Saturday, September 23, 2017

Major Changes

It's been a long time since I wrote anything on here. I went trough a lack of personal time and lull in creativity when I started a very stressful and time intensive position as an Event Coordinator. However, I recently find myself with more time on my hands, renewed desire to create, and unexpected baby boy on the way.
Honestly, after a miscarriage, several long discussions with Mark, and just getting older, I was becoming more OK with the idea of not having children. Not to mention, for some reason, I never considered that our child wouldn't be a girl. It's funny how life works out.
I have not been enjoying pregnancy...and I still have the entire 3rd trimester and labor to look forward to. It's mostly been a lot of vomiting in the beginning, difficult body changes, headaches, emotions, construction, expense, stress, worry, insomnia, and recently symphysis pubis dysfunction & gestational diabetes. Yet, knowing Viktor is healthy and feeling him move around, is pretty great.
Since we are totally unprepared for a child, I have been making a lot of toys, decor, and other small things to prepare for Viktor's arrival. My family and friends have been ridiculously supportive and really helpful in determining what is important to do and focus on before and after his birth. Mark and I are extremely lucky to have such a strong support network.
Thus far, I have made him a playlist of all the songs I loved as a child, a Christmas stocking (for our house and my parents house), several stuffed animals (including Hobbes), a Family Face Board Book of all the important people in his life, and I'm working on crocheting him a bathrobe.
Snowflake Christmas Stocking
crochet penguin bathrobe
We still have a lot of work to do to get our house ready for a baby (so much construction!), but I think we're starting to get there. Plus I am VERY excited for my family Baby Shower.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

3 Sisters Bake for Hours and Hours!

Soooooo.....of course I thought I would force all of my sisters to help me bake Christmas gifts. It seemed like a win-win scenario for me: more help means less time baking and less work. Plus, I decided to cut down on the recipes this year. 

Gluten Free Gingerbread Bar
1 3/4 cups brown sugar
2/3 cup butter
1/4 cup molasses
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan.
2. Mash the brown sugar, butter, and molasses together in a bowl with a spoon until the mixture is creamy and thoroughly combined. Mix in the ginger, eggs, and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir 1/4 of flour mixture into the butter mixture at a time, incorporating each addition before adding the next. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan.
3. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool before cutting.
Honestly, things were going really well! 
Gluten Free Gingerbread Bar
Gluten Free Gingerbread Bar
Until I realized I used mint extract instead of vanilla. Cue my immediate breakdown. I was ready to throw in the towel before we even finished making one batch of cookies. Luckily we were able to somewhat salvage the mess by adding chocolate chips and making another batch correctly. 
Gluten Free Gingerbread Bar
Both batches turned out pretty darn good. The biggest hassle of this recipe was that I had to order almost all of the gluten free ingredients online, as our local grocery store didn't carry them. 

Next we moved onto Peppermint Cream Squares:
Peppermint Cream Squares
For the shortbread:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
For the peppermint filling:
30 soft mint candies
1 cup powdered sugar, divided
1/4 cup cream cheese
2 tablespoons whole milk
Peppermint extract (optional)
1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8x8 baking dish with parchment so that the ends hang over the sides of the pan. Coat the parchment and exposed sides of the pan with nonstick spray.
2. To make the shortbread, beat the butter in a stand mixer or with a hand blender until it is creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the sugar. Beat again until the butter and sugar are light and fluffy, like frosting. With the mixer on low speed, beat in the flour and the salt until the dough comes together and no more dry flour is visible.
3. Scoop out about 1/2 cup of the dough, transfer it to a covered container, and refrigerate. Scrape the remaining dough into the baking dish. Press the dough flat with buttered hands, pushing the dough into the corners and smoothing the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the shortbread is turning golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes.
4. While the shortbread is baking, prepare the filling. Place the soft mint candies the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they have broken down into powder with pieces no larger than rock salt. Be forewarned: this will make an enormous racket! Alternatively, you can place the candies in a sturdy plastic bag, go outside, and smash the candies with a hammer. (A fantastic holiday stress-reliever.)
5. Mix the powdered candies with 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and milk. Warm briefly in the microwave if the cream cheese is too stiff. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and 3/4 cup of the powdered candy mixture to the cream cheese. Whisk to form a thick paste. Taste and add peppermint extract in 1/4 teaspoon increments if you'd like a stronger peppermint flavor.
6. When the shortbread has cooled but is still warm to the touch, pour the peppermint cream mixture over the top and spread it evenly into the corners. Remove the reserved shortbread dough from the fridge and crumble it evenly over the top of the peppermint cream (or grate it on the large holes of a cheese grater).
7. Bake the peppermint bars for another 10-13 minutes, until the edges are just starting to bubble. The crumbs will still be fairly light-colored. Let the bars cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then sprinkle the top with a few tablespoons of the remaining peppermint powder (you may not use it all) while the bars are still warm. Let the bars cool completely, then lift them from the pan and cut into squares.
8. Peppermint squares will keep in an airtight container for about a week.
These were really easy to make and turned out pretty decent. I couldn't find peppermint flavored, I went with Andes mints and thought it turned out just fine!
Peppermint Cream Squares
Peppermint Cream Squares
Peppermint Cream Squares
Peppermint Cream Squares
Peppermint Cream Squares
Peppermint Cream Squares

5 cups confectioners’ sugar plus more for dusting
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon pure peppermint
3 tablespoons shortening
20 ounces tempered chocolate or dipping chocolate wafers
Food Gel Coloring: red
1. Beat 5 cups confectioners’ sugar with corn syrup, water, peppermint extract, shortening, and a pinch of salt using an electric mixer (with paddle attachment if using a stand mixer) at medium speed until just combined.
2. Divide filling dough into half, color one dough red, and second leave white.
3. Form each filling into a snake shape and then roll it out between 2 pieces of parchment paper, dust bottom and top with more powdered sugar to prevent sticking.
4. Starting with the white layer, loosen both wax papers on the bottom and on the top. Same with the red layer.
5. Stack layers on top of each other. Flip the whole thing on a piece of plastic wrap dusted with powdered sugar.
6. Roll both layered into a log. Chill in the freezer until firm, 30 minutes.
7. Using a sharp knife cut small patties, place them on a tray lined with wax paper. If patties get soft, chill again until firm.
8. Prepare the chocolate, using dipping fork dip each round into the chocolate, gently shake of the excess and place freshly coated patties onto the tray lined with wax paper. Once you are done with all the patties, put the tray into the fridge for 10 minutes for the chocolate to set.
9. Store mint patties in a cool place in an airtight container, layered, wax paper between each layer.
The first hitch was that I had green food coloring and refused to pay $5 for red. So the insides were all green, no biggie. 
Candy Cane Peppermint Patties
The next hitch was that making a log out of that sticky mess was impossible and then it didn't cut well anyway. 
Candy Cane Peppermint Patties
Candy Cane Peppermint Patties
So we resorted to making balls instead. 
Candy Cane Peppermint Patties
While this was cooling, we started the prep for our Buckeyes (as they were to be dipped in chocolate as well). We then proceeded to melt all of the chocolate wafers at once. 
Candy Cane Peppermint Patties
This seemed like the obvious answer; but, it took us so long to dunk each ball that the chocolate started to burn and/or harden without seemingly any way to make it just a happy liquid. 
Candy Cane Peppermint Patties
This is where my second breakdown started to occur. These patties tasted great but looked a mess!
Candy Cane Peppermint Patties
I was ashamed to hand them out, but didn't really see an alternative. 

Finally we made Buckeyes:
1 1/2 cups Jif® Creamy Peanut Butter
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar
2 cups semi­sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons Crisco® All­Vegetable Shortening
1. COMBINE peanut butter, butter, vanilla and salt in large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on LOW until blended. Add 2 cups powdered sugar, beating until blended. Beat in additional powdered sugar until mixture, when shaped into a ball, will stay on a toothpick. Shape into 1­inch balls. Refrigerate.
2. PLACE chocolate chips and shortening in microwave­safe bowl. Microwave on MEDIUM for 30 seconds. Stir. Repeat until mixture is smooth. Reheat as needed while coating peanut butter balls.
3. INSERT toothpick in peanut butter ball. Dip 3/4 of ball into chocolate, leaving top uncovered to resemble a buckeye. Remove excess. Place on wax paper­lined tray. Remove toothpick. Smooth over holes. Refrigerate until firm.
I was super excited about this one, as I LOVE buckeyes. 
Everything seemed to be going perfectly, until the melted chocolate was just not having any of it. It just got funky. Which is when my second breakdown really got full blown.
We kept it on a low heat with constant stirring, but it refused to stay liquid. My pleading and crying made no difference. 
As I threw a freak-out-fit, my sisters hurried to get the buckeyes covered in chocolate before it was entirely too late. In the end, they tasted phenomenal, but looked predigested....
My dad didn't seem to mind, so I guess that is all that matters. 

Days prior, and on my own, may I add, I made mason jars of Peppermint Hot Chocolate Mix:
11 c. powdered milk
1 c. confectioners’ sugar
11 oz. powdered coffee creamer
2 lbs. powdered chocolate milk mix
4 tbsp. Cocoa powder
1 box instant chocolate pudding mix
10 crushed candy canes
1. Crush candy canes in a bag or a food processor.
2. Mix ingredients together in a LARGE bowl.
3. Portion into containers for sharing or store in an air tight container.
4. Use 1/3 mix and 2/3 water for the perfect mixture.
This really is fantastic hot cocoa! I love love love it. I do have to say, the original recipe called for 3 candy canes and I could barely taste them at that point, so I added a lot more. I would do even more next time with half finely crushed and half small chucks (for the aesthetics in the mason jar). I forgot to take pictures...

All in all, no one died from anything I helped make and I think that is the most important part.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The BEST Sriracha Chicken And Sausage Gumbo

Spicy Gumbo! Makes about a bowl (or less, depending on how thick (reduced down) you make it) per serving. Yields 8 servings with 400 calories (before rice).

2 teaspoons ground black pepper 
1.5 teaspoons cayenne pepper 
1 teaspoon garlic powder 
1.5 teaspoons paprika 
1 teaspoon dry mustard 
1 teaspoon cajun seasoning 
1 teaspoon salt 
.5 cup all-purpose flour 
1 pound spicy ground sausage 
.25 cup vegetable oil OR left over sausage grease
2 pounds boneless chicken breast 
1 cup chopped bell peppers 
1 cup chopped celery 
1 cup chopped onions 
6.5 cups (52 oz) chicken stock 
1 teaspoon minced garlic 
1 bay leaf 
3 tablespoons Sriracha hot chili sauce

1. In a small bowl, blend together all dry seasonings and flour. 
Sriracha Chicken And Sausage Gumbo
Before adding flour
2. In a large frying pan, brown ground sausage. Save oil from cooked sausage. Place sausage to the side.  
Sriracha Chicken And Sausage Gumbo
3. In large bag, shake 1/2 (about 1/4 of a cup) of dry seasoning mix evenly onto all chicken breasts.
4. In a large frying pan, over medium high heat, use sausage grease (my preference) or vegetable oil to brown chicken breasts. Brown each breast in oil on one side for 2 minutes, then turn and brown the other side for 3 minutes. Drain on Paper towels. 
Sriracha Chicken And Sausage Gumbo
Sriracha Chicken And Sausage Gumbo
5. In a large frying pan, add remaining seasoning mix with 1/2 cup of Chicken Stock to any remaining oil. Reduce heat to medium and cook chopped vegetables (feel free to add more vegetables than indicated, I do). Once mixture thickens, remove from heat. 
Sriracha Chicken And Sausage Gumbo
I like to chop mine very chunky
Sriracha Chicken And Sausage Gumbo
6. In a large pot, bring 6 cups of chicken stock to a boil. Slowly add entire thickened vegetable mixture and browned ground sausage. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. 
Sriracha Chicken And Sausage Gumbo
7. Cut chicken breasts into bite-sizes pieces and then add to the large pot. 
8. Add bay leaf, minced garlic, and Sriracha sauce to large pot. Cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you would like your gumbo thicker, cook for additional time on low heat (I usually simmer for 5-6 hrs., until they chicken is mostly shredded in appearance), stirring occasionally, until the gumbo has thickened. 
Sriracha Chicken And Sausage Gumbo
At 40 minutes
Sriracha Chicken And Sausage Gumbo
After another hour thickening on low heat
9. Serve with rice.

I absolutely LOVE this gumbo. I eat it like soup (without rice), but Mark prefers it with rice and says it's too spicy without the rice. The biggest downside, for me, is how high the calories are. I would recommend using less meat and oil if calories are a concern.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Wedding Sneak Peak!

Here are some pictures from the wedding!! We wont have the professional photos for several weeks, but McShane Photography provided us with some sneak peaks (towards the bottom of the blog) and other people's photos have been rolling in!
The first thing I noticed when I looked at these photos, was thankfully, how much I loved them and what a wonderful day it had been! However, my critical nature soon kicked in and I noticed how tired my eyes looked and the dark circles (from lack of sleep, stress, and let's face it, age) under them. I instantly felt self conscious and upset. Generally, I wouldn't Photoshop my own image, but I felt the need to (they are my wedding pictures after all!) make my eyes look a little nicer. I have no excuses for my vanity.
Here are Jena McShane's Sneak Peaks (of absolute mind-numbing fabulousness that already made my eyes look nice):
Plus, she captured our Bridesmaids Poster picture perfectly!
I can't wait to see the rest of our photos!!! The wait may figuratively kill me.