Monday, November 13, 2017

2017 Christmas Gift Tags

I've not started Christmas decorating yet.  I'm one of those who has to let the Thanksgiving turkey dinner settle a bit before I can tackle that chore!  However, I'm a pretty organized person and I'm almost done with Christmas shopping ( 2 more gifts to get!) I've also started on doing the gift wrapping.  In connection with that, I've completed the gift tags that will go on this year's packages.  They compliment the gift bags that I previously shared.

Yes, it would easier and more cost-effective to buy gift tags. I have an urge to create and design and this little project helps satisfy that urge. I make them in steps, doing a little at a time when I have a few spare moments. One of my favorite parts of the Christmas holidays is a decorated Christmas tree with pretty packages underneath its branches. My homemade gift tags add a little extra to my packages!

For this year's tags I used a few different shaped wreath stamps.  Using my Silhouette machine I cut out the tag shapes, one slightly larger than the other, and glued together.  I dabbed (is that a word?) red ink along the border of the white tag to add a little color and dimension. A little twine bow and all is done!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Christmas Gift Bags

Christmas Day is 7 weeks from today.  Yikes! Now that Halloween is over, I am finding that many people are already decorating for the Christmas holidays. I'm not ready to decorate yet, I like to celebrate Thanksgiving first! We can't overlook the turkey and pumpkin pie! However, I have been working on getting ready for Christmas for a while now.  I'm about 2/3 done with my Christmas shopping.  My wrapping paper and ribbon supply has been replenished and I've been working on making Christmas gift tags. For small items and gift cards, I use decorated bags that coordinate with the packages under the tree.  I've finished making this year's bags and have some with gifts inside, ready to go under the tree. This year my packages will be wrapped with brown and red kraft paper and coordinating ribbons.  The gift tags I'm making have small wreaths on them so it made sense that the gift bags did, too.  I found an inspiration picture from Papertrey Ink and made my own version, using standard kraft lunch bags. 

Like most paper projects, these bags involved various, but easy, steps.  First up was to make small tags and embellish them. A simple wreath and berries were stamped on the bag, then snowflakes and a peppermint border were stamped and embossed.  A little ribbon and the cute gift bags were done! I have a small TV in my craft room so usually do projects like this with football or the Food Network on in the background. It goes fast!

This project involved learning a new technique for me, embossing.  It was much easier than I thought it would be.  Using a special ink pad, an image is stamped on the paper.  Embossing powder is sprinkled over the wet image, then an embossing heat gun is used to form the embossing.  It was so cool to see this happen, in just a few seconds I had a raised image on the paper. I can see myself using this technique a lot in the future!

As I was doing the embossing my husband came in to my craft room and inquired as to what I was doing (it sounds like a blow dryer).  I showed him and he asked when I had acquired the embossing gun.  This from a man who has a garage full of tools and brings a new one home after each Home Depot trip!  I told him "you have your tools, I have mine!"

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Jalapeno Cornbread Muffins (and a new pan!)

Some people have alcohol, drug, or gambling addictions and there are recovery and self-help groups for such people. My addiction is much more mundane; I can't resist a cute baking pan. I've yet to find a support group for my addiction. Thank goodness this addiction is not physically damaging, my only dilemma seems to be where to store yet another pan. I say I have enough, that cute pans don't make things taste any better (though I think they must!), that I have no room for more pans.  That resolve only lasts until I walk into a Williams Sonoma or Sur la Table store.  Then my resolve starts to wane.  I get nervous, I walk to other parts of the store, lest I be tempted. Sometimes I'm successful.  But when I walk in, see a cute pan, and it's 40% off?  Well, a girl can only be so strong! Yes, the pan came home with me!

In my defense, I do use my cute pans. The first use for this fall pan was a batch of Jalapeno Cornbread Muffins. They are just a slight variation from a basic cornbread muffin, but they are a little spicy (jalapeno), savory (cheese), and sweet (honey).  Served with honey butter they are even better. Something about the sweetness of the honey with the spice of the jalapeno is amazing. I used one jalapeno, if you like things spicier, feel free to add more! As I served these with a bowl of spicy chili I knew we didn't need more heat!

These are very easy to make and it's hard not to eat just one. And, you have to admit they are cute!

Jalapeno Cornbread Muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup (1 cube) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon honey
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced (more if you like more heat!)
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly coat a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, and salt.

In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, butter, sugar, eggs, and honey.  Pour mixture over dry ingredients and stir, using a rubber spatula, just until moistened.  Add the jalapeno pepper and cheese, and gently toss to combine.

Scoop the batter evenly into the muffin tins.  Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

When I was a pre-teen, I went through a phase where I wouldn’t eat anything with mayonnaise in it. About that same time my mom found a chocolate cake recipe, using mayonnaise, on the back of a mayonnaise jar. Stubbornly, I wouldn’t eat it, even though everyone told me how good it was. My anti-mayonnaise phase didn’t last too long and, eventually, I discovered how much I liked this cake!

Supposedly, this cake recipe originated in the Great Depression/WW II era when baking supplies were scarce and cooks had to be creative. Mayonnaise is basically eggs and oil, so using mayonnaise eliminates or reduces the need to use those ingredients. This cake is moist, chocolatey, and about as old-fashioned a cake there is.  On most Sundays I make dinner for my parents.  My Dad has a big sweet tooth so I always try to make a dessert, too.  I was craving a chocolate cake and remembered this recipe from long ago. It was as good as I remembered!

As it’s almost Halloween, I frosted the cake with a simple buttercream, tinted orange. I topped it with chocolate ganache and made a spider web effect with melted white chocolate. Along with a big glass of cold milk, this made a great Sunday evening dessert!

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 eggs
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mayonnaise
1 1/3 cups warm water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and lightly flour (or use baking spray) two 9-inch round cake pans *; set aside.

In medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and baking powder; set aside.

In large bowl, with electric mixer at high speed, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla for 3 minutes or until light and fluffy.  Beat in mayonnaise at low speed until blended.  Alternately beat in flour mixture with water, beginning and ending with flour mixture.  Pour into prepared pans.

Bake 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. On wire racks, cool 10 minutes; remove from pans and cool completely.  Frost, if desired, or sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

*Or prepare cake as above and bake in a 13-x-9-inch baking pan for 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Apple Puff Pastry Tart

I've expressed before how much I love puff pastry and that it's a staple in my freezer. Recently I had an overwhelming craving for something sweet.  I had a rough day at work and needed a little treat. It's relaxing for me to bake, but I didn't have a lot of time to devote to my sweet treat desire. I pulled out a sheet of puff pastry and made this quick apple tart. Easy, good, and just enough to satisfy my craving for a sweet! 

Any apple can be used with this tart.  Fuji apples had just been picked at my favorite fruit stand so I grabbed a bag of them one afternoon!

Apple Puff Pastry Tart

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
3-5 apples
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon water to make egg wash
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Streusel Topping

1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Open pastry sheet and remove paper.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry sheet into an 8-by-14-inch rectangle. Trim edges with a pizza cutter or knife, if necessary to make edges even. Transfer to a baking sheet; place in freezer.

To make streusel topping, combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Using a pastry blender, or two knives, mix ingredients until the mixture is crumbly and it starts holding together.

Peel, core, and slice apples 1/4-inch thick. 

Remove pastry from freezer.  Brush pastry with egg wash, avoiding edges. Using a sharp paring knife, score a 3/4-inch border around pastry (do not cut all the way through). Arrange apples inside border, and dot with butter.  Sprinkle streusel topping over the apples. Bake until pastry is golden and apples are tender, 30 to 35 minutes.

Slightly cutting around the edges allows the border to puff up and enclose the apples.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Pumpkin Beer Broccoli Cheddar Soup

When October rolls around, my Staub pumpkin pot comes out of the upper cabinets and remains a fixture on my cooktop throughout the fall season. It’s so cute and provides extra incentive to make a pot of soup. Overnight, it seems, it feels like fall in my area. We love soup, especially when it’s cold outside. There’s just something about a hot bowl of soup and some crunchy bread that makes a person feel cozy!

This soup recipe comes from the Half Baked Harvest blog. My Hubbers loves Cream of Broccoli soup so I thought he would enjoy this variation. It gets a lot of its flavor from the pumpkin ale and the cayenne pepper adds just the right amount of heat. We enjoyed this!

Pumpkin Beer Broccoli Cheddar Soup.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 small sweet onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
2 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 12 ounce pumpkin beer
3-4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, plus more for serving
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more, to taste)
1 large pinch kosher salt and pepper
4 cups broccoli florets
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, plus more for serving

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the onion and carrot and cook until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Whisk in the flour and cook until golden, about 2 minutes, then gradually whisk in the milk until smooth. Add the broth, beer, broccoli, bay leaves, nutmeg, cayenne, and a large pinch each of salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, until the broccoli is tender, about 20 minutes. 

Remove the soup from the stove and puree in batches in a blender or use an immersion blender.  Return the soup to the stove and set over low heat. Stir in the cheese until melted and creamy. Add the thyme and cook another 2-3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Ladle into bowls and top with a little extra cheddar and fresh thyme.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Spice Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

I’ve been in such a baking mood lately. I am behind on fall gardening chores, need to start on making Christmas tags, have two quilt tops to finish, but I seem to be spending all my spare time in the kitchen. I love fall baking. Not only do I enjoy eating and sharing the baked goods, but the aroma of the spices  as they are baking is heavenly. Who needs to buy scented candles? Just bake something with cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger and your house will smell good for hours!

This spice cake has all the above-mentioned spices, plus the less commonly used, cardamom.  Neither spice overpowers the other, it all blends together so nicely. Sour cream in the batter makes for a moist and tender cake. There is a little bit of orange rind in the cake, complimented by the addition of rind in the cream cheese frosting. Everyone loved this cake!

Spice Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whole milk

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting:
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter three 9-inch round cake pans.  Line bottoms of pans with waxed paper.  Butter and flour pans; tap out excess flour (or use baking spray). Sift first 8 ingredients into medium bowl.  Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter and orange peel in large bowl until fluffy.  Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. In a small bowl, combine sour cream and milk. Stir flour mixture into butter mixture alternately with the sour cream-milk mixture. Divide batter among prepared pans.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Transfer pans to racks and cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Place one cake layer on platter.  Spread 2/3 cup frosting over. Top with second layer.  Spread 2/3 cup frosting over.  Top with third cake layer.  Cover top and sides of cake with remaining frosting.

To make the frosting, using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until well blended.  Beat in sugar, then orange peel and vanilla. 

I had leftover decorations from making gingerbread houses, they added a little fall festivity to the cake!