Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Homemade Butter Mints

Christmas is a wonderful time to give gifts from your kitchen. I like to show my appreciation for the special people in my life by giving them something I have made or baked. Anyone can send a box from Hickory Farms. This will be the first of many recipes, etc, that I will be posting over the next month that can be used for a party or given to someone special. I will share some old standards that I have done for years, and I will hopefully have enough time to experiment with some new ones! Today's post is an easy recipe for butter mints. There are several kinds and price ranges of molds to choose from. Places that carry Wilton will have lots of plastic molds, which are cheaper by far, but this time I used a rubber mold. I ordered it from Kitchen Krafts, a wonderful website for food crafters. The link is on my list. It was $21.95, but it was well worth it to me because it was so easy to pop the mints out. I chose a snowflake mold, but there are many others to choose from.

Butter Mints

1 lb box confectioners sugar

1 stick butter, softened

1/2 tsp peppermint extract

1 tbsp milk

Mix ingredients with a mixer until blended. The mixture will be coarse crumbs. Knead the crumbs together to make sure it is moistened. You can add a little more milk if it's too dry, or a little more sugar if it's too moist. You should be able to make a small ball and press it into the mold cleanly. Pop the mint out of the mold and allow to dry on a flat surface. Store in single layers with wax paper between each layer. These freeze well.

I lay a large towel over my coffee table and make the mints while I watch a movie. It takes a little time, so it's nice to sit down. The mixture should look like this:

It looks crumbly, but when you smoosh it together it forms a nice, smooth ball. This is how they turned out:

I put some in a clear bag to show how they can be packaged to give. Use your imagination!

You can color these with food coloring and do them for showers, also. I made some white seashell mints and gave them as favors for a Caribbean b'day party I gave for Gil a couple of years ago. I used plastic molds and I had some of the favor bags left, so I thought I'd show them to give more fun ideas for ways to use mints year-round. I bought the bags at Walmart and put stickers on them.

Have fun with this recipe. Do it now while you aren't so busy and stick them in your freezer. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Dressing Candles Up for Christmas

I found some beautiful white embossed wrapping paper the other day at Hallmark. I bought it to use for gift wrap, but upon closer inspection, I knew it was destined for something more noble than just that. I have covered candles with purchased handmade paper before, and it turned out really well. So I decided that this paper would work to cover candles for my dining room table. My fine china is white with gold trim, so I thought it would look nice to lightly paint the paper with gold metallic paint. The paper is so pretty that it could be left unpainted, but the paint does help to bring out the design.

Michael's is a great source for nice, inexpensive white pillar candles in all sizes. First, I rolled my candles onto the wrong side of the paper and drew out the measurement. Then I cut out the size I needed. I covered my work surface and used foam plates for my paint and my glue. The paint I used was some I already had, but an acrylic paint would be fine. Elmers Glue or a sticky craft glue are both fine as well. I used a foam brush for the paint. The MOST important thing to remember is to use a very DRY brush. Dip it into the paint and then use paper towels to blot it almost completely dry. Then, paint across the high, embossed spots very carefully. Play with it until you get it to look like you want it to.

Allow to dry, then brush the back with the glue and apply it to the candle. I also glued on some gold trim that I already had on hand.

This is how they turned out. The whole project probably took me about an hour and a half. I will show how they look on my table in a later post.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Make Your Own Pizza!

A friend of mine asked for suggestions for a Christmas slumber party for her 12 year old daughter and her friends. I did this several times for Amby and Zac's birthday parties and all the kids really seemed to enjoy creating their own pizzas. It is fun for grown-ups, too, though. There are many different toppings you can choose from, but this is basically what I have on hand to make them:

Mini Boboli Pizza Crusts (they come 2 to a pkg)
Ragu Pizza Quick Sauce
Ham or Canadian Bacon
Ground beef, browned and drained
Bell pepper
Mozzarella cheese

Lay the toppings out on the counter assembly-line style, starting with the crust, then the sauce, then add other toppings as desired. End with the cheese. Bake 2 at a time on a cookie sheet at 400 for about 15 minutes.

Gil and I like to eat at Davenport's Pizza in Mountain Brook. We always get ham and pineapple. Tonight I made the homemade version of that for us with Canadian bacon, pineapple, and bell pepper. It was scrumptious. This is fun and easy, and is great to do on a night when you don't have alot of time to cook.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sweet Potato Casserole

The sweet potato is an excellent source of vitamin A, and a good source of vitamins C and B-6. It also has significant antioxidant capacities. And it tastes like dessert! Especially when you add all these other ingredients. This casserole will serve about 15-20 people, so decrease or increase amounts as you need to. This isn't a recipe that has to be exact. One particular thing I do is, after the potatoes are mashed up a little, I beat them with a hand mixer. It will pull out any stringy pieces (which I think are gross). I sit the mixing bowl by the sink, and I will beat the potatoes for about 30 seconds at a time, then rinse the beaters under running water, then repeat the process until the beaters come out clean. This also makes the casserole very smooth. I have had sweet potatoes prepared dozens of different ways, and this recipe is by far my favorite. I hope you enjoy it.

Sweet Potato Casserole
8 medium-large sweet potatoes
1 stick butter, melted
1-1/4 cups sugar
2 tbsp vanilla
2 eggs

1 lb box dark brown sugar
1-1/2 cups chopped pecans
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 cup flour

Boil sweet potatoes until tender. Remove from pot and allow to cool. Cut ends off potatoes and slide peelings off. Remove any brown spots or imperfections. In a large bowl, mash with potato masher or wire whisk. Beat with mixer until all strings are removed. Add butter, sugar, and vanilla, and beat until blended. Taste to make sure it is sweet enough - some potatoes are sweeter than others. Pour into a greased 15 x 10 casserole dish. (You could also divide it between 2 smaller casserole dishes and freeze one of them). Combine topping ingredients until well blended and crumble over the top of the casserole. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes. If it is straight from the refrigerator, you may need to bake it a little longer.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Christmas Village

I love Christmas and I love to decorate just about every room in my house. I like to make my house feel warm, cozy, and welcoming. I enjoy a few whimsical as well as nostalgic touches. Over the next month, I will be posting about Christmas decorating and cooking, show some really easy and fun ways to wrap gifts, and show gifts you can give from your kitchen.

Tonight's post is about something very simple. This is a shelf in my bathroom. I found these little Martha Stewart houses and tiny trees at K-mart last year. I really like all things Martha Stewart and she has some really cute Christmas decorations. Unfortunately, I don't think they have these houses this year, but you could probably find something like this somewhere else. I also buy snow by the bag at K-mart.
It just adds a cute, fun touch to a small area without having to do very much. The snow can potentially be a little messy, but once you've placed it, unless there is a breeze in the room, it will pretty much stay put.

Gingerbread Couple Pillows

I love to sew. I have always liked pretty clothes, and my mom told me when I was twelve years old that if I were to have all the clothes I seemed to want, I had to make them. She was very practical. I come by that honestly. Needless to say, I learned to sew. I made clothes all through high school and college and actually was a fashion merchandising/home ec major for a while. I made lots of nice clothes for Gil, I made Amby and Zac cute outfits, and I saved an unbelievable amount of money. I don't make lots of clothes now, but I still love to sew. I actually just bought myself a very cool Janome sewing machine. I encourage any of you who have thought about it to take sewing lessons and learn how because it can come in very handy.

These are some decorative pillowcases I made last year before Amby and Nathan came home for Christmas. Amby's room doubles as a guest room and I like to decorate it for Christmas. We painted it an apricot color, so I couldn't use the typical red and green, so I chose this plaid as the base. (It actually matches the room better than it does in the picture). I found the gingerbread pattern online and printed it. I used a flannel-like fabric for the gingerbread people and ironed on wonder under, cut out the shape, and the ironed it onto the pillow fabric. I embroidered them on with a blanket stitch and attached the rickrack by hand. Then I added buttons, bows, etc. I used a ready-made pillowcase as a pattern and sewed a matching border onto the pillowcase.

If you aren't feeing this industrious, just find some cute Christmas fabric and make pillowcases from that. Talk a friend who sews into doing it for you. It would also be nice to buy really pretty ready-made pillowcases and have them monogrammed with the initials of your guest, and then give them to your guest as a gift.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Loaded Potato Soup

This is another soup that is not low in calories but is really delicious. I thicken it with Wondra Flour, which is specially formulated to blend with cold water, but you can use regular flour or cornstarch. I like Wondra because it NEVER lumps. (It's in a round blue canister located in the flour section.) I also don't peel my potatoes for any recipe. They are high in fiber and I think it adds to the taste of the dish. It does make a smoother, whiter soup if you peel them, however. That's simply up to you!

Potato Soup
6 potatoes, scrubbed and chopped with skins on
1 carton Swansons chicken broth
1 small onion, chopped and sauteed in butter (opt. I don't add this only because I'm not a big fan of onions)
1 cup 1/2 & 1/2
Wondra Flour
thyme, dill, salt, and pepper to taste

bacon, cooked and crumbled
shredded cheddar cheese
chopped green onion (opt.)

Cook potatoes in chicken broth until tender. Mix about 1/2 cup of Wondra with cold water in a separate container with a wire whisk. Add to boiling broth and potatoes and stir until thickened. Add 1/2 & 1/2. Add water if needed. Season as desired. I personally add a good bit of salt. Top with desired toppings.

I am home sick from work today which rarely happens. I am stuffy, and I have a cough and a fever. My friend Mimi went back to Fairhope and my husband is still out of the country. Oh well, the nurse with no nurse. Ally and I are going to watch movies. Maybe some of this soup will help. I hope you all enjoy it!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Early Christmas for a Special Friend

My friend Mimi is coming up from Fairhope today to visit with me for the week. We have been friends for over 30 years and she is very special to me. She is very cool and uniquely creative, so I always want to give her something unusual. I wanted to do a combination "welcome house guest" and early Christmas present.

I found a vintage-looking cake plate and this tiny glass Christmas tree to give her. I sat the tree on the plate and covered it with "snow", and sat pretty Christmas candy on it. I tied it with a ribbon and used a tag with a Christmas sticker on it.

She hasn't seen it yet. I hope she likes it.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Snacks for the Traveler

Gil goes on mission trips several times a year and he usually takes a group with him. The people who go with him have taken time off from their jobs, and have paid their way to go and be a help to others. I like to show my appreciation for that and give something toward the trip, and I like to make them feel special, which they are. This time they went to Peru. Thank you to Gil, Alan, Randy, Carl, Johnny, Mark, and Wayne for going to help the people in Peru! I will add their picture when they get back.

Airport and airplane food leave much to be desired, so I like to send tasty, personalized snacks for them to munch on. On previous trips, I sent cardboard gable boxes full of food, but Gil asked me to put their snacks in large ziplock bags this time because the regulations for carry-on luggage are now more strict. So, all that to say, it totally went against my grain to use ziplocks because it was harder to make them cute, but they are guys after all, and all they really care about is the snacks themselves. (Especially Alan and the chex mix. I heard he tried to steal Johnny's.) Geez!

I use stickers for their names and usually put travel stickers, like suitcases, passports, etc. on there, too. You could also put stickers for whatever their destination is, such as London, NYC, etc.

Here are the ones I sent:

I covered up as much of the unattractive writing on the ziplock bags as I could with the stickers. I bought peanuts, cheese crackers, and white chocolate-covered pretzels. I made sweet chex mix and brownies. I baked the brownies in those new star-shaped holders by Reynolds, and they turned out great. I left theirs in the pans for extra protection, but this is what they look like unmolded. Be sure and spray it with cooking spray. The pan just peels off.

The more homemade goodies you send, the better it is, but it is certainly the thought that counts. Cookies are also great, and so are mini homemade pies.

This is also nice to take to the family members of someone in the hospital. At least then you can put it in a basket or something cute. We as nurses have actually done this several times for the family members of our patients who are with us for weeks on end.

Make showing your love and appreciation for those around you a way of life. It is very satisfying.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Stir Fry

This is very simple and healthy meal that can be prepared in under 30 minutes. It can also be prepared several hours ahead and cooked very quickly.

My Favorite Stir Fry
4 chicken breasts, cut up
2 packages fresh vegetable medley:broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower (from the produce section)
1/2 head cabbage, coarsely chopped
olive oil

Emeril's Sesame Asian Marinade (or your favorite)
Cavender's Greek Seasoning
Lawry's Seasoned Salt

Chop vegetables into desired size pieces. I like to cut the baby carrots in two lengthwise. (If you are using a marinade, pour over vegetables and chicken a couple of hours before cooking and refrigerate). Heat about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large fry pan or wok. Add chicken and vegetables. Cook on medium high heat, stirring constantly, until they reach the desired doneness. If you choose not to marinate, then add your seasonings while you are cooking. You can actually do both, but be careful not to over-season it. I like my vegetables crisp-tender, so it really takes only about 5 or 6 minutes.

You can serve this with brown rice, or all by itself. A piece of crusty bread on the side makes this meal complete!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gingerbread Muffins

I love homemade gingerbread. It has a very comforting taste to me. I found a mix that is, in my opinion, as good as homemade. It is made by Krusteaz and can be found on the grocery aisle with the cake mixes. All you add is water and eggs, and I also add chopped pecans. You can bake it in a pan to make a cake, or, like I did, in a muffin tin. This time I did both mini muffins and regular size muffins. One mix made 12 mini muffins and 6 regular muffins.You can actually see in the picture how moist they are. There are directions on the back for gingerbread cookies, also, but I haven't tried that yet. I have a scratch recipe for those that I will post when it gets a little closer to Christmas. There is a also a recipe for a praline topping on the side of the box that I have tried and it is wonderful, but just takes a little time. If you want quick, easy, and delicious, the basic recipe is all you need.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Spinach Bisque

This is a very quick and easy soup to make. It's not low in calories, but is actually quite low in carbs, if that matters to you. It's very rich, and because of that, it's difficult to eat more than a small bowl of it at one time. It makes a great first course to serve before a meal, and it's also really good with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Spinach Bisque2 pkg frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 1/2 - 8oz blocks cream cheese, softened
1  1/2 cups half and half
1 can chicken broth
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove minced garlic (opt)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
In a soup pot, combine spinach and half and half. Cook over medium-low heat until heated through. (To make sure cream cheese blends well, beat with a wire whisk until very smooth before adding to spinach mixture.) Add remaining ingredients. Cook, uncovered, stirring constantly, until cheese is melted and soup is hot. Yield: about 6 servings

Note: You could probably substitute milk for the half and half and use low fat cream cheese if you wanted to. You could also use just one package of spinach, depending on how dense with spinach you want it to be.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

Strawberries are the perfect fruit. They are beautiful to look at, delicious to eat, and high in nutritive value. They are full of fiber, vitamin C, folate, vitamin K, and antioxidants. It is believed that they help lower blood pressure. It would be pretty hard to improve on that... well, unless you slather a little chocolate on them. Now studies show that dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants and can help lower blood pressure, decrease your risk of heart disease, and even cancer. Who are we to stand in the way of lower blood pressure, a healthy heart, and cancer prevention? It's not just a matter of our wanting to eat chocolate-dipped strawberries, we NEED to eat them.

Start with firm, ripe strawberries. In a small, deep bowl, melt one 12 oz. package of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate morsels in the microwave until smooth. I prefer Ghirardelli because I think it has a richer, more gourmet chocolate taste, but use whatever is your personal favorite. Wash the strawberries and pat them dry with paper towels. Gently holding onto the leaves of the strawberry, dip each one into the melted chocolate, about 3/4 or more to the top. Scrape the excess chocolate onto the edge of the bowl and place the strawberries on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper or foil. One 12 0z. bag of chocolate covers about 35 strawberries.

After you have dipped them, place them in the refrigerator until the chocolate hardens. Keep cold until ready to serve. Crunchy chocolate and sweet strawberry in one bite.
Have one for your health.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Gift for a Guy

Some men are hard to shop for. There are certain items that most men like, however, and this is a unique way to put them together, and hopefully make the man you are giving the gift to feel special. As I have said before, I like to make the gift wrap a part of the gift itself. A leather or suede box is a nice, masculine container for a guy gift. I found this box at T.J. Maxx. Hobby Lobby has lots of them, too. Be sure to get a box that is large enough to accomodate all you want to put in it. As you can see, for this particular gift, I included a shirt, tie, manly frame, flashlight, and pocket knife. You can also include a nice manicure set, collar stays, cufflinks, gum, mints, or candy. Tickets to a game, movie, or concert would also be nice.Gil collects antique books, and I used them for this, but a book about a subject that interests him or by his favorite author would be great. The candy I used is just Planters Chocolate Covered Almonds, but I emptied the bag with Mr. Peanut's picture on it into a clear bag and tied it with twine to make it look like it came from a candy store.

I am not a scrapbooker, but I love scrapbook implements, such as stickers, tags, textured paper, etc. For this tag, I attached thin cork-like paper with self-adhesive on the back to a textured leather-look paper. I then used these funky stickers to spell out Gil's name. I punched a hole into it and tied it all up with a ribbon.

This is the finished product:

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ham & Cheese Chowder

Ham and Cheese Chowder

5-6 red potatoes, scrubbed and chopped, with skins left on
1-1/2 cups cheddar cheese
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup milk

Trim fat from ham and chop into small pieces.
Layer with potatoes and cheese in a greased crock pot.
Combine milk and soup. Pour over the top.
Cook on low for about 8 hours. Add more milk if needed to achieve the desired thickness.