Take Home Treat Surprises!

Tradition in our family calls for everyone bringing a dish to share at gatherings.   It may be a holiday event, birthday or graduation or maybe even a Superbowl Party!   Some bring along appetizers or salads or parts of the main course; whatever it may be, we all eat and Eat Well!   Recently we even had the addition of homemade Baileys Irish Cream…..what a treat that was!

True to tradition we will all gather tomorrow for the big football event of the year.   We will be bringing along a layered taco dip – fashioned after the 7 layer salad, but eaten with chips like a dip.   Most times I also bring cookies and candies

… and we munch all day long.   This time I decided to make Treat Surprises that everyone can take home with them.   This way they can enjoy them without that stuffed feeling and space out the enjoyment throughout the week!   Last night I made some Hard Caramel Candies to include in the packages and it is Yummmmy!

I scanned through my Cricut cartridges and found a few I can use to put all the sweets in – not sure which to use or if I will just opt for little plastic bags which might be easier to grab and take.

We also will be celebrating another birthday … look’s like I have my work cut out for me!   Whatever your plans for the weekend … Eat well and Enjoy!!

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I Love to Bake!

I could bake all day long, day after day, and never get bored!   I try to bake healthy using whole wheat flour and adding flaxseed or applesauce as substitutes for higher calorie ingredients.   With our current empty-nester status it is not as common to find me baking away in the kitchen these days, but you can bet I am always searching for a new recipe or two to try out.   This weekend I have a family birthday to celebrate and I plan to bake up a bunch of goodies.   The main attraction will be the birthday cake of course and chocolate candies which has been my latest fascination.

I do have some different flavors I will be experimenting with this week – these are filled with a peppermint ganache and melt in your mouth!   I have also decided to explore decorating the candies and cake with a bit more fancy details.   In the past, I normally would just use store-bought frosting mix and tube icing to decorate.   Researching a bit I have discovered two different homemade frosting or icing I am anxious to try.   Having often wondered about the two but falling short of actually looking into them I would just grab the store-bought can of mix.   Buttercream frosting and Royal icing are the star players I am referring to here.   Buttercream is more creamy and has more flavor whereas the royal icing dries hard and can be used to make flowers and other decorations.

You want to keep the Buttercream Frosting in the refrigerator when not using and it will keep for 2 weeks but must be whipped again before using.   The Royal Icing sets quickly, so keep the bowl covered with a damp cloth at all times to prevent drying.

                                                    and Speaking of Snow……

Here is a cute recipe that is perfect for this time of year.    I am sure young and old alike would enjoy it!

Candy in the Snow – Only one ingredient and a generous snowfall needed.   Gently boil 1/2 cup of maple syrup until it has thickened, for about 5 minutes.   Fill a bowl with clean snow and drizzle the hot syrup over it.  The syrup will harden into “candy” you can eat with your fingers.

Garlic Biscotti and Minestrone Soup

A perfect winter meal!   I have wanted to try a Garlic Biscotti for some time now and thought I would just fine chop the garlic and add to a recipe, but once I discovered this recipe using Roasted Garlic – I knew it was the way to go!

The recipe may need some adjustments since it didn’t rise as much as I had hoped … and I tasted the Rosemary flavor quite a bit and hardly any of the Garlic flavor.   So I will be tweaking the recipe next time around.

Roasting garlic takes about an hour and all you have to do is cut the top of the bulb off, drizzle with olive oil and cover.   Bake in the oven 45 minutes to an hour.   Your whole house will smell like “Garlic”!

The Minestrone Soup was perfect!   I love this soup and it has to be one of the easiest dinners to prepare.   Since the Garlic Biscotti only called for 2 large cloves of roasted garlic, I added the remainder of the bulb to the soup along with the rest of the ingredients.  It was quite delicious and with this soup you can add an assortment of vegetables – whatever  you happen to have on hand …. peas, green beans, cabbage.

I had intended to make a new recipe for dessert called Snowball Cookies, but instead I actually spent the afternoon outside shoveling Snow!   I didn’t pay attention to the weather this morning and had no idea we were in for this much snow … Surprise, Surprise!

Valentine’s Day Cookie Craft

This is an easy and economical idea for creating a wonderful gift for someone special on Valentine’s Day or for everyone you want to share some sweets with!   You can make the cookies, decorate them and package them up all at different times.   This way the crafting won’t seem like an endless project that goes on for hours and hours.  

To start you will have to bake up the cookies and the recipe can be found here –> Recipe for cookies.   If you don’t have cookie cutters, you can cut a template from cardboard of a heart and use that or simply cut the heart designs (or any designs…a person’s initial or even name) free-hand and bake following the directions.

Once you have your cookies baked, you can continue on with decorating or store them and do this at a later time.   I decorated with several different candy wafer chocolates by melting  and dropping the cookie face down into the melted chocolate and then plucking out and placing on a cookie sheet to dry.

Now with the decorating complete, I have to decide how I want to package the candy cookies up.   I kept my decorating simple and the cookies bite-size.   I will be using my Cricut machine and creating from the Valentine’s Day cartridge Love Struck, but for those without the Cricut, here is an excellent link to a blog that lists out many other blogs and tutorials on creating gift bags!!  Mel Stampz: 50+ Gift bag Templates….very helpful, indeed!

Cricuit Machine

Whether it’s packaged in a box, bag or an envelope, I am betting it will be loved and appreciated by those receiving it !

                                        Happy Crafting !   Enjoy and have Fun!

Have you had your Grains today?

Grains are delicious, nutritious and easy to prepare and should be included in your daily diet.   Grains provide nutrients which are essential for optimal health and well-being.   Researching grains on the internet I came across two sites that offer a very nice guide along with some great pictures of the different grains that exist.   Culinate has a picture perfect whole-grain glossary with a nice description of each grain and FoodFit also offers a nice Grains Guide with recipes for each grain.   Do take some time and browse these sites if you are curious about grains and incorporating more of them into your daily cooking routine.

Most of us are aware of the common grains such as oats, wheat and barley – these along with many others, are easy to grow in your garden.   Easy to grow but not very practical if you are looking to supply your pantry for the coming year.   I have experimented and grew several new and different grains, millet, amaranth and buckwheat.   You will have a harvest if you tend to them regularly, but unless you plant acres and acres … your harvest will be minimal.   The millet and amaranth are tiny seeds and plentiful on the plant, whereas, the buckwheat is a bigger grain and my purpose for growing was as a companion crop.   They are beneficial in attracting good insects to your garden and offer nutrients for the soil.

With the New Year still ringing in our ears, the healthy eating resolution is still within plain sight.   I recently purchased the cookbook, Whole Grain Recipes, by Jean Pare and it has some outstanding recipes to try.   Tonight I decided to bake up the Vegetable Barley Manicotti and love the idea of using barley … and it is rather easy to put together.

Complete recipe posted at Vegetable Barley Manicotti – Mixing Bowl — Enjoy and Be Healthy!!!

Chocolate Candy Making is No Easy Task!

For years I have made homemade chocolate candies for the holidays!   I would simply buy the candy wafers at the hobby store, melt them down and pour them into the candy molds.   I have been creative at different times and added swirls or peanut butter inside and even made turtles one year with pecans and caramel.   Everyone  loved the creations and I was always proud!  

I rarely indulged in the creations since I found the candy wafers too sweet for my liking.   So this year I got to thinking ….. maybe I should make some good “gourmet” chocolate and I started researching.

This candy book I had picked up some time ago and never really looked at it.   Now I find it listed as a collector item ….. and it has my attention!   I also ordered these books recently and realized that working with chocolate is an art and takes quite a bit of skill!!

The chocolate wafers I have been using are actually a coating and not the real stuff.   The good gourmet chocolate can be purchased over the internet and does cost quite a bit more than the wafer coatings.   I also learned a very important major difference ….. a process called tempering.   This is where you melt down the good chocolate to a specific temperature, let it cool to a specific temperature and then heat it back up slightly in order to work with it and give it that gloss and crunch that goes along with a good chocolate bar.   There are also various fillings and caramels and techniques that need to be mastered and I fully realize that Chocolate Candy Making is No Easy Task!

There are truffles and fudge and candy molds to fill ….. but to be very honest, I think if I have even one more tiny teeny piece of any kind of sweet stuff right now I will lapse into a shivering blob of sugar.   What I really, really want to do is create the ultimate healthy gourmet candy and infuse it with basils, lavenders and all things that remind me of the flavors from gardening!   I do miss my garden once again ………..

Hoping everyone enjoyed the first round of holiday festivities and Wishing you all a  ………  Happy New Year!!!

Holiday Fun!

The holidays are Here!   I have been baking up a storm this week so I have plenty of goodies to give as gifts and to bring to the Christmas feast at my brother’s.   I am really looking forward to all the family fun and “Eating” we will be doing!   I have already had quite an exciting week receiving Christmas gifts … the same day that I received my new Mac computer, I also received my wonderful “huge” box of presents from a recent giveaway I had entered.   The Pantry Blogger gave away tons of cooking tools (and I mean tons!) and I WON!   Believe me they are very appreciated and will get well used!

This was left at my door ………  yes, there is a Santa aka The Pantry Blogger!

I opened the package and took out each item … in utter disbelief of all the wonderful goodies I now have.    Remember that feeling on Christmas day when you open all your gifts and then organize it all and just sit there and “look” at everything?   You don’t want to use or put anything away just yet … it needs time to be cherished.   And so …. my gift still sits all laid out so I can take it all in and think about each item individually.

Of course, Ms. Billie thinks I am out of my mind and worries about my sanity at times!   It’s OK I tell her……  it’s ok to believe in Santa Claus!