Wednesday, December 22, 2010

3 Days and Counting...

Something must be seriously wrong. I seem to have an abundance of time to dedicate to the fun parts of Christmas.

Tonight we went on our annual Cocoa Cruise. Kids, carols, cocoa and Christmas lights.

Doesn't this look like a leg of Buddy the Elf's trip to NY City?

Henry wore the 3-D glasses for increased viewing pleasure.

We went to Starbucks and ordered 7 hot cocoas. The Starbucks man asked Doug if he was sure he didn't want 12 and then said, "That'll be $941.00, please pull ahead." Funny Starbucks man.

We also had time to make cookies for Junie's friends and relatives. Wholesome and chicken-y!

Ready to deliver to good dogs everywhere.

Junie B's Biscuits
made with love

2 cups unbleached wheat flour
1 cup cornmeal
pinch of salt
1 egg
3 T. vegetable oil
2 t. finely chopped parsley
3/4 cup chicken stock

Mix flour, cornmeal and salt in a bowl. Mix egg, oil, parsley and chicken broth. Add liquid to dry ingredients and mix well to form a soft dough. Knead to smooth. Roll to a 1/2" thickness and cut with the cutter of your choice.

Bake 15 minutes at 400 degrees.

Cool completely before packaging.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

4 Days and Counting...

A good-natured snowball fight...

Many games of UNO.....

Time for a batch of butterscotch caramels...

I must be missing something. This is going waaaay, too well....

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Best Gift

Books make great gifts.

Last week Henry asked if he could read to me. It was his first Non-Seussian book.

Maybe there is a better gift.

5 Days and Counting....

The decorating is done...

Only a few gifts left to wrap....

Thursday, December 16, 2010

And The Winner Is.....

Lucky Linda! She wins this adorable snack packet by Abeego!

Now what special treat shall I fill it with.....

That Boy In The Backyard

Junie B. has a boyfriend.

His parents call him Lefty. We call him that boy in the backyard.

They are in love. The cute kind of love, like when the neighbor boy kisses the girl at the first grade Christmas party.

To avoid the love that comes later, Junie paid a visit to Dr. Jennie.

The down side of this, for all of us, is while convalescing, June has had to miss her standing 3:45pm play date with the boy in the back yard. Henry calls it tea time.

Everyday when the kids walk in the door from school, she begins running from window to window looking for that boy. So sad - young love.

This final straw, this view through the screen door.

So forlorn. He loves her. And so.... four o'clock, they had tea.

I am pretty sure she'll hold her own in this relationship.

She's faster than he is.

That's my girl.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dear Cheri,

I am blessed to have many, many wonderful people in my life. Family and friends, amazing in the their own right. You are one such friend and one of the most incredible people I am privileged to know. Mother, wife, daughter, friend and talented artist. A tireless volunteer, how you manage to share so much of yourself with so many is truly enviable.

You give so much to so many and at the holidays, if possible, you kick it into high-er gear....

One of the many thing she does (besides support the human spirit) is host a holiday party for the children of Lazarus House in St. Charles. Last year, I made some cinnamon ornaments for her to give to the kids to decorate.

Have you ever made these ornaments? They've been around for years, are so simple and warm the air with the fragrance of Christmas.

All that's needed are a few ingredients from the dollar store. Applesauce, glue and cinnamon.

Roll it out with a sprinkle of flour to prevent this damp dough from sticking too much. While any shaped cookie cutter works, I am partial to my giant mitten. Festive for the holidays but still welcome in January.

After rolling them out, make a hole with a drinking straw and place them onto a parchment paper lined sheet pan. Turn cut-outs a couple times a day. It'll take a few days for them to dry completely.

Once dry they can be painted, glittered and glued. Tied with yarn they are adorable hung on the tree or door knob or hidden anywhere their cinnamon-y scent is welcome.

Thank you Cheri, for giving me the opportunity to share a simple thing that I can do. For reminding me to give. For letting me help in the smallest way to warm the hearts of others.

I am truly grateful for you and your amazing friendship.

Christmas Love,


Cinnamon Ornaments

1# cinnamon
35oz. applesauce
2 oz. school glue

Mix all ingredients together to form a stiff dough. Allow to rest a few minutes to hydrate then roll out to a 1/2" thickness. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters then allow to completely air dry before letting your imagination run wild with decorating ideas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

What's In Santa's Bag?

While preparing for a kitchen gifts class the last several weeks, I poked around my own cabinet of goodies, dollar stores and big box stores for cute presentation ideas. The best part and best presentation idea came from an impromptu visit to a great little shop by the name of Peaceful Parlour. This new addition to Geneva is the ONLY place in the Chicagoland area to pick them up.

It was there I found my new favorite thing just in time for Christmas. Abeego makes lovely hemp/cotton fabric infused with beeswax and plant extracts then fashions it into adorable snack bags. Check out the sweet details.

Give one filled with homemade treats. The lucky recipient can re-use it for leftovers, lunchboxes and snacks on the go. Cool, huh? They make "flats" too. Round or square in three various sizes. Fill an inexpensive glass bowl with your signature dip and top it with a round for your favorite hostess. Less plastic wrap. Nice.

So guess what the other best part is?

In the spirit of giving and because I know you've been good, I am going to give one away. Leave a comment and at the end of the week, I'll draw a lucky winner from Santa's bag.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Food for Giving

It's Christmas and time to make food gifts. It's always challenging to come up with something new and delicious and lots of fun finding creative things to use as packaging. The greatest pleasure is having my creations added to wish lists year after year. My brother-in-law loves my marshmallows and I've made many (many, many) pounds of Layered Peppermint Crunch.

Like last year, I wanted to share a few of the ideas I came up this year for my Homemade Holidays class.

Who wouldn't love having all the ingredients for a cozy meal tucked away in the cupboard? All that's needed for this post holiday Bean Soup in a Box is the leftover ham bone from Christmas dinner.

Panetonne is a traditional Italian favorite. This heavenly enriched bread is one of my favorite things. Making it takes hours and hours but these Panetonne cakes are an easy way to get that festive flavor within an hour. Using the Italian waxed molds make them super cute and extra easy to clean up.

One of my year round favorites are jellies, though typically in the form of grocery store gum drops, orange slices and spearmint leaves. These ruby jewels are made with Wisconsin cranberries and rolled in sugar to make them sparkle.

The favorite of the evening far and away were the Mocha Blocks. When swirled in a cup of hot milk you have a rich and delicious cup of mocha. Modified a bit from a King Arthur Flour recipe, they are easy to put together, keep well and make many, many cups of mocha.

I may just go stir one up right now.

Merry Christmas to me.

Mocha Blocks
nominally modified from King Arthur Flour

1 cup cream, divided
1 T. espresso powder
2 T. corn syrup
1/4 t. salt
1 cup sugar
1 T. vanilla
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 T. cocoa blended with 1t. espresso powder
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
pinch of salt
wooden stirs or sticks
Using two pieces of parchment paper, line an 8" square pan so all four sides are covered. the bottom piece of parchment may be used as a "sling" to remove cnady from the pan.
Place 1/2 cup cream in a saucepan. Add the espresso powder, corn syrup, salt and sugar. Stir over medium heat until the espresso powder and sugar are dissolved and the mixture begins to boil. Cover the pan and let it boil for 3 minutes. Uncover the pan, and check the temperature, it should be between 235 and 240 degrees. If it is, remove from the heat and add the vanilla; otherwise, let the mixture boil for a minute or two more. Set aside to cool.
Sift together 1 T. cocoa powder, 1 t. espresso powder and 1/2 cup sifted confectioner's sugar.
Place the remaining 1/2 cup cream into a saucepan. Heat until it's just beginning to steam. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and let sit about 5 minutes to melt. (Alternatively, use a double boiler) Then whisk vigorously until the mixture is shiny and smooth.
Add the sugar mixture to the chocolate mixture; stir to combine. Pour into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with half of the powdered sugar mixture. Refrigerate to set up. Remove from the pan and turn over, sprinkle with the remaining powdered sugar mixture. Cut into 1" cubes. Stack 2 or 3 cubes on a wooden stick.
To enjoy these tasty cubes, heat up any combo of milk, half and half, or cream. Pour into a mug and stir slowly allowing the mocha blocks to melt! Enjoy!
Yield: 64 blocks; 21-32 servings

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Busting My Buttons

If I wore chef whites, both rows of buttons would be flying..

I have a wonderful logo and THE coolest website.

Both were designed by the lovely and talented Leslie. (check out her work and contact her here) She didn't laugh when I handed her a ladle I bought at a vintage store. She knew exactly what to do with the stacks of old photos I searched for at many flea markets.

Take a peak and check back to see what's new at

I would be so proud.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I'm a Choosey Mom

Sometimes it seems as though things that happen in my kitchen are kismet. A few months back, Max and I talked about making our own peanut butter. I love peanut butter and can't imagine my life without it. Max feels the same way. He's chunky. I am smooth. Shortly thereafter, I came across a magazine article about it and then a favorite blogger posted her forays in peanut butter, too. The kitchen gods were speaking to us. We had to make peanut butter.

Of the utmost important are fresh peanuts. I am partial to the ones sold at Trader Joe's. Great peanut flavor, super fresh and crunchy.

While this could be done in a blender, I opted to use the food processor since it's more powerful than my blender. Pulse until finely chopped, then slowly begin to add the oil in a slow steady stream, about a tablespoon at a time.

Peanut butter - it's peanut butter. I chose to add a bit of honey to sweeten it up a bit a testament to my well acknowledged sweet tooth. Truly, the best peanut butter I've ever eaten. I know exactly what's in it, less oil than store bought, no added stuff and super simple.

Oh, it makes one helluva peanut butter sandwich, too.

This choosy mom chooses homemade.

Homemade Peanut Butter

2 cups dry roasted peanuts, unsalted
1/4 t. salt, or to taste (I add a touch more)
canola oil
honey, optional

Pour dry roasted peanuts into the bowl of a food processor or blender.

Pulse the peanuts 30 seconds or until the peanuts are nicely chopped.

With the food processor running, add the canola oil, 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture begins to form a ball. Add the salt and the pulse for another 5 seconds.

To make smoother peanut butter, pulse the peanuts a little longer in the food processor. (I chose to add a bit more oil, too so it was a looser consistency.) To make extra crunchy peanut butter, roughly chop a handful of peanuts and stir them into the peanut butter.

Store the peanut butter in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Yield: 1 cup

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Here Comes Santa Claus....

While the stockings are not yet hung, Henry has donned his Santa hat and is hitting the holiday full force. Last year he wore his Santa hat all. the. time.

So much has changed in the last year. He is now a very happy first grader and just turned 7. He is currently not a Mama's boy but instead all about Daddy.

Though I am feeling incredible shunned, it's nice to know he is still a kid, really excited about Christmas.

Now I'll be off to study up on Star Wars trivia.....

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Turkey Trilogy of 2010

Doug loves turkey. To me it's a big, troublesome chicken. This year, before the holiday in various classes I prepared 5 whole turkeys and 4 turkey breasts. This was a light year and nonetheless, the reason for my prejudice. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, a pizza sounds good.

Usually, there are two turkeys to grace our dining table of six. Doug and the kids love turkey and need to be assured of many leftovers. This year Doug, King of Turkey, deigned there would be three. Not all at the table, silly. One was an appetizer.

Many years ago, Doug received a turkey fryer, unfortunately, he's never fried a turkey. It's been used many times to boil lobsters but never once to fry a turkey. The inaugural turkey? Bacon stuffed with a light dusting of Wingman.

Into the oil....

It was a tiny bird. Gone by noon. Clearly we all love deep fried turkey and highly recommend stuffing it with bacon.

Did I mention the side? Stove Top Croquettes? Stuffing Hush Puppies? Call them what you will they were yummy, and a lovely pre-turkey bite to accompany the pre-turkey turkey.

For years, Doug has smoked a turkey for the holiday and no one smokes a better bird. It's perfectly smoky and very juicy. He's a pro.

You don't get color like that from the oven.

Since you can't make really good gravy unless you roast a bird, the third bird was prepared more traditionally - by me. A dry brine (aka-brine for over-done cooks) and compound butter with herbes de Provence under the skin. In the last half hour of roasting I brushed on a glaze of reduced five apple cider concentrate infused with more herbes de Provence. Lovely drippings. Doug's favorite gravy.

It was a delicious day. I wish I had taken a picture of Doug on the sofa after the meal. A video might have been better.

Maybe I should have called it the Tryptophan Trilogy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Mash Up Pie

A mash up. A bunch of songs or fruits put together "for an even richer explosion." Okay, I've been watching way too much, way to much Glee lately, but regardless, the expression works for pies, too. Remember the movie Waitress? Reminds me of that, too, but I digress.

A while back a friend brought me some cranberries straight from the bogs of Wisconsin. What a splendid and thoughtful gift!

I decided to mash up some of those cranberries, with pears, apples, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.

I like to make my pie crust by hand. Grating really, really chilled butter into the dry ingredients is the key.

Add a bit of ice water and suddenly you have beautiful pie dough, ready to roll. No refrigeration necessary.

See? Here is the crust just like that of the most gorgeous pie I've ever made.

Below is the filling ready to go into said un-photographed beautiful pie crust in that Emile Henri pie plate.

The filling went into that beautiful crust, baked, cooled and there it sat on my counter all afternoon. I then loaded into my car, hauled it to work and served it to a lovely group of moms.

Perfect. No picture. But trust me it was as beautiful as this perfect pie dough is easy to make.

Basic Pie Dough
A Williams-Sonoma recipe with method modifications

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose four
1 T. sugar
1/4 t. salt
8 T. super cold unsalted butter
3 T. ice water

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. Grate really cold butter through the large holes of a box grater. Using your fingers gently rub the butter into the dry mixture until it is sandy. Add the water and mix gently until the dough comes together. The dough may need a bit more water, add it a teaspoon at a time until it's moist enough to stick.

Be sure to not over work the dough. There should be visible bits of butter throughout the dough. When the dough is turned out onto the board before rolling, it should still be very crumbly. A quick turn or two will bring it together.

Transfer the dough to a work surface, pat into a ball and flatten into a disc. Lightly flour the work surface roll outwards from the center. Turn dough over and repeat. Add as little additional flour as possible. Continue rolling dough into a 12" round, 1/8" thick

makes enough for 1) 9" crust or 1) 10" galette

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Chevre Pound Cake?

One of the best parts of what I do is getting to share, with those kind enough to join my classes, ingredients, techniques and tastes that I am passionate about. In my early autumn schedule I included a Wine and Cheese Party and Cheese Making classes. I'll share them soon since they were so much fun. Needless to say, most of October was all about cheese. Excitingly, the cheese making class filled twice so I was able to share with lots of people some of my favorite things.

Another best part of what I do is getting to entertain and feed people. In all of my classes there is tasting and I hope special little touches that make is seem like a party. For the second of the cheese making classes, at the last minute I decided to make a goat cheese coffee cake (clever) for my guests to enjoy.

It requires few ingredients but a lot of them. A cup of chevre, 3/4# of butter and 6 eggs are scented with a bit of lemon zest and vanilla extract. Using fiori di sicillia would be a lovely substitute for the vanilla and lemon.

The perfect way to use the back stock of eggs in the fridge.

Really beating the butter and cheese is important since this is a really dense cake with no added leavening.

Light, fluffy and the prettiest pale yellow color.

I like to use a trigger cookie scoop for transferring and portioning cake batter neatly. The batter is really thick.

It's a pretty cake with a dusting of powdered sugar. Dense as a pound cake should be but with a more complex flavor. While it doesn't taste goat-y, the cheese definitely adds a nice tang. The only thing that would make this cake better is using homemade goat cheese.

However would I do that, you ask?

Stop by the yellow house again soon and I'll show you.

Chevre Pound Cake
from The New England Cheesemaking Supply Company

1 cup soft chevre, at room temperature
3 sticks butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 t. grated lemon zest
2 t. vanilla extract
6 eggs, room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

Cream the chevre and butter in a mixer. Add the sugar, lemon zest and vanilla. Beat until the mixture is very light.

Add the eggs, one at a time and beat until light and fluffy.

Reduce the speed of the mixture to low and add the flour, beating just until the batter is mixed.

Spoon into a tube pan.

Bake for 1 1/4 hours or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a rack and cook completely.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fudgy Chocolate Frosting

Henry's birthday cake request was chocolate with chocolate frosting. Making chocolate cakes is getting a bit old so I decided to find a new frosting recipe. Sometimes I assume they are all delicious but, really most aren't always tasty or even chocolate-y. Then there are the fabulous ones that more often than not take a lot of time and include pounds of costly ingredients. Too much money and labor for a child's birthday cake, can be a bummer, no matter how much you love them. Let's not even mention scraping piles of frosting off plates at the party's end that makes your stomach turn.

Always in search of something delicious, I wanted to find "the" chocolate frosting. I checked out many of my baking books but, Flo Braker came through for me. Her book, Baking For All Occasions, is full of great recipes that are just a bit different.

Here it is, the "go to" perfect party frosting. Ideal for little people, divine for big people, inexpensive and made so quickly that if it's left in a pile on an abandon plate, you don't feel sick.

Fudgy Chocolate Filling and Frosting
modified just a bit

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3 3/4 cups (1#) powdered sugar
1/8 t. salt
4 oz. butter, softened
1/2 cup whole milk
2 t. vanilla extract (I used Mexican)
*a bit of espresso powdered would be a great addition, too.

In the top of a double boiler over low heat place unsweetened chocolate. Let the chocolate melt very slowly until creamy and smooth. Remove from the water bath. Set aside until cool yet still creamy smooth.

In a food processor, combine the sugar, salt, and butter and pulse just until mixed. Pour in the milk (with espresso powdered added and well dissolved, if using) and vanilla then process until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and process again until well blended, smooth, and creamy.


If not assembling a cake right away, pour the frosting into a small, sturdy container and set aside at room temperature for a few hours, it will thicken. May be refrigerated up to 5 days. To use, remover from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature until it has a spreading consistency, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

You should have 2 1/2 cups, enough to fill and frost 2) 8" or 9" cakes

Monday, November 8, 2010

Happy Birthday, Henry!

Our baby Henry is 7. Of course, I could say it seems like yesterday....I can't time flies but that's a given, right?

What I will say is that he is an absolute joy to all of us. He makes us laugh and never ceases to surprise us with his insight and expressions. He loves to work and build with anything - boxes, legos or Lincoln logs. Creativity is a forte as is a stubborn streak the likes of which I've never experienced.

At the end of the day, he still climbs on my lap to be held before bed. And he'll still hold my face and kiss me...when I ask him to.

Happy 7th Henry Downing! We love you as big as the sky.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Halloween 2010

Coerce final costumes decisions from children. Determine how to execute costumes. Trip to Wal-mart in search of white sweatshirt. Buy candy. Find fancy scarf from working days and a classic vest. Surf the web for Young Luke Skywalker desert boot inspiration. Late night trip for borrowed costume gear. Emergency costume related phone call. Attend Grammy's Annual Halloween Party. Buy more candy. Gather costumes for third and final wearing. Hunt for last year's clearance Halloween paper goods. Carve pumpkins. Search frantically for votives to provide pumpkins with a haunting glow. A trip for extra buns and.....more candy. Light various candles of various sizes and fragrances.

And then...they were gone.

Where does the time go? It seems only recently I turned Jake into a pony, Max into a devil (for the 3rd time), Ella into a tiny angel and Hen's costume was a tattoo on my enormous stomach. This year June was the only one left behind and the only one that I snapped a semi-formal picture of in costume. She was a lovely Ballerina Fairy, wasn't she?

You sort of feel sorry for her don't you?

Call me crazy.

I am just not quite ready to let it all go.