Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Eve Dinner

I'm still playing catch up with some photos and memories I want to record.

We have shared Christmas Eve Dinner with our friends The Manzellas for the last four or five years. Usually Thomas prepares some amazing meal (he's done seafood, individual stuffed cornish game hens and prime rib in the past), Lori does all of the shopping and prep, always makes my favorite salad and sets a gorgeous table and I take care of the rolls and dessert. This year her Dad and were step Mom were visiting from Florida and they prepared much of the meal.

I brought the gingerbread pumpkin trifle and a nutella cheesecake and Cecile (Lori's step mom) made a rum cake so we were more than covered in the dessert department. Dinner, as always, was amazing and the kids kept running into the office to check on the Santa Tracker (even Max who no longer really believes).

We stayed and visited after dinner until it was time to pick up Koo from the airport. I did not tell tell the kids where we were going - I just said we were searching for Christmas lights. When we got to the airport I told them I had heard some of the planes were decorated from Christmas and while they looked out the windows, I pulled up to where Koo was waiting for us. They were very surprised and very happy and we are so grateful she is here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Recipe: Caramels

Ahhh caramels. So delicious and such a pain in the butt to make.

This is what I love about baking: it takes about 10 minutes to whip together a cake, you pop it in the oven and then have a good half an hour to take a shower or vacuum the living room. Then, while it cools, you whip up some frosting and still have the time to throw in another load of laundry. Baking and multi-tasking go hand in hand. I am a multi-tasker.

This was the first time I have ever attempted caramels and this is what I learned: caramels have to be babysat. Caramels take a looooong time to cook and someone has to stand there and stir them and adjust the heat and move the pot off the burner a little bit before it overflows - and clean up the mess when it does overflow. Caramels are high maintenance and you cannot multi-task while making caramels. If you undercook them you will have a whole lot of caramel sauce - if you overcook them, they will break your teeth.

However, caramels are on of my favorite things of all time. So chewy and delicious and though I complain, I will certainly be making them again - because I love them.

I tried two recipes Martha's Gingerbread Caramels and Martha's Deep Dark Chocolate Caramels. Both are fabulous. I added a bit more freshly grated nutmeg to the gingerbread caramels and they were spicy and fantastic. In fact, I am making them again today to tuck into a care package for a missionary (I know, we missed Christmas, but it will be a New Year's care package). The chocolate caramels were my favorite - I used Ghirardelli's Bittersweet chocolate. I also failed to read the recipe in advance and added all of the cream at the beginning. It did not seem to make a difference. Be warned - each of these recipes require at least an hour of stirring - make sure you have a book or a movie on your laptop to watch. The chocolate caramels took more like two hours. I had one batch of the chocolate caramels overflow (before I added the chocolate). Since I was worried about it not turning out, I started over. I set the rejected batch on the back burner and let it keep cooking, adding orange peel and cardamom for spices. It actually turned out just fine as well.

I wrapped them in waxed paper and gave them away with peanut butter fudge and chocolate peanut butter fudge as friend and neighbor gifts this year. Yum!

Recipe: Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle

I made two trifles over Christmas weekend and this was by far the better of the two. Trifle is really simple to make and just looks so beautiful layered in a traditional glass trifle bowl. My trifle bowl usually sits on my kitchen counter holding eggs.

The gingerbread in this recipe is spicy and very soft which is perfect for layering with the pumpkin mousse. The gingerbread does not get soggy as it is only layered with the mousse and freshly whipped cream. You can find the recipe here.

I am linking this post up to Cream Puff's Sugar High Friday event. Head over there to find other trifle recipes to try!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Savory . . . But Mostly Sweet

On Christmas Eve we baked. Gingerbread Pumpkin Trifle, Nutella Cheesecake and two kinds of rolls. Sophie's friend came over for the day and the girls slipped on the Santa aprons and shaped rolls for me. I tried a new recipe from The Bread Bible called My Favorite Buttermilk Dinner Rolls and I was disappointed.

They were very pretty and glossy, but rather dry and I was not a huge fan of the lemon zest either. You can find the recipe here. The other rolls were my Sweet Potato Rolls and they always make me happy - they are a very dense roll and I doubled the recipe so we had about four dozen rolls for dinner and snacks for the next two days.

Though I have been consuming primarily sugar and riding a three week sugar headache, I did also make a big pot of Chicken Vegetable soup as well. Max had been fighting a cough which he then passed on to Calvin so I thought this sounded like a good thing to eat once a day over Christmas weekend. I used a rotisserie chicken to make the broth and then added carrots, onions, green pepper, zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli, corn, celery and kale. So good.

A Message From Sophie

Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter Reality

Every now and again someone makes a comment here or on facebook about how they just cannot believe how organized and together I am . . . and then I burst out laughing.

Perhaps I do not share enough about the reality of being a single Mom with three young children while running a full-time daycare. My life is rarely organized. I miss deadlines, I forget to check backpacks, my house looks like a tornado has blown through more days than not. One day last week I told my kids they could have Christmas cookies for dinner as long as they had a glass of milk and piece of fresh fruit with it. The inside of my car is disgusting and a whole 12 pack of Diet Coke exploded in the garage fridge last week. I sometimes craft with the children but a lot of the time I don't. I used to scrapbook and make cards, but now those supplies sit in the basement gathering dust.

My life is anything but pretty, but it is a good life. I have so much to be thankful for and if nothing else, this season of my life has taught me patience. I have no idea how long this season will be or what other lessons I still need to learn, but I have accepted it for what is - a challenge.

These deceptively happy photos fail to let you know that it took 25 minutes to get outside. That the baby pooped about two minutes after getting outside. The other baby kept losing his glove and then falling over in the snow. His snowsuit is so big that he cannot move if he falls over. Four kids had runny noses and I spent every other minute wiping someones nose. The boys were fighting over a sled and Calvin was not listening to me. I ended up using my best mean mommy voice to loudly threaten him with being put on the naughty list if he DID NOT SHARE THE ORANGE SLED!!! I tried to shovel part of the driveway, but by that time both babies were crying and wanted to go inside so I cleared about a two foot square. That is how my life really looks. Do not be fooled by the photos.

Recipe: Scandinavian Almond Bars

Do you make these every Christmas? Me too. They are one of my favorite cookies and the trick to making them unforgettable is to be generous with the sliced almonds and the icing. I never rolls these cookies - just press them into shape on your slipat pads. I made these last week for my Sunday School class and then nibbled on them all through Relief Society. They are delicious.

1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
2. In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add egg and almond extract; mix until fluffy. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt; mix well.
3. Divide dough into 4 pieces, and roll each one into a log about 12 inches long. Place 2 logs per cookie sheet 4 to 5 inches apart. Flatten each roll by hand until it is about 3 inches wide. Brush flattened roll with milk and sprinkle with sliced almonds.
4. Bake in preheated oven 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are slightly browned. While the cookies are still warm, cut them crosswise at a diagonal, into slices about 1 inch wide. When cool, drizzle with almond icing.
5. Almond icing: In a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar, almond extract, and milk until smooth. Drizzle over the cookies.

Recipe: Chocolate-Pistachio Torte

This is the recipe I made for the ward Christmas party. I could not find unsalted pistachios for the batter, so I just rinsed some and threw them in. It is pretty simple to make and has that really dense, rich flavor of a flourless chocolate torte. The pistachios in the batter are soft and warm when served and the ones on top are wonderfully salty and crunchy.

The recipe is the December 2008 Everyday Foods, or you can find it on-line here.

Kids Christmas Ornaments

Last week - sometime before the craziness of this weekend, we spent an entire morning making Christmas ornaments. All of the children were 4 and under so we kept things pretty simple.

We made beaded circles by threading beads on pipe cleaners.

We took peanut butter lids and glued Christmas papers inside.

We then outlined the papers with glue and added beads. We just taped yarn to the back to hang these on the tree.

This one was really fun. I cut circles out of cardboard and then cut slits every inch or so. The kids used yarn to make patterns on the circles.

Use a hole punch to make a way to hang them on the tree.

This was my favorite craft. I cut a ton a little squares of felt and had the children thread them on with a needle and thread. Even the young kids could manage this craft though it does take a lot of little squares to have enough to make a wreath.

When it is long enough, just cut off the needle and te the ends together. I added a loop of yarn as a hanger. I think these are adorable and will definitely make them again next year!