Friday, December 28, 2012

Visions of Christmas

Right ... let's pretend this very instant that this post was done before Christmas, not 3 days after the fact. And tomorrow you can pretend to be surprised by other Christmas pictures.

We had the white Christmas I oh so desired. 13 inches of white Christmas to be exact. In fact, the snow was so bad that for the first time in 7 years of working downtown, hubs didn't make it in because of the weather. That's bad folks. If you ever want a poster child for dedicated employee, Lance is it. He abandoned the idea of going in only after getting my car stuck in a snowbank, then after having a kind stranger help him dig out, accidentally locked the keys in the car (the car was running mind you) in the middle of a busy intersection. But this was not enough. It took him not being completely blinded with snow to decide to stay home. Even then I had to convince him at 10:30 AM not to go. Yeah, Lance is nuts for work :)

Lemon, rosemary, vanilla fragrance jars. Every year I tell myself that I'm not going to do any homemade gifts because, well, I don't need to. But every year, I find myself making something for all the women in my family. I originally got the idea from a cookie exchange I went to earlier in December. They were easy enough to assemble, so lo and behold, another homemade gift! You put your smelly ingredients in a jar and cover it with water. Then when you want to use it, empty the contents into a small crock pot (like a little dipper) or into a small sauce pan on the stove. Add more water to cover and simmer lightly. According to pinterest, this is the same smell that Williams Sonoma uses in their stores.

My favorite snowman coffee mugs. A former boss gave these out about 4 years ago. I only have 3 snowmen and would love to have 4. So, if you have this EXACT snowman mug taking up space in your cupboard, send him my way :)


Every year after Christmas I vow that I'm going to do less baking the next year. Never works out for me. I made fudge (2 rounds, I swear I ruined the first, but it ended up being okay), peanut butter fudge, caramels, sugar cookies, ginger snaps and peanut butter chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. So roughly around 700 cookies and 8 cases of Type 2 Diabetes. Lance just unearthed the compost cookies I made last year for Christmas. Whoops.

Below are triple chocolate espresso cookies.

This is the Christmas ornament I bought last year for Lucan's first Christmas. Isn't it adorable?

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Christmas Story

After Friday's horrors of the terrible Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, it goes without saying that all parents are holding their children a bit tighter. It's horrible. It's devastating. It makes me weep.

But Christmas reminds us that there is hope in a Savior. This version of the Christmas story was played a couple weeks back during church and I've been wanting to share it ever since then. This reenactment was done by some children in Austrialia. I think it's even more precious to me since Friday's shootings.

I'm not sure which is cuter: the sheep or the star.

Give those you love another hug today.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Kara's Cookie Tips

1. Use unsalted butter. Salted butter varies from brand to brand as to how much salt is actually in one stick. It can range anywhere from 1/4 of a teaspoon to 1/2 a teaspoon. But the use of butter and not margarine is very important. Butter in baking makes for a much more well-rounded, well butter flavor. It's important. Trust me on this.
2. Another butter tip. Soften your butter at room temperature for a couple of hours at minimum. It's also important to bring your eggs to room temperature because if they are too cold, they will not cream properly.
3. Quality baking pans are important. I use my 2 ton Pampered Chef stoneware pans combined with parchment paper. As a result, my cookies never stick to the pan and are always baked evenly and rarely burn.
4. Always stir the last of your flour or your mix-ins (chocolate chips, dried fruits, nuts, etc.) in by hand. When using a stand mixer or a hand mixer, there is the tendency to over mix in hopes of getting the last of the flour stirred in.
5. For uniform cookies, use a cookie scoop. My personal favorite is the small Pampered Chef scoop, approximately one tablespoon in size. This should be in every baker's cookie arsenal.
6. Another cookie scoop tip. Pre-scoop your dough and chill them for 5-10 minutes prior to baking. They won't spread as much and will come out much more even. And if your scooped dough has some pointy bits, you can push them in to make them even more round and perfect.
7. I think this one is generally a given, but let your cookies rest for 3 minutes or so after you take them out of the oven. You'll smash them if you try and remove them too soon.
8. Also another given, but worth mentioning: rotate your cookies halfway through baking. Most ovens cook hottest towards the back, so I always rotate top to bottom and side to side.
9. Good gravy, use a timer. There's nothing worse than going to all the trouble of mixing up dough only to burn it.
10. I heard this on Rachael Ray the other day, but there are stages to cookie making: mixing, resting, forming, resting and then baking. Essentially they advise that it is best to mix your dough up, form it into a mound, let everything rest for a little while, shape your cookies, chill the formed dough and then bake. I can't say that I do this for all cookies, but it is important for rolled cookies, such as sugar cookies, for the dough to be slightly chilled after you cut them out. It's also important to flour your cookie cutters in between use to prevent sticking.

10 tips for baking cookies. I didn't think that I had that many tips in me, but lo and behold, if you make enough cookies your start figuring out what works! I'm on like my 350 cookie in two weeks and I haven't even started making my Christmas cookies yet. I know, slightly overkill.

Photo credit