Friday, December 27, 2013

Cinnamon Roll Snafu - Keeping Things Real!

One thing about my blog is that it truly chronicles the domestic happenings in my life.  If I show a tablescape it's because we ate a dinner like that, not because I'm setting up for a photo shoot. The food I cook, the things I sew, I show you with all their imperfections. My photography isn't always the best. Somedays things go better than others and somedays, no matter what you do, things just go awry!
 Such was the case Christmas Eve.  Every Christmas morning I host a Christmas brunch.  I sent a message to the kids a few weeks ago, asking if they had any special requests.  My daughters all requested cinnamon rolls. My plan was to make two batches of rolls and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.  In the morning I take them out about a half hour before baking to warm up and do the final rise. This is a nice method as it means I don't have to get up at the crack of dawn to make the yeast dough!  On Christmas Eve morning I got up early and was at the grocery store at 6:45 a.m. for our Christmas perishables.  Upon arriving home, I unloaded the groceries and set about to getting the cinnamon rolls going.  As I had a busy day planned I opted to make the dough in my bread machine (Zo).  If you are familiar with this type of bread machine you know that there is a pan that snaps into the machine as well as two dough hooks that snap into the pan.  I'm familiar with that but in my ultra-efficiency that morning I didn't check to make sure those two steps were done.  I put the ingredients in, started the machine and set about to doing other brunch-related chores.  When the buzzer went off, telling me the dough was done, I opened the lid and had nothing but dry ingredients.  I had neglected to snap the pan in!  Ooops!  So I snapped it in and re-started it.  A wise woman would've also checked to make sure the dough hooks were snapped in.  Yes, you guessed it, after the end of the second dough prep cycle I lifted the lid to another pan of dry ingredients! By now, I'm starting to panic as it's  mid-day and no dough has been made.  Finally, the third and fourth times were the charm.  I was beginning to think the kids were going to get cinnamon toast for brunch, not rolls! As it was Christmas I arranged the rolls in the shape of a tree.
I enjoy baking yeast breads but it is time consuming. The mixing, the kneading, the rising, the shaping, the second rising.  Having a bread machine gives me the flexibility of allowing the machine to do all the kneading and the first rise so that I can tend to other chores in my never-ending list of chores.  I prefer to bake in the oven so usually only use the machine to make the dough.  Even with my snafu I had two batches of cinnamon rolls in the refrigerator within four hours. However, instead of being out of the kitchen by noon it was four before I was done! Never a dull moment around here!

Bread Machine Sweet Dough (for Cinnamon Rolls)

1 cup water
1 large egg
3 1/4 cups bread flour
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons dry milk
1/4 cup butter (cut in small cubes)
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

Place ingredients in the bread machine, per the instructions to your machine. Run on dough cycle.

Once dough cycle is done, remove dough from pan and place on lightly floured surface.

Roll to a 9x12" rectangle.  Spread with 1/4 cup softened butter.

Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar and 2 tablespoons cinnamon in small bowl. Sprinkle over surface of dough.

Starting with the 12-inch side, roll dough jelly-roll style, pinch seam to seal.  With seam side down, cut into 1-inch pieces (I used dental floss rather than a knife, so much easier!)

Place on greased baking sheet 2 inches apart.  Cover lightly with damp towel.  Allow to rise in warm place until size doubles, about 40 minutes to 1 hour.  (Or cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight, it will have a slow rise.  One half hour before baking remove from refrigerator, remove plastic wrap and let come to room temperature).

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
it is the night of the dear Savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas with the Stitch 'n Bitch Girls!

As with most groups of friends, the Stitch 'n Bitch girls have a little Christmas celebration each year. It's nothing fancy, we just cut down on our stitching time and  have a gift exchange. Usually our gifts to each other are homemade or a vintage treasure found at an estate sale. Every year I give the girls a jar of my pomegranate jelly and supplement it with other homemade goodies.  This year I decided to make them pincushions. I used this pattern as a guide, substituting some of the sewing directions for ones I thought would be easier and using small beads rather than making French knots. They were easy to make, turned out cute.  Now I need to make a few for me!

I don't keep a large variety of wrapping paper, preferring to use kraft paper or bags.  This means less things to store and the kraft paper goes with everything! Today I used lunch bags and embellished them with a doily and ribbon.  Cute, cute, cute!

Now one of the things we do at Stitch 'n Bitch is eat! Some days it's a complete lunch, other days might be a salad or even just some munchies.  But we must always have dessert! I firmly live by the motto that life is short, eat dessert first! For this gathering I made a chocolate cream pie.  It can be topped with either a meringue or whipped cream.  Today I used whipped cream, adding a little crushed candy canes to the topping for both color and taste. It instantly converted a basic chocolate pie to a holiday pie!
Chocolate Cream Pie
1 pie shell, (9-inch), baked
3 cups half and half
2/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 large egg yolks
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, heat 2 1/2 cups of the half and half, the sugar and the salt, stirring or whisking often to dissolve the sugar, until tiny bubbles appear around the edges.  Remove from heat.
In a medium bowl, sprinkle the cornstarch over the remaining 1/2 cup of half and half and whisk until dissolved.  Whisk in the egg yolks.  Gradually whisk in the hot half and half mixture, and return to the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the custard comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute.  Remove from heat; add the chopped chocolate, butter and the vanilla, and stir until the chocolate melts completely.
Pour mixture into the baked pie shell and smooth the top. Butter (or spray Pam baking spray) on a piece of plastic wrap and place it, buttered side down, directly on the surface of the filling (this keeps a skin from forming on the filling).  Cool completely.  Refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.
Top with meringue or whipped cream.  Garnish as desired.  Serve chilled.
On Tuesday I am linking to A Stroll Thru Life!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nutcrackers & Ballet Shoes

The Nutcracker ballet originated in 1892, in Russia, and migrated to the United States in the 1940's, playing in large cities such as New York and San Francisco. By the 1960's the Nutcracker was a Christmas tradition throughout the country. I saw my first live performance in 1989 when I took my then four-year old daughter to see our local production.  We were both mesmerized by the ballet and our love affair with nutcrackers began.  The following year she was a performer in the Nutcracker as a Marshmallow, dancing out of Mother Marshmallow's skirt. She performed in the ballet a few more years before moving on to other hobbies.

Over the years my nutcracker collection has grown.  My mantle is filled with them, nutcracker ornaments adorn my Christmas tree, I've made cross stitch nutcracker pieces. Each year, as I unpack the Christmas boxes and find the nutcrackers, I find myself thinking back to a young girl's excitement at seeing the Nutcracker and the Rat King battle, idolizing the Sugar Plum Fairy, wearing her prettiest Christmas dress for our outing and, later, endless rehearsals and her smile at the end of the night as she held a bouquet of flowers received for a dance performance well done. Time has gone so fast and that little girl is now a grown woman with a daughter of her own.

Following in her aunt's footsteps, our oldest granddaughter will be performing in the Nutcracker this weekend. It will be the third time she has participated in this ballet. She dreams of one day performing in the role of Clara. One can only hope that her dancing dreams come true.

I made sugar cookies (recipe here) and took to her rehearsal one evening. Though she's too young for pointe shoes she can have them in the form of a cookie!

With two more granddaughters involved in dance I believe the Nutcracker will continue to play an important part in our family's Christmas traditions.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Persimmon Cookies

In late fall and early winter,  persimmons become ready for consumption. Persimmons are originally from Asia and there are basically two types of persimmons, astringent and non-astringent.  The difference between the two is that the astringent ones must be fully ripened, very soft in order to eat.  If not they will be very bitter.  In our area, the most common astringent persimmons are the Hachiya variety.  They are round with a pointed base.  The Fuyu is smaller and has more of a tomato shape.  They can be eaten while the fruit is still firm and are often used in salads, dried or eaten fresh like an apple.

Every year I am blessed to be given ample quantities of both varieties of persimmons.  I find the Hachiya persimmons to be better for baking, though both varieties can be used for baking.  Once ripe I puree them in my food processor and freeze the pulp for later use.

My favorite use of persimmon puree is in persimmon cookies.  There are a million persimmon cookie recipes on the web, all very similar.  Persimmon cookies, to me, will always remind me of my Grandma McGee.  She always had persimmon cookies in her freezer or cookie jar. It was very common for her to take a bag of these cookies to people that she visited. I have very fond memories of baking these cookies with Grandma.  Whenever I or my Mom bake these everyone always brings up a Grandma memory. Persimmon cookies = Grandma's love. The cookies can be frozen, unbaked, or baked and frozen. To freeze them unbaked, just put the dough on a cookie sheet and freeze for 15-20 minutes.  Then put the frozen cookies balls in a Ziploc bag.  When ready to bake, just take out a few cookies and bake as usual.  Either way, they are great, full of flavorful spices, nuts and raisins.
Grandma would be so thrilled to know that her cookie recipe continues to bring her family together.  On this day, my granddaughter (Grandma's great-great granddaughter) and I worked together to make a batch of these cookies (and yes, the pacifier, also known as the "bink", is never far away from her!)
Baking with grandchildren takes longer, makes more messes but the memories made far outweigh the extra work. After she licked the beater and had a few cookies her Mommy picked her up and took her home.  I finished cleaning the kitchen and sat down to enjoy a few cookies and a cup of tea, memories of a beloved Grandma and my granddaughter filling my heart with love.

Grandma McGee's Persimmon Cookies

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch salt

1 cup raisins

1 cup chopped walnuts

½ cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 cup persimmon pulp

Preheat oven to 350°.

 Sift flour, soda, spices, and salt together.  Stir in raisins and nuts.  Cream butter and sugar together until well blended.  Add beaten egg; cream again.  Beat in persimmon pulp.  Gradually stir in flour, spice, raisin and nut mixture.

 Drop batter onto greased cookie sheet, by teaspoon (I use a small ice cream scoop) and cook for 15-17 minutes.



Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Gift Tags

I'm an inexperienced, but enthusiastic, stamper and paper-crafter. I refer to my time doing this as "playing with paper".  I have many supplies such as stamping pads, punches, dies and die cutter, paper cutter, etc.  With the little I've produced in the way of paper crafting my cost-per-product is probably outrageous but that's not the point, right?!! I've found it to be another way to unwind and let my creative spirit out for some play.

For the last few years I've made my own Christmas gift tags.  This year, in keeping with the gingerbread theme that has been prevalent at my home lately, I incorporated gingerbread men in my tags. I stamped the images and, using my die cutter, I cut out the tags and the gingerbread man (using the very nifty magnetic platform from Stampin' Up!)  A little decorative tape, bakers twine, a red button and rhinestone heart and the tags are done. Original and I had fun (yes, I know, I am easily amused!)

A friend gave me her gift wrapping tip a number of years ago and it's worked well for me.  I buy a huge roll of paper and wrap all the presents in the same paper.  No more worrying about what bow goes with which paper, do I have enough on this roll to wrap a certain package, etc.  I usually buy a pretty generic paper.  This roll has lasted me three years.  Each year I mix up the ribbons and tags and no one knows I'm using the same paper.  It also helps with storage issues, too, only one roll to store.  I'm done with shopping and wrapping. The granddaughters have been counting their presents and wondering what's in them. Less than 2 weeks to Christmas!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Gingerbread Tea

Eight years ago my cousin & I were lamenting the fact that most of our family (Dad's side) only saw each other at funerals. A sad fact considering we all live within 20 miles of each other!  Our kids are growing up, our parents are aging, we all have busy lives, all the excuses why you don't make time to get together. We took it upon ourselves to organize a gathering for the females in our family.  The first year we met at a tea shop.  There were about eight of us in attendance that year but we had a nice time.  The next year that tea shop had closed so we picked another one.  It was a disappointment.  We were stuck in a corner of a gift shop, the food was canned or boxed and it was pricey per person.  We all love to cook and bake and said that we could do our own tea better.  So, for the last six years, the tea has been held in my home on the first Saturday following Thanksgiving weekend.  It has grown and this year we had 19 in attendance, ranging in age from my two-year-old great niece to our great aunt who is in her mid-80's.

Everyone brings a savory or sweet (many bring both!) to share.  I provide the setting, tea, scones, lemon curd & strawberry jam (all homemade). I also give each guest a jar of pomegranate jelly.We do a "white elephant" type of tea cup exchange. Though it wears me out, I get a lot of joy out of providing a beautiful event for my family. We use the Christmas china, crystal, I rent nice linens and try to come up with a theme that will enchant both young and old. This year's theme was gingerbread. 
Now I confess that I get carried away with creating and decorating at times.  This was one of those times.  For the last three weeks I've been knee-deep in gingerbread. With the help of my hubby, I built six gingerbread houses that became the table centerpieces.  My daughter spent a Saturday afternoon with me helping to decorate them.  I made a gingerbread garland.  I made a mama gingerbread for the centerpiece of the kids' table as well as individual gingerbread girls at each of their place settings. If you are counting, that is 36 cups of flour and 9 cups of molasses! I'm pretty much over gingerbread at the moment.

We had a great day.  The kids were well-behaved (their parents are probably not liking me right now because I sent them home with a lot of candy!), we caught up with our lives, laughed, reminisced, helped enhance the family ties and enjoyed good food. Only 365 days until next year's tea!

I'm linking up at a Stroll Through Life.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tired of Turkey Yet?

Though the Thanksgiving dinner is, by far, my favorite dinner of the year, I have to admit I am tired of turkey leftovers! We've had sandwiches (more than one!), a turkey shepherd's pie and I still have turkey left over.  I think it is multiplying in my fridge while I'm away at work!

Our weather has turned, we have frost warnings for tonight (this is the definition of cold in central California!).  When it gets cold I turn to soup as my main dinner choice. We have a local restaurant in town, Harvest Moon, that serves a great corn chowder.  When I saw this recipe I knew I had to try it as I love the restaurant's corn chowder and I love shrimp.  Happily, this recipe didn't disappoint, we really enjoyed it. I found the recipe in a magazine called Autumn in the South. As it was only the two of us for dinner I halved the recipe.  We still had leftovers for lunch the next day.

Shrimp & Corn Chowder

1/4 cup butter
2 large red bell peppers, chopped
2 bunches, green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 quarts chicken broth
6 cups diced red potatoes
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups half-and-half
5 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
3 pounds medium fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
Garnish: chopped red bell pepper

In a large Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-high heat.  Add bell pepper, green onion, and garlic; cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add flour; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Gradually whisk in chicken broth; bring to a boil.  Add potatoes, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.  Add salt, black pepper, and red pepper, stirring to mix well.  Add cream, half-and-half, and corn.  Bring to a simmer; reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 40 to 50 minutes, or until slightly thickened.  Add shrimp; cook for 5 minutes, or just until shrimp are firm and pink.  Garnish with chopped red bell pepper, if desired.

Our house is mostly decorated for Christmas and I'm in full-hostess mode as I'm hosting a family tea, for 20, on Saturday.  The theme of the tea this year is gingerbread so I decorated the dining area tree accordingly.  I have various gingerbread items, in various stages of production, throughout my kitchen and am making another batch of dough tonight. As I'm knee-deep in projects this chowder is but a distant memory for my hubby (we had it a week ago).  Tonight he gets bacon & eggs!