Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Baking- In Photos

My kids are older now but we still like to bake and decorate cookies.  Not only do we do the traditional decorated sugar cookies but now and then we'll throw in a new recipe just for the heck of it!

Here are some photos of what we baked this Holiday Season.
I'm happy to say that my photography skills are getting better and better.

We took packaged sugar cookie dough mix, then rolled it out, cut it with cookies cutters and baked it.  To decorate we used ready made frosting, food coloring and piping bags with different tips.

Some designs got colored sugar and other decorations.

My daughter did the tree with the gold glitter.  I thought that one was particularly pretty.

Here's a new recipe I thought I would try -- salted caramel brownies.  I'll post a whole entry on this one.

Peanut butter blossoms, some with Hershey Kisses, some with Rollos.

Peanut butter cookies

Traditionally I always bake a batch or two of chocolate chip.

What traditions do you have for the holidays?  A special meal? A special decorating tradition?

Feel free to share. If you have a blog be sure to  leave a link.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Price Chopper Trip- My Best Ever!

I like using coupons. I’m not extreme by any means, but I do like see the savings after I use them.  In a recent trip to my local grocery store – Price Chopper I was able to have one of the best shopping trips – EVER!

As a blogger (and my husband is a blogger too www.markbernardphotography.com) we’ve been invited to two of Price Chopper’s events – a cooking demo and a Holiday Showcase.  Mark took pictures and for his work he was rewarded with gift certificates.  By using them and buying meat that was on sale buy one get one free we were able to use the gift certificates to buy all our meat.  In a sense getting it all free.  We didn’t stop there though. There were also great deals in some of the flyers and brochures that we received at the events.  Advertised specials included specialty cheeses, Dole salad kits making them a great deal.  After using all the deals, gift certificates and coupons our bill of $269.40 was reduced to $106.79 which is a savings of $111.22!!

I love saving more than I pay!
Thanks Price Chopper for making my cash go further.  Oh yeah on top of the savings we also got 40 cents off each gallon of gas we buy at a participating Sunoco.  It was a win-win!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Holiday Project- The Cocoa Cone

Since it's getting so close to Christmas I decided I would share a really cute, simple project that can be done with kids.  This would make a great gift for a teacher or a neighbor.  I'd like to thank my friend Jenny Cullom-Guss for this super cute idea!

The Holiday Cocoa Cone

By using some simple things you can create a really cute gift, pretty easily.
Here's how:

I took a disposable piping bags and filled it with hot cocoa mix, any brand will do.  I used the 16 inch bags which were very big, so it would be better to use the smaller ones. They come 12 in a box.  

After the bag was filled with cocoa mix I topped it off with mini marshmallow and then sprinkled in some colored sugar.  I tied it off with some ribbon (the curling kind) and made a tag.  That's pretty much it.  

The bag can be decorated with stickers and the tag can be decorated with markers and crayons.  Simple and fun for kids.

All the supplies can be found at A.C. Moore, except the marshmallows and the cocoa mix.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Easy Christmas Cake Designs-- Tips to Decorate Like a Pro

I've been working at a local ice cream shop and have picked up some tips and tricks for cake decorating that I thought I would share. 

The cakes we make are all ice cream with a filling in the center.  It could be white chocolate chips and raspberry or raspberry and brownies or hot fudge and cookies.  To make a solid ice cream cake is easy. We make our own ice cream at the shop.  We fill the cake pans, which are really metal cheesecake pans (the kind where the bottom comes out) half way with vanilla, add the center then top off with chocolate.  You can do this at home, but  I'm not really sure what the proportions would be. When your ready to decorate fill the sink with hot water.  Dip the pan into the hot water just enough to loosen the cake.  Place it on a freezer safe plate.  If your using a baked cake be sure that the cake is cooled completely before icing or decorating.  A layer cake can be split and filled with jam or other fillings or can just be filled with icing.

To decorate the cake you'll need:
icing and icing colors
jarred fudge sauce, cold
piping bag -- buy re-useable ones so that you can use them again next year
decorating tips:
scallop for edging
flower and dot for design
Christmas cookie cutters
off set spatula

Once the cake is frozen solid release the cake from the pan using the instructions above, ice it and be sure that the icing is smooth.  I would recommend white icing since the design will show up much better.  Although we've done designs on fudge before.

Once the cake is iced and it's very smooth take a piping bag filled with the same icing and pipe a border top and bottom.  

You can buy just vanilla (white) icing and color it with icing colors you can buy where you buy your piping bag and tips.  

By buying re-useable piping bags, metal tips and cookie cutters you can not only make this easy but you won't have to buy them again next year when you want to create a one of a kind cake design.

The tip I recommend is a scallop tip.  Hold the bag at a 45 degree angle and squeeze.  Go slow to start and use even pressure.  Push backward then forward making a shell shape.  Do this all the way around the top and bottom.  It's really not necessary to do the border but you're going to need a piping bag and a couple of tips to do the designs I'm going to illustrate.

Once the border is done take your Christmas cookie cutter - the simple metal ones work best- and press it into the top of the cake where you would like your design.

Imprint of Christmas tree

To make the Christmas tree:

I use a green tinted icing with a flower tip to fill it in.  I use fudge to fill in the trunk using a round tip the use yellow tinted icing for the garland and star.  I add a few red decorations to simulate ornaments also using a round tip.

To make the wreath:

I used green tinted icing and a flower tip.  I used a round shaped cookie cutter as the wreath template and then used the flower tip to create the wreath itself.  By starting at the top I squeezed out one flower then alternated adding two flowers and then repeated, one flower, two flowers and so on until the wreath was filled in all the way around.  Using a dot tip and red icing I added the bow and finished it off with dots around the top and bottom edging.

He's a little out of focus but you get the idea

To make the snowman:

I used a simple metal snowman cookie cutter outline.  I filled it in using a dot tip and the same icing I used for the top and bottom border.  His hat, buttons, eyes and arms are all fudge.  His carrot nose was made using a dot tip -- squeeze and pull up and it will stand up like a carrot.  his mouth is red icing using a dot tip and the scarf is green icing using a dot tip.

I especially like the snowman because you can get creative with the decorations.  Different types of mouths, and scarf colors.  So have fun.  Finish it off with more dots on the border to make it extra colorful.

These are just suggestions on creating a one of a kind cake design for your holiday party or get together.  They are simple so you can even get the kids involved.  You can use any kind of metal Christmas cookie cutter and fill in with whatever colors you'd like.  Be creative!  Have fun!!

But if this isn't your thing then come to The Ice Cream Man in Greenwich NY and pick up an all ready decorated cake for any occasion or call and order one and we will make it especially for you!    http://www.the-ice-cream-man.com/

Do you have a decorating tip that you'd like to share? or maybe a photo of a masterpiece you and your children created, then feel free to share.  I'm always looking for a little inspiration.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Turning Soup into Dinner

When I lived in St Louis there was a restaurant that my parents loved and we would go to a couple times a month.  For one of their soups of the day they would have green pepper soup.  It was a delicious, rich soup that was like a deconstructed stuffed green pepper.

I went home and tried to replicate it. Here's what I came up with and I think it's pretty close.  Green pepper soup is way to take canned tomato soup and stretch it to feed your family with a hearty dish that is great for dinner with cornbread or biscuits or even for lunch, to warm you up after some winter outdoor activities.

To turn tomato soup into dinner here's what you'll need:

1 large (family size) can of tomato soup  (I like Campbell's)
1/2 can water
1 pound ground beef
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup instant rice

In a large soup pot add the ground beef and cook on medium heat until browned.

Add onion and green pepper until tender.  Season with salt and pepper and add garlic.

Once the vegetables are tender and the garlic is cooked the add the large can of tomato soup and 1/2 can of water.

Stir to combine.  Bring the soup to a low boil and then add the rice.

Turn the heat to low and cook until the rice is cooked through, about 10 minutes.


Monday, December 5, 2011

$10 Dinner Challenge- Part 1

Not all of us have the luxury of being able to grow our food to feed our families.  Not all of us know how, have the space or the time.  That’s one reason I came up with the $10 dinner challenge.  In this challenge I hope to have people get creative with grocery store food – meat, seafood and produce to create delicious, healthy and economical meals for their families without using pre-packaged boxed foods.

Anyone can open a jar of sauce, boil pasta and call that dinner.  But what about creating a 2-3 course meal using NO prepared foods?   This is where is it can get a little sticky.  Can I use canned seasoned tomatoes but not pre-made spaghetti sauce?  Can I use frozen broccoli instead of fresh because it’s not in season?  The guidelines are really pretty simple.  Take fresh food and make it into a 2-3 course meal for $10.  If you have a garden – great!  If you can your surplus- awesome!  Then this might not be the challenge for you.  I’m looking for people who like to cook but don’t grow all their own food, that don’t live on pasta and boxed dinners.

So, let’s break it down:
1. All the ingredients for the dinner should be $10 or under.
2.  The ingredients should be fresh (or frozen) and not pre-made or pre-packaged with the exception of rice or pasta.
3.  The meals should be 2-3 courses. Starter and entrée, entrée and dessert or all 3.
4.  Everything should be bought from one store.  Walk into the store with a $10  bill and just see what you can do.
5.  Staples like spices, condiments, flour, sugar, eggs, bread milk etc DO NOT count in the $10 limit.
6.  What was spent should be broken down into what did it cost and how much was each serving.  For example: if potatoes are buy one get one free then calculate the price per pound then calculate the amount used and what it cost to make it accurate.  Same for meat and seafood.
7.  If you like you can have a break down of what was spent and what was on hand.

If this sounds easy and you do it every day for a lot less, then this isn’t the challenge for you.  If you want to try to feed 4 or more people a delicious, fresh, healthy and creative meal for $10 or under then let’s do it!

The guidelines will be fluid.  I’m sure you can take liberties especially with the pantry staples.  But I hope you will be honest and give it a try.  You can follow this challenge and post your menus, ideas, thoughts and blog posts @ #10dollardinnerchallenge

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mamatoga Monday Recipe- Homemade Soft Pretzels

Sometime you get a craving for a snack and just don’t feel like going to the store.  With just a few pantry staples you (and your kids) can create these easy, chewy, delicious soft pretzels.  Once you make these at home – you won’t go back to store bought again.

According to the pretzel manufacturer Snyder’s of Hannover the history of pretzels go back to 610 AD when a monk who was baking unleavened bread for Lent got the idea of folding the dough into the shape it’s in today to replicate the praying stance of that day.  When people would pray they would fold their arms with their hands on the opposite shoulder.  The monk thought that these little bits of folded dough would make a good “pretiola” or little reward for children who recited their prayers.

These homemade pretzels are chewy and very simple to make.  Older children can help with measuring and rolling out the dough.  They take a little patience since there is about an hour where the dough needs to rest and rise but all in all these are a quick snack for a cold winter day. 

There are many recipes on the internet for homemade pretzels (I’ve even seen kits at A.C. Moore) but the one I like the best is on www.foodnetwork.com by Alton Brown.  I’ve used many of his recipes and they seem to be very well tested and easy to follow.

To make homemade pretzels:
1 ½ cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
22 ounces all purpose flour or 4 ½ cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
vegetable oil for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
pretzel salt


1.  Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle with the yeast on top.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.  Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined.  Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. 

2.  Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap and sit it in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until it doubled in size.

3.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Line 2 half sheet pans (or cookie sheets) with parchment paper and lightly brush with vegetable oil (or use silicone sheets).  Set aside.

4.  Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8 quart saucepan or roasting pan.

Now here comes the fun part!

5.  Turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces.  Roll out each piece of dough into a 24 inch rope.  The dough will be stretchy so be sure that you have a big enough work space to roll the dough out the entire 24 inches, if you don’t the pretzel will shrink up when you go to form it.

6.  Make a U shape with the rope, then holding the ends cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of the pretzel.  Place onto the prepared pans.

7.  Once the water has come to a boil add the pretzels to the water just a few at a time and boil for 1 minute to 1 minute and 30 seconds. 

8. Remove them from the water using a slotted spoon.  Place them back on the prepared pan and brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with pretzel salt.

Place the pans in the pre-heated oven and bake until golden brown about 12-14 minutes.
Let them cook on a rack for about 5 minutes.  Then enjoy!!

There are lots of variations to the pretzel theme.  Sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar, dip them in garlic flavored butter or come up with your own special way to enjoy them.
 How do you like your pretzels?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Easy New England Clam Chowder

What does Days of Our Lives and clam chowder have in common?  Any fan of Days of Our Lives knows that the Brady Pub is famous for their clam chowder and I have the recipe -- that I've tweaked a little bit  Several years ago for Christmas my sister gave me the Days of Our Lives cookbook, full of Salem based recipes.  Not sure if this is really what the chowder at the Brady pub would taste like but it's might fine chowder!  It's not low cal or low fat but it's very tasty.  And on a wintery Salem evening it would really hit the spot!!

To Make Brady Pub Clam Chowder-- my way:

1 cup peeled and diced potatoes
1-2 slices of bacon, diced
1 small or 1/2 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (if needed)
2 (6 ounce) cans of clams and their liquid
2-3 cups half and half
salt and pepper

There are a few steps but believe me it's worth it.

Step 1: Peel and dice the potatoes

To make your potatoes uniform:
Cut off both ends

Then cut the potatoes on all 4 sides

Cut the potato into slices

Slice each piece into equal pieces

Then dice.

Your potatoes will be uniform squares.

Place the diced potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Cook until fork tender.

Step 2:

Dice 1-2 slices of bacon

Cutting the bacon with kitchen shears will make it easier.

In a soup pan that has been heating over medium heat, add the bacon and cook until crisp.  DO NOT DRAIN.

Step 3:
Dice a small onion or 1/2 of a medium onion.

After the bacon is crisp add the onions and cook until they are soft.  Lower the heat so the onions don't brown.

Step 4:
Add 2 tablespoons of flour to the soup pan.  If there is not enough fat from the bacon then add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil to the pot.  Cook the flour for a minute or two.  Be sure not to brown the flour.

Step 5:
Drain the juice from 2 cans of clams into the soup pot and stir.  As the soup cooks a thick broth will develop.

Step 6:
Using a slotted spoon remove the potatoes from the pot they cooked in and put them into the soup pot.  Stir.  Season with a small amount of salt (remember bacon is salty) and a good grind of black pepper.

Step 7:
Add the clams from the can and stir.

Step 8:
Add the half and half.  Let the soup simmer until it thickens. DO NOT BOIL.

This makes a very thick chowder and will serve 4-5 people.  If you'd like to serve more people then it would be best to double it.

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