RECIPE: Eggnog Bites

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I have made a few eggnog cookies in my past, with no success. They either didn't taste like eggnog at all, or they were too nutmeg-y or too eggnog-y.

But I think I have a good recipe here. I brought them to work and everyone told me it was perfect balance of spice and eggnog. The fun part of this recipe was the candy melt drizzle, because I was pleasantly surprised to find that Wilton made some Special Edition holiday flavors. It so happened I had these babies in the fridge chilling while I ran an errand at the craft shop. And there in the holiday baking aisle were these cool eggnog candy melts! I was thrilled to have found them and thought they would work beautifully on these cookies. (They had gingerbread and peppermint, too.)

If you can't find them where you shop, you can easily make an eggnog drizzle using powdered sugar. I just think candy melts are easier to use.

Happy Baking! These will do wonderfully on your cookie plates and in your cookie swaps!


Eggnog Bites

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg (plus more for sprinkling on top for garnish)
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup eggnog
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 large egg yolks

1 cup Wilton Holiday Special Edition Eggnog Candy Melts

(If you can't find these, make a drizzle using 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 tsp. vanilla and 1-2 Tbsp. eggnog, combine until drizzling consistency, and adjust eggnog amount to do so.)


Directions:

Preheat oven to 350˚ and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt with a fork. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using a stand mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggnog, egg yolks and vanilla. Beat until whipped and light. Turn the mixer to low, and gradually add the flour mixture until just combined.

Chill the dough for one hour, until easy to handle. Shape dough into 1" balls, set 2" apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until cookies are set and edges are lightly golden. Let cool on the trays as you prepare your drizzle.





In a microwave safe bowl, melt the candy melts at half power for 1 minute. Mix and heat again at half power for 30 more seconds. Continue doing 30 second increments until the Candy Melts are of drizzling consistency. (I added 1/2 Tbsp. canola oil to help that out, mine were still pretty thick.) Using a fork, flick the drizzle back and forth aggressively over the cooled cookies. While the drizzle is still wet, sprinkle the cookies lightly with nutmeg. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

CRAFTS: DIY Holiday Yarn Topiaries

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DIY Holiday Yarn Topiaries

Supplies: 
two floral bases, pedestals or small pots 
two Styrofoam cones, about 10 to 12 inches high (in the floral section of a craft shop)
hot glue gun or Aleen's Felt or Fabric glue 
A skein of yard, green, red or white 
scissors 
3-4 felt squares in various Christmas colors 
2 feet of decorative Christmas ribbon, optional
small decorative beads
silk floral leaves 

Directions:









Step 1: Get your flowers leaves and buds all finished, that way the gluing with a hot glue gun will go quickly. Remember, you need to have two of every thing if you are making two topiaries to decorate an entry way table, buffet for mantle. Also keep in mind, from a design perspective, you want the topiaries near each other so thin about how they look together. Because I am going to make my flowers along one side going up the other, I decided to have a mirror image on the other topiary. If you wish to simplify yours, make your design more centrally focused, and then they should look good next to each other. 


























Create your main flowers by first cutting out of the felt squares. Cuts in a wavy circle about 4 to 5 inches in diameter. Remember you need two of everything. With the wavy circle, start on the outside and cut a long, wavy spiral towards the middle, making a strip from the outside moving towards the center. What you'll have is a long felt coil. Then, starting at the endpoint, wrap the felt around itself tightly and continue wrapping it around itself going outward. You'll find that as you go outward, the felt is less tightly wrapped. The petals become a little looser creating a flower shape. Glue the end point down and set aside. Continue making as many flowers as you want of these main flowers. Vary the shape from 4 to 5 inches down to perhaps three. 




Step two: Create accent flowers. These are smaller and simpler shapes. We're creating small buds for your flower design. This is very easy to do and you can create simple spiral circles out of the felt scraps you have left over from your main flowers. Simply wrap the felt strip around itself to create a circular coil. Set them down, and the felt should actually hold itself together without glue, until you glue it down onto the topiary. 

Another bud you can create is by using the same technique you used for your main flowers, but not going as far as a full blown open flower petal. Start by creating a wavy strip about 2 inches long. At one end start wrapping the felt around itself but not evenly, wrap the felt unevenly creating a bud that's about to open. Do this 2 to 3 times, moving down the bud, then glue the endpoint together. You may need to cut any access felt off.  Now cut leaf shapes out of green felt, and glue over the bud. Now it looks like a flower about to bud open. Create a couple of these and set aside. 

Finally you can also create simple flat flower shapes by cutting felt flat with 4 to 5 petals, almost looking like a snowflake. Create a handful of these as well. 





Step three: Create leaves by cutting leaf shapes from your green felt, in various sizes. Also, if you have them, you can cut off silk leaves from their plastic stems so they can easily be glued down, too. I like the look of the silk leaves, personally.

Now you should have all of your embellishments ready to go. 



Step four: Create your tree. Using your glue gun or felt glue, glue the top of your Styrofoam cone. Take the end of your yarn and start covering the top of the cone in a circular coil, gently pressing down the felt as you go. This is your starting point and from now till the very end of your cone, you continue to wrap the yarn around and down completely covering it. Circle it around as evenly as possible. When you get the bottom of the cone, glue down the yarn and cut it. Continue with the other cone. Next hot glue the covered cone to your base and do the same with the other. Now you're ready to glue the embellishments on.



Step five: Begin with your main flowers and glue them on. I started in one corner, creating a central focus of flowers, and then lessened them visually as the "grew" towards the top. Working outward and up, glue the smaller flower and buds. Add accent leaves, and finally add beads strategically around as light accents. I also added a bead in the middle of the small, flat petal flowers to give them a "middle" and make them less boring.











Step six: This step is optional. But I added a decorative bow using some sparkly Christmas ribbon on the bottom of my base. It made it look more formal and festive. My daughter voted no ribbon. My husband voted with ribbon. It's up to you, depending on what your base is and how decorative you go with your topiaries.

Enjoy! And be careful with that hot glue gun. I gave myself three burns making these!

RECIPE: Weeknight Mushroom Bolognese Pasta *gluten free

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Bolognese is usually a labor intensive process. Especially if you take a gander at the Cook's Illustrated version. That recipe looks amazing, but it looks like one that is tackled on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Sometimes you want that kind of comfort food during the week, after a long, cold work day.

I adapted this recipe from Cooking Light, but as you can see I changed it to be anything but light. Salami and cream is a far cry from healthy. But hey, once in a while, you just need to do it.

Just once in a while.

Weeknight Mushroom Bolognese Pasta (gluten free)

Ingredients:
1 medium onion, finely chopped 
3 to 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped 
3 tablespoons of olive oil 
1/2 cup finely chopped Genoa salami 
1/2 cup finely chopped prosciutto 
1 pound of ground beef 
1 can tomato paste 
1 28.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes with their juices 
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup white wine
1/8-1/4 of a teaspoon of  nutmeg
1/8-1/4 of a teaspoon of red pepper flakes 
ground pepper 
1/2 cup of heavy cream 
10 ounces of white button mushrooms, cleaned and roughly chopped 
1 pound of brown rice spaghetti or fettuccine, or other GF pasta

Directions:
Cook pasta according to package directions. Rinse well and set aside.



In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, sauté until softened. Add chopped salami and prosciutto, cooking until just beginning to get golden brown. Next add the chopped mushrooms, and cook until the mushrooms begin to release their juices. This usually takes about 5 to 7 minutes. 


Next add ground beef, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook beef until cooked through and beginning to brown. Once that's ready, add the tomato paste, stirring it into the meat mixture until it is a dark red color and thick. Next add the white wine, and simmer until it is evaporated. Now add the full can of tomatoes with their juices, nutmeg, and red pepper flakes. Mix and simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes until thick and tomatoes are softened. 


Adjust the seasonings by adding salt and fresh ground pepper, and then add the cream as the final ingredient. Heat until cooked through. Serve atop warm spaghetti or fettuccine with a healthy garnish of grated Parmesan cheese.

GARDENING: "Lazy Gardener" Fall Composting Part 2

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before
after
Last year, around this time, I wrote a post about a composting technique touted by Master Gardener, Jerry Baker, called "Lazy Gardener" composting. The post here was a "Part 1", and a how-to of the technique.

Now, the science here is that the black bags, sitting in the sun, will heat up and basically "cook" the organic material until it is a lovely black compost come spring. You do need to shake it occasionally, throughout the winter and early spring, so that it all breaks down evenly.

Mine took a year.

But here's why. I set the bags against the side of the garage which had sun, but mostly ambient. I was afraid what my neighbors would say if they had to look at filled black garbage bags for half the year if they sat near the sunnier side of the garage. And, well, not to mention my husband. He puts up with all my "urban domestic diva schemes", but he doesn't like my projects "in the way" or under foot. So my composting bags needed to be tucked away and far from direct sun.

Well, hubby may change his tune after today. Because once we opened up the bags to use the compost for bedding our gardens for winter, it was pretty amazing. Yes, there were still some leaves on top that didn't get completely decomposed, but underneath the top layer was black-gold.

lay it in your beds for happy plants!
SO 2..well...3 things I learned about this low-maintenance composting technique:

1: If you wish to use the compost in late spring/early summer, put the bags in direct sun. Otherwise, the process takes longer. Ignore the scared looks and comments from your neighbors like, "What do you have over there, dead bodies?" and just know they will be jealous of your verdant garden come summer.

2: It's important to turn and shake them, especially when things are really cooking and it warms up. If I would have been diligent about this, I would have had the leaves I found on top to be just as decomposed as the rest.

3: It works. It really works.

SO now that it's fall and you are out doing yard clean up and mulching leaves, give this approach a try. Come spring (or next fall) you'll be glad you did!

RECIPE: Lemon Curd and Peach Layered Lemon Torte

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When you see a lemon cake on my blog, it truly is in honor of my Mom. She adores lemons. She'll suck and eat them raw if she likes. And it's funny that her namesake, my daughter, has loved to suck on lemons too since she was 2! I guess the apple...err...lemon.... doesn't fall far from the tree, does it?

At any rate, we celebrated my mother's birthday last month, and I made her this lovely cake. This was adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe. And I've been meaning to post it for weeks. But A: I have been swirling in apple-harvest and B: Miss Martha was in the news bashing bloggers last month, and I just didn't know how I felt posting a cake that was inspired by the DIVA herself. She has been a huge inspiration to me, even though her recipes are a little over-the-top and labor intensive for working moms. But I was saddened by her comments. But I think I am over it. People of traditional media are still in denial on how media is consumed and trusted nowadays. I think she is one of those people. It's a tough switch, but I think if she embraced it and engaged in the blogger community versus bashing it, she would find it rewarding.


So speaking of "too labor intensive", this cake from Martha seemed to be so when it came to making lemon curd. Of course, if you make it yourself it's much better. I just didn't have the time for that. I bought some good quality lemon curd at the store. Make sure there is some dairy listed in the ingredients and not a bunch of corn syrup and weird things you can't pronounce. I also made some amazing peach jam, and love peach and lemon together. So I added layers of peach with the curd to add some nice fruit nuance.

It was a big success. My mom loved it, and she is pretty picky. So thank you Martha, and thanks to whoever decided to jar lemon curd!


Lemon Curd and Peach Layered Lemon Torte

Ingredients:

1 cup butter, softened
3 cups flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
1/2 cup of finely grated lemon zest
3 cups good quality, store-bought lemon curd
at least 1 cup good quality peach jam (I used my homemade batch, recipe here)

Vanilla whipping cream
2/3 cup whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar


Directions:

Heat oven to 350°. Arrange one rack in the center of the oven. Spray two 8" x 2" round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Cut parchment paper to size, and place on the bottom of each pan. Give the bottom of the lined pans a quick extra spray, and set aside.


In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.





In a bowl with an electric stand mixer, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar, beating on medium speed until lighter, about four minutes. Scrape down the sides as you go. Gradually add the beaten eggs to the butter, a little at a time, beating after each addition until the batter is thick, about five minutes. Scrape the sides as you go. Add vanilla and lemon zest, and mix until just combined. Turn the mixer on low and gradually add the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk and being careful not to over mix. End with the flour mixture.


Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans, and bake for 25 minutes then rotate pans in the oven for even browning. Bake for another 15-20 minutes. Bake until a toothpick at the center comes out clean. Transfer pans to wire racks to cool for 15 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto the racks to cool completely. Once cooled, remove the paper from the bottoms, and with a serrated knife carefully cut each cake horizontally in half. Set aside the prettiest domed layer for the top of the cake.


Take one layer and place on a serving platter. Take the lemon curd out of the jar (s) and pour it into a bowl. With a whisk whip the lemon curd until it is fluffier and lighter in color. (This helps beat in air bubbles into the curd that's been stuffed mercilessly into that tiny jar.)


Spread 1/4 cup of peach lemon jam along the layer of the cake. Then spread 3/4 cup of lemon curd over the surface to within a half inch of the edge. Place a second layer on top of the first, then spread three quarters of a cup of lemon curd on top, a 1/2" from the edge. Then gently place the second layer on top. Spread another 1/4 cup peach jam on the cake, and another 3/4 cup lemon curd. Gently place the third layer of cake on top and continue with the peach jam and the lemon curd. Finish the cake by placing the pretty domed cake layer on top.


Next make the vanilla whipped cream topping. Place a bowl in the freezer for chilling. Once properly chilled, pour heavy cream, vanilla extract and powdered sugar into the chilled bowl. With a whisk attachment on a stand mixer, beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. This takes about 4 minutes. Dollop cream in swirling peaks on top of the cake. Decorate with candied lemon strips or sliced peaches dipped in sugar. Serve immediately.

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