Thursday, December 29, 2011

End of holiday baking: Eggnog fudge, buttered rum cookies and marshmallows

Christmas may be gone for the year, but looking back, I realize how much better it was than last year's. This year, I got to spend Christmas with family members absent of some pretty tough times. Last year, on the same day, my maternal grandmother died after living with Alzheimer's for years, and my paternal grandmother went to the hospital the same day. This year, I got to spend the holiday at my parents' house, not the hospital, with my stepsiblings in from Canada and my mom just visiting, not here for a funeral. And you know what? That makes Christmas pretty darn good.

I'm pretty much a holiday eggnog fanatic (see: eggnog cupcakes), so when it hits the shelves, I immediately buy some. This year has been a little different, though. I'm eating a lot healthier right now, and frankly, eggnog is terrible for you. So my compromise was this: make an eggnog dessert that tastes so much like the drink that I kill two birds with one stone. Enter eggnog fudge by Brown Eyed Baker. This will 100% become a new holiday tradition for me, because it tastes exactly how it should. It is so decadent, and as an added bonus, they made my apartment smell like yummy eggnog for hours.

My dad loves buttered rum, so I decided to try these buttered rum meltaways from Martha Stewart's Cookies book for his and my stepmom's holiday party a few days before Christmas. I made them far ahead of time and froze them into a roll of dough until just a few days before heading to Salina, so they were convenient in that sense. The jury's still out, though, on whether or not I'll make these again. They didn't taste too rummy or buttery, which I think they should considering their name. Hmm. Can't win them all, I guess.

Pretty sure I've inadvertently started a new holiday tradition for myself. Last year I gave my grandma's signature hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows to a few coworkers at my paper. This year, I did the same, only upping the ante to two flavors of marshmallows — vanilla (the green ones) and peppermint (the red ones) — and giving it to everyone at my office. So far, it seems to be a hit. That old Joy of Cooking marshmallow recipe sure is good. We'll see if I give the same gift next year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday cake pops, chocolate mint roll cake and madeleines

I pack up and head west today for my holidays with family. This year, both of my step-siblings will be in town from Canada, which makes our holiday feel a little more full. Actually, my family is fairly small on my dad's side. Usually it's just me, Dad, Cathie and Grandma. So it will be nice to have a few more family members around Christmas morning. Naturally, I'll be carting some baked goods home, along with a boatload of presents and a certain black cat. Can't wait to have him in the car...or not.

The last time Aunt Betty and I made madeleines together, it didn't go. As in, they tasted like lotion or something because of how much rose water the recipe called for. Martha, you failed me on that one. But these were ultimately supposed to be decorated as Santas, and we ran out of time and energy, so we ended up with very lightly flavored orange madeleines. And my opinion of that cookie is redeemed!

Chocolate Andes mint roll cake. Enough said? A goofy Christmas tradition I have is that my mom gives me a box of Andes mints ever year for the holidays no matter what. Roll cakes have kind of eluded me thus far (they seem to crack on me all the time) so Aunt Betty and I decided to try this Andes chocolate roll cake. And boy, was it heavenly. The frosting inside had Andes mints in it as well as the cake having them on top, and it was super rich. And super wonderful.

I feel like Christmas cake pops are going to become a tradition for me (last year's were sparkly!). That, and my friends, Nick and Eric, and their roommates adore these things (I made a batch for Nick's brother for his birthday). So for our viewing of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" this year, I made two flavors of cake pops: the green were chocolate and the white were yellow cake. I hear tell they were gone rather quickly!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Nutcracker cupcakes

It's less than a week till Christmas, but it still feels forever away; probably because it was in the 50s today. But this weekend, I got to do my perennial Christmas tradition: go to the Kansas City Ballet's production of the Nutcracker.

I've been going to this ballet since I was a kid and go every year. I've seen it so many times, when I hear the music, I can see the ballet's choreography in my head. Yup, that many times.

This year was the first time the production was at the new Kauffman Center downtown, and my friends Brianne and Lauren came to town to go to the ballet with me.

So to celebrate this tradition, I made Nutcracker cupcakes! Because honestly, when I saw these wrappers and toppers, who could pass them up? Well, I couldn't. I took these into work for our holiday dessert bar.

By the way, I have the BEST coworkers. My cupcake carrier has been broken for a long time, and my newsroom came together to buy me a new one because I bring them sweets all the time. Yeah, I love my job.

These are chai tea cupcakes with honey cinnamon buttercream. I have to admit, I didn't quite follow the frosting recipe. I made my favorite swiss meringue buttercream recipe and then just put honey and cinnamon in till it tasted good, which ended up being one of my favorite icings ever. And combined with the cupcakes, they really did taste like a chai latte. Definitely recommend them!

(Posting to Hoosier Homemade's Cupcake Tuesday.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: Pizzelles

I've never taken part in a cookie swap before. I'm thinking maybe I should put one together next year between me and my friends, because this one was so much fun. This month, with hundreds of other bloggers, I participated in:

Basically, a bunch of bloggers baked three dozen cookies and sent a dozen each to three different bloggers, none of whom knew who was sending to them. A Secret Santa of cookies, I suppose. Lindsay at Love and Olive Oil and Julie at The Little Kitchen put the swap together and are doing next year's as well, which I will gladly take part in.

It's hard for me to pick out a favorite cookie. But these cookies, pizzelles, are quintessential holiday cookies for me. My pseudo-grandma (she's the mother of my aunt through marriage who has been a grandmother to me) Mildred makes these every Christmas, and it was always super exciting when my uncle showed up with the old ice cream tub filled with these thin cookies. We don't get to see Mildred and that side of the family as often as I'd like anymore, and when I came across a pizzelle iron, I knew it would need to become my own cookie tradition.

As for the cookies I received, they were scrumptious. I got peanut butter cup cookie bars from Raenell at Raevyn's Nest; coconut chocolate chip cookies from Aaron at the Hungry Hutch; and cream cheese walnut cookies from Liz in Colorado (whose blog I have yet to find). All were amazing, and I'm trying my hardest not to eat them all at once!

I sent my cookies to three lovely ladies: Amanda over at MarocMama; Rebecca over at Peace, Love and Bagels; and Nadia at Cooking My Way to Healthy. I could tell when they received my cookies, because I got notifications they were suddenly following me on Twitter, and then we talked about cookies. Not too shabby! 

And you know what else is great? I instantly connected with these people. Amanda also has a family tradition of pizzelles, which I can best describe as waffle cone cookies, only SO much better. Mildred used to make them with anise, which is licorice flavoring. I hate licorice but always liked her cookies. Somehow, though, when I tried making them with anise once, they weren't as good. So I make mine vanilla or lemon. These were classic vanilla, and they're one of my favorites.

Mildred's Pizzelles

1 cup margerine (2 sticks) Use Fleishman's or any "no water added" brand (I actually used unsalted butter and they turned out fine)
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. extract (Lemon or Anise work well) OR 2 Tbsp. vanilla extract

1. Melt margerine and let cool
2. Beat eggs thououghly until frothy
3. Add sugar gradually to eggs-beat well
4. SLOWLY add cooled margerine, beat well as you do so
5. Add extract or vanilla
6. Add flour---a little at a time and mix well after each addition
7. Chill dough---minimum of 2 hours, overnight or as much as several days to enrich flavors
8. Using a small cookie scoop bake cookies following Pizzelle maker directions--dough will be sticky. Cookies will be soft and flexible right off the baker.
9. Use cooling racks and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container. These are best crispy, in my opinion, so it's not the end of the world if you leave them out for a while.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cherry cola cupcakes, coconut macaroons and ginger snaps

I know everyone talks about the weather, but seriously, it was 18 degrees when I woke up yesterday. Sometimes I forget how bipolar Kansas/Missouri can be. A few days ago it was in the 40s and a light jacket was enough. Yesterday I was forced to tear apart my apartment to find my winter hat(s) that had been stashed away in some dark corner after I moved in temperatures in the 90s. Sigh. I guess having no seasons would be boring, right? And cold temperatures mean holiday activities, too! I saw the Messiah for the first time ever this weekend and it was fantastic. Next up? The Nutcracker ballet. I LOVE it. You know what else is good about the cold?

Husky puppies. They like the cold, right? Meet Lois, my friends Joe and Brianne's new puppy. Isn't she SO DAMN CUTE?! Yeah, I got to look at that cute little face last weekend. I felt lucky.

I think we've probably established how much I HATE coconut. Can't really explain it, just don't like the stuff. So the only time it appears on this blog is when it's for someone besides me who will be eating it (see Kelly's birthday or special requests). These basic coconut macaroons were neither. You see, my computer at work almost crashed last week. As in, left for a few more days, I think it would have been totally gone rather than freezing every couple of hours. And my friend, Brad, happens to be the guy who sets up the computers at work. And my new computer happened to take a really, really long time to set up. And he happens to like coconut. And I happened to have a lot of coconut in my cabinet. So I made coconut macaroons. I did not sample them, so I cannot tell you if they were good or bad. They look pretty though!

Currently playing on my TV is a DVRed episode of "Good Eats." I can honestly say I'd never really watched it before seeing Alton Brown in person recently, but I'm pretty fascinated by what he's already taught me (i.e. don't put avocados you're wanting to ripen in the fridge because it will stop the process). Part of seeing him live was getting his latest cookbook, "Good Eats 3: The Later Years."Aunt Betty loves ginger, so we decided to make his candied ginger recipe (which will definitely clear out your sinuses) and then put some in these ginger snaps. The candied ginger came out perfectly. These cookies, not so much. Lesson learned: when weights are given, use an accurate kitchen scale to get the right amount. I'm putting one on my Christmas list. This picture is the edited recipe. Our first batch was....rather flat and thin. But the edited versions were incredibly good and packed a triple ginger punch: ground, candied and fresh.

And really, these cupcakes have no holiday theme whatsoever. I just had an itch to make cherry cola cupcakes again after making them in May. It's a recipe from Cupcake Project and is kind of baffling because it's super runny. It also takes cola extract, which isn't around at regular grocery stores (I got mine at Sweet! Baking and Candy-Making Supply). They're cola-flavored cakes with maraschino cherries in them, a cola-flavored cream cheese icing and the nice little cherry on top. They were a hit at work. I just love recipes that go well! (Posting these to Hoosier Homemade's Cupcake Tuesday.)
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