Friday, December 26, 2008

Fun with Craft Lace

Last week, we saw an episode of “Hands on Crafts for Kids” on PBS, and it had a activity to make lanyards with craft lace that could then be made into keychains or whatever. My oldest son was watching it with me and said that it looked like fun. So I got the craft lace and the findings at my local Wal-Mart earlier this week.

I got everything out on Tuesday, thinking it would be a fun activity. My middle son had a friend over and my son is not the most patient kid ever, so I figured it would not be up his alley anyway.

But the oldest started it and quickly got frustrated and quit. (It was not without a significant amount of complaining first!) He thought I should have gotten the cool tool from the show and I wanted him to learn to do it without the tool, like we had to! The second son gave up even quicker than the first, which I anticipated, so I was not terribly surprised. What did surprise me is that the friend got into it and really wanted to make something. He was distracted by the video game my kids got out, but before that, he was really into it. He did forget his partially-finished item, so I think I am going to finish it this week for him and give it to him this weekend!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Last Minute Knit Gifts

So I decided Friday (12/19) that I wanted to make a few knitted gifts for Christmas this year. Nevermind that it was 5 days before the holiday, a weekend was approaching, I have 3 kids under 12 years old, they are on Christmas break, and NOTHING is yet wrapped. As if I need more stress, right? Since this was a gift for a man, I thought I would make slippers. So I found a pattern that said it took one hour to make 1 slipper. I know that I am not the fastest knitter, so I figured two hours. After 6 hours,, the first ONE was done and it was not all that cute. I frogged it (knitting term for ripping it out) and was again at a loss.

Saturday I decided I would do a hat. I thought I could do a hat easily, so I spent most of the day making a hat, only to find out that it was NOT as easy as I thought and there was a hole about halfway up. It was frustrating, but again, I frogged it and started over.

This time, I looked online for a free knitting pattern for a hat and could not find just a basic hat. I took a little bit from here and there and made one up. I started the hat Sunday morning and finished it Sunday night, but I knit a LOT during that day. After the hat was done, I decided that, for my father-in-law, I wanted to also do a matching scarf. I wanted it to be reversible, so I went with a 2 x 2 rib pattern throughout. I am not quite done yet. (lucky for me, we are not going there until 1/2/09, so I have a few days, although I would like to be done before Christmas just so that I can relax)

But the hat turned out great, and since I could not find anything quite this basic anywhere, I am putting the pattern out there for all to see and use.

Seriously Last-Minute Gift Hat

Size 8 16” circular needle and a set of size 8 DPN
Any worsted weight yarn (I used a very large skein of Lion Brand acrylic that I had)

CO 92 stitches. (I made this a multiple of 4 because I wanted the first few inches to be a 2 x 2 rib and so I wanted it to be even all the way around.) Place marker. Join in the round, being careful not to twist stitches.

Knit is a K2, P2 pattern throughout until the hat measures 2” from the CO edge. At that point, knit stockinette (using circular needles, that is knit every row) until the piece measures 8” from the cast-on edge.

Begin to decrease: (switch to DPN when it gets hard to keep stitches on the circular needle. I think I was at row 10 below.)
Row 1: *K9,K2tog* repeat between stars for entire row
Row 2: Knit entire row
Row 3: *K8, K2tog” repeat between stars for entire row
Row 4: Knit entire row
Row 5: *K7, K2tog” repeat between stars for entire row
Row 6: Knit entire row
Row 7: *K6, K2tog” repeat between stars for entire row
Row 9: Knit entire row
Row 10: *K5, K2tog” repeat between stars for entire row
Row 11: Knit entire row
Row 12: *K4, K2tog” repeat between stars for entire row
Row 13: Knit entire row
Row 14: *K3, K2tog” repeat between stars for entire row
Row 15: Knit entire row
Row 16: *K2, K2tog” repeat between stars for entire row
Row 17: Knit entire row
Row 18: K2tog throughout.

Cut yarn, leaving a decent-sized tail and draw it through remaining stitches with a tapestry needle. I think I had 10 stitches left when I did this. If you have more than 10 stitches left, repeat rows 17 and 18 until you have less than 10. Bring the yarn to the underside of the hat and tie it in a knot there.

As for the scarf, everyone has a favorite pattern, I think. Here is the one I used:

Seriously Last-Minute Gift Scarf

I used size 8 needles so it would match the hat. I did the whole scarf in a 2 x 2 rib to match the brim of the hat, so I cast-on 32 stitches, wanting it to be a multiple of 4 so I could start each row with 2 knits (less to have to remember that way!)

I started it on large metal needles, but that turned out to be too slippery, so I switches to the circular I used for the hat, which was bamboo. That totally would have worked. I did think that there was not enough “extra” space for my own personal benefit in that needles, though, and I had a larger circular in the right size (which was a fluke and almost NEVER happens) so I switched to a 29” circular needle in bamboo. Again, this was just my own preference, but it works quite well and gives me lots of space to put the stitches when I need to put it down (which is a lot with three young kids…)

New Blog Format

I wanted to blog about stuff within a theme but so many times I have wanted to write about something that does not fit within my theme that I do not think it is going to work for me. I did not want to be “just another mommy blogger” but I am afraid that is what I am going to end up being.

I will leave all my previous posts and I hope that I do not lose a lot of readers with this, but I am going to just blog about general stuff that I like and hopefully that will work better for me. I will leave the older posts there, so that they can be referenced or whatever, but I am going to lose my other blog (Kristen is Organized!) and roll it into this and another site that I contribute to frequently because I did not want to post in more than one place, so if I lose that one, those posts are fair game again! I will likely revise and update them, but the subject-matter will be the same. Computers are a wonderful thing for recycling text, aren’t they?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cut-out Sugar Cookies

I made the batter yesterday. It was supposed to sit in the fridge at least 30 minutes, so I let it go overnight.

I made a double batch because I knew they were good. I ended up wrapping 4 batches in plastic wrap for the fridge. Took the first one out today and it was still too sticky, so I ended up adding about a cup more of flour in small painfully small) batches. he kids and I cut out a few holiday shapes from that batch. The good news is that they cook for a very short time!

I took out the second batch, by which time the kids had lost interest, so it was all me. I did the same with the third batch, but by the end, I just wanted it to be over with, so that last dozen are round with little green sprinkles on them. It looks surprisingly festive! The last batch is still in the fridge. I might OD on cookie dough this weekend.

I still have not decorated them, but that seems like a good activity for tomorrow. Even if the kids lose interest, with some Christmas music playing, it might be fun!

Peppermint Bark

On Saturday night, for my weekly dessert, I made Peppermint Bark. It was DEE-LISH!

Let me start by saying that my middle son invited a friend over for dinner, so he was there for dinner and dessert. I also made dinner, but it was homemade pizza with a homemade crust, which I have done a hundred times, so that was no biggie.

The peppermint bark was amazing and SO easy!

Almond Bark (fake white chocolate)
Peppermint candies (I usually use the candy canes from the tree, but that is just me…)

Melt the almond bark in the microwave. The time necessary will depend on how much you want to make. I think I had a 2 pound package and it took like 2 minutes. Crush up the candy into tiny pieces. This is where a kid, and rolling pin, and some anger come in handy. I put the candy into a quart zip-top bag and went to town with a meat tenderizer, but anything heavy would work: a frying pan, a rolling pin, whatever. Then you add the candy to the bark. If I had peppermint extract, I would also have added that here, but I did not, so it is not necessary. After they are well-mixed, I poured it out onto a wax-paper-lined rimmed baking dish (although the wax paper was my own laziness not wanting to clean up…) spread it out, and put the whole thing in the fridge to harden. It could not be easier! When it hardened, I broke it up, like peanut brittle, and it was ready to eat. The kids thought it was so fun to pulverize the candy and break up the bark when it was done. And when it is ready to eat, you cannot eat a very big piece, because it is SO RICH!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Banana Bread - part deux

I made this again today and it was SO yummy. And then I went back to older posts, thinking it had only been a few weeks since I had made it before and the last post was October 19! Who knew?? Anyway, here is is! Same recipe and same DELICIOUS results! (I should have had more for lunch than just banana bread though...)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Cookies - Part 2

So this was week 2 of the three week cookie-baking endeavor. This was peanut butter week and it went very well!

On Tuesday night, I made buckeyes. This is a very traditional Ohio thing, but many places have something similar or even the same called something different. They are basically peanut butter balls dipped in melted chocolate. I went out Tuesday to get the ingredients, but the recipe I had called for paraffin wax and I could not find it at the store. First of all, I have always thought that eating wax was kinda weird. And secondly, I did find it a few days late, but the recipe I ended up using was so good, I don't think I will ever go back.

So, I went to to get this recipe, of course, and it was amazing. In the comments, a few people recommended adding paraffin wax, which I though was hilarious! Anyway, the balls were great, but try not to make them too big. My first attempt was with balls that were too big. I also used a double batch of the chocolate to dip them, and I still ended up with about 10 balls without chocolate.

So then I made it again a few days later because they were amazing and I ended up giving a dozen to the kids' instrument teacher, packaged in a hot pink old-fashioned lunch box.

In the second batch, I made the balls a little smaller and melted triple shortening and four times the chocolate. I had plenty and I covered the ones that were left from before and drizzled it over small pretzel sticks and still had a little left over. So I think that maybe a triple batch would be perfect. But what is in the recipe is not nearly enough.

I also recommend one thing with the dipping. When I put it on the wax paper and then get it off, even very gently, I get a flat chocolate rim around the bottom. If I drop it onto the wax paper just a tiny space above the baking sheet and it worked out great. I would not drop it from a huge distance, but a short distance is perfect.

Then on Thursday, I made my favorite peanut butter cookies. Let me just say that peanut butter cookies are by far my favorite cookies EVER! I am not a freak about peanut butter, like some people, but I just love these cookies. Maybe it is because my mom was locally famous for her chocolate chip cookies and I wanted something to be my own.

Anyway, since I knew they were amazing, I made a double batch of cookies and got just over 2 dozen out of it. I used the stand mixer for the dough and it worked amazing. They were a little soft still after they came out of the oven, so I added one minute to the baking time and then added a minute to the "cool on baking rack" time after they came out of the oven. This turned out amazing.

So last week, the gingerbread cookies were so good that I am going to make them again this weekend. I want a few more cookies and my middle son has been begging for a gingerbread house, so I may make the dough before I pick them up at school so it can chill while I am gone...

I highly recommend breaking the baking into a few weeks. At the end, I will not have a huge amount of cookies left, I will have made all the stuff I really like, and I am making memories with the kids. (As if they don't lose interest after about 10 minutes!)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Boston Cream Pie

I made the cheater version of Boston Cream Pie this weekend and it tasted great!

I made a yellow box cake mix in two 8” pie pans just like it says on the box. They cooled a little too long in the pans, which I almost never do, but got sucked into Twitter! When I did take them out of the pans, I had to manhandle them a little, but they came out and did not break. Love that!

In the middle, I put vanilla pudding. I bought a large box (as opposed to two small boxes) and it was too much. I had extras (that were great for lunches and stuff) but I also thought I could put more in and it just squeezed out the side. It tasted amazing, but did not look as pretty as it could have.

On top of the two layers, with the pudding in between I put chocolate frosting from a can. It was also too much, so please, if you do this, start with ½ can. It slid around a lot while I tried to frost it. I am sure part of the reason was that there was too much pudding between the cake layers, but I was also trying to spread too much frosting.

All in all, it tasted amazing and was about $3 and I am sure it would have been a little less if I had gotten the smaller pudding and used a lot less frosting. That is not bad considering that our family of 5 ate only half of the dessert this weekend and will have the other half for another meal.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas Cookies - Part 1

I am planning to make Christmas goodies every Tuesday and Thursday until Christmas this year and I started this past week.

So on Tuesday, I made peanut brittle with the kids. I tried a new recipe and it was OK, but not great. I have a great recipe that I usually use, but it requires stirring constantly for almost an hour. So when I saw this one, which did not require stirring constantly, I thought I would give it a try. Since it was easier, but not as yummy. I am either going to keep looking for a good recipe or go back to the one I love that is a LOT of work.

But I also made gingerbread men last night and they turned out amazing! I did not plan to decorate them since it was a new recipe. I also did not make a double batch, which I wanted to do, because I wanted to make sure they were good first. So I think I am going to make them again before the holidays and also use the recipe for gingerbread houses, which my middle son is dying for.

I used the recipe from Taste of Home’s special little booklet on Christmas cookies and candy. I looked all over on their website and could not find the recipe. But it was on page 7 of the little booklet, or also found here on the web and it turned out great! I like my cookies on the soft side, so when it said “cook for 8-10 minutes” I cooked it for 8 minutes, then let it cool on the pan for 2 (during which time it kept cooking a little bit) and then moved them to a rack to cool the rest of the way. In fact, I think I am going to go eat one right now!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Consumable (and EASY) holiday gifts

First off, if I may give you a holiday gift, STOP READING as this will spoil the surprise.

I like to give consumable gifts to friends for a myriad of reasons, some of which are green and other of which are not. Mostly, homemade gifts are what I would like to get, they are easy to make in bulk, and they might be something the recipient would not make for themselves.

So this year, everyone is getting Beer Bread mix. It is surprisingly easy and so yummy! I have been making it for a few years now and my kids always jump for joy (figuratively, of course, they are too cool for actual jumping) when I make it.

It started with me getting the beer bread mix from Tastefully Simple. For those of you wondering what that is, Tastefully Simple is a home party-based business, like Tupperware, whose products are convenience food products.

Anyway, I thought, I should be able to make it myself. So I did some digging and found a great recipe that I LOVE.

Last chance - if you know me and might get this (kids' teachers, etc) STOP READING NOW.

The mix could not be easier. It is 3C self-rising flour and 3T sugar. That's it! I did not have self-rising flour, so the conversion for all-purpose flour is 1C AP flour + 1.5 t baking powder + .5t salt. Easy-peasy, as the Naked Chef would say. I put the mix in a quart jar with a nice label with directions, fancied it up a little, and called it a day!

When you want to bake it, you add 1 can beer (or a bottle or whatever - 12 oz) and stir it up. It is lumpy and that is OK as long as it is moist all over. Then bake it for an hour at 350F. You can add up to a stick of butter, melted, to the top during the last 15 minutes. The recipe I have says 1 stick, but I never use that much!

Pies, pies, everywhere

Yes, I made homemade pies for T-Day. And not just the homemade insides with the store-bought crust, but the whole thing, soup to nuts (as they say) from scratch. It rocked. And they tasted amazing!!

I made a pumpkin pie (of course), and apple pie, and a cherry crumble. I only meant to make the pumpkin pie, but there was leftover crust, so I made the apple with that. And I also had the last of the fresh/frozen cherries thawed from last weekends cherry pie, so I wanted to use those up, thus the cherry crumble.

On to the kitchen extravaganza...

I made a pie crust from that did not require rolling. (yay!)

The crust was a little wet and sticky, so I added almost a cup more flour. And it made a lot of crust, so I used a little less than half for the pumpkin pie and then, because I already had the insides of an apple, noticed that there was probably enough left for a top and bottom crust of an apple pie.

The pumpkin pie was the recipe on the back of the can of pumpkin pie mix. It was that big can of pumpkin pie mix plus a very small can of evaporated milk plus 1 egg. It was so fast and easy, I am definitely going to make it again. I baked it in the raw crust (not pre-baked) and served it with some whipped cream (NOT from scratch, although I have and it is so easy!) and it was heavenly!

As for the apple pie, I used the leftover crust, pre-baked the bottom about 10 minutes while the pumpkin pie was baking, then added the filling and carefully did roll out the top crust. While it was pre-baking, I did put the crust in the fridge so it would firm up a little bit. Worked like a charm! I did not crimp the crust all pretty-like because I had made the bottom on the small side and there was not enough left to do that, but I did fold the top under the bottom all the way around and made two vent holes on the top crust and baked it for about 40 minutes and it was perfect!

Then the cherry crumble. I had thawed out fresh/frozen cherries in the fridge that I wanted to use, so I just put them in the bottom of a 9" x 13" pan and then added a box of cake mix to the top, based on this recipe for cherry crumble and it tasted very good.

I did not top it with the butter and that was NOT a good thing. I was trying to be good, after baking all those pies, but the top did not get firm. Like I said, it tastes great, but the top is very powdery still, so DO NOT leave out the melted butter. Maybe next time I will just cut back a little bit....