on my cookie press, so green food coloring it was.

These really are beautiful cookies when they are done. With a slight almond flavor, they are very light and buttery. Of course, feel free to substitute whatever extract you wish. Peppermint would be fun. So would lemon or even vanilla.

Moving on, the Peanut Butter Blossoms were up. I whipped these up in no time. My only complaint with the Blossoms is that the recipe doesn't make nearly enough. I would have doubled it, but really, do I need five dozen cookies? I don't think so.

Here is what they look like after being rolled in the granulated sugar but before baking and before you smoosh the Kiss on the top.

After baking. I think these are honestly my favorite cookie. I shouldn't resort to making them only one time a year. I love how the cookie stays soft for a few days afterwards. And something happens to the Kiss to keep it slightly soft too. Who can resist a yummy peanut butter and chocolate cookie? Not me!

Close up of the Peanut Butter Blossoms. I am going to need to hide these from Jason. I can always use the excuse that I am pregnant and the baby requires cookies right?

My third and final cookie of the day were Chocolate Crinkles. Like I said, the dough needs to be chilled for several hours, so I didn't start these until around 2:00. The only pain with these is trying to keep the dough chilled enough while you are working. The more chilled, the less "poopy" your hands get. Now, in my family (I am sorry if I keep saying that, but my way is the best. Tee hee), we are rebels and don't follow the directions exactly. The directions state to cover the dough with the powdered sugar BEFORE you roll the balls. However, it makes for a much prettier cookie if you form the balls and then roll them in the sugar. Plus, you get a nice dusting of powdered sugar when you eat them. Yum!

Here are what the Crinkles look like before they are baked. They look like chocolate snowballs.

And after they are baked, the cookies are sufficiently crackled and coated with powdered sugar. You can't argue that they aren't pretty cookies. Plus, they are chocolate. Nothing says goodness like chocolate does.

I am sad to see half of the cookies go, but we can't possibly eat them all. It would be dangerous to keep that many sweets in the house. I know my sister will appreciate them. Here is her batch all packaged up and ready to go. Don't they look yummy?

Now without further ado, here are all the recipes.

Spicy Chex Mix
from: General Mills Cereal

6 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt
3/4 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons (or more depending on how hot you like your food) Tabasco sauce
3 cups Corn Chex
3 cups Rice Chex
3 cups Wheat Chex
1 cup peanuts
1 cup pretzels
1 cup cheese crackers

Heat oven to 250 degrees. Melt butter or margarine in large roasting pan in oven. Stir in seasonings. Gradually stir in remaining ingredients until evenly coated. Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

from: Betty Crocker Cooky Book

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/4 cups flour

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix butter, sugar, egg, salt, and extract thoroughly. Measure flour and work in.

2. Using 1/4 dough at a time, force dough through cookie press onto ungreased baking sheet.

3. Bake 6 to 9 minutes.

Peanut Butter Blossoms
from: Pillsbury's Best Butter Cookie Cookbook

1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Hershey's Kisses

1. Mix together in a small bowl; flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, cream together butter, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar. Add the egg and blend well. Add vanilla and blend well.

3. Shape the dough into balls (approximately a heaping teaspoon for each). Roll balls in granulated sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

4. Bake at 375 degrees for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and top each cookie with a Hershey's Kiss, pressing until edges crack. Bake 2 to 5 minutes longer.

Chocolate Crinkles
from: Betty Crocker Cooky Book

1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 squares unsweetened chocolate (4 oz. total), melted
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup confectioner's sugar

1. Mix oil, chocolate and granulated sugar. Blend in one egg at a time until well mixed. Add vanilla. Stir flour, baking powder and salt into oil mixture. Chill several hours or overnight.

2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Drop teaspoonsful of dough into confectioner's sugar. Roll in sugar; shape into balls. Note: You can also form the dough into balls first and then roll in the sugar. Place about 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

White Trash Dinner

Hopefully my title doesn't offend, but really, that is what we had. No, not beans and weinies or Kraft macaroni and cheese, although you are getting closer. No, we had something similar to Hamburger Helper. But my version didn't come from a box and it wasn't made with hamburger.

I was lazy today. I didn't feel like cooking. Actually this represents how I have felt a lot lately. Maybe it's the upcoming holiday where I bake like a fool. I just don't feel like cooking. Last night's dinner consisted of spaghetti and meatballs. While this dish did require me to boil pasta and heat up sauce, the meatballs were frozen. The hardest I had to work was opening all the packages.

So, what do you make when you are feeling lazy? Enter the crockpot. I love my crockpot. I use it all the time (obviously). I found this recipe out of my Rival crockpot cookbook. It has pictures for people like who need to see their food. Of course, the pictures always make the food look better. That and my crockpot runs super duper hot, sort of like my oven.

The hardest you will have to work for this recipe is pre-cooking the ground turkey. Oh, and opening all the cans. Geesh, I am breaking a sweat just thinking about how much work this was! That is really the biggest benefit of a crockpot. It's perfect for lazy cooks. While our dinner was cooking, I wrapped Christmas presents and watched Food Network. See? Perfect for lazy people.

This was okay. I think I cooked it too long. Again, my crockpot runs super hot. I had to turn the heat down after two hours to low. I would suggest adding something spicy if you decide to make this. Whether that be some Tabasco or maybe some green chiles (to make it Mexican style), I think it would give it a nice kick and offset some of the sweetness of the corn. Notice the addition of both ketchup and mustard? Like I said, slightly white trash no?

It's okay to go trashy once in a while. As long as you aren't pairing this dinner with a six pack of Budweiser, it's all good.

Turkey and Macaroni
from: Rival CrockPot Slow Cooker Recipes

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1.5 pounds ground turkey
2 cans (10.75 oz) condensed tomato soup, undiluted
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1 can (16 oz) corn, drained
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 can (4 oz) sliced mushrooms, drained
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in medium skillet; cook turkey until browned. Transfer turkey to slow cooker.

2. Add soup, macaroni, corn, onion, mushrooms, ketchup, mustard, salt and pepper to slow cooker. Stir to blend.

3. Cover; cook on low 7-9 hours or high 3-4 hours.

See? Doesn't it look like Hamburger Helper?