Cranberry + Orange = Flavors of Christmas

Today was spent making cookies, Christmas Crack, and a recipe I only seem to think of around Christmastime: Cranberry Orange bread.   It’s easy enough and tastes delicious with a bright citrus flavor.   This time, since I was making it to include with the gifts of goodies we made for Todd’s business friends, I used mini loaf pans instead of the usual size pan.  Thankfully I had good results even though I had to tweak the baking time.  This is definitely a bread I plan to make for us at home in the coming days! Since I spent six hours straight today preparing food with sugar as the main ingredient, I’m exhausted and can’t think of anything creative to add to this post.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe after a shot of insulin.

 

Cranberry Orange Bread

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 c. butter, softened
1 c. cranberries, chopped
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. grated orange peel
3/4 c. orange juice
1 egg
1/2 c. chopped nuts
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease only the bottom of a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda; stir in butter until mixture is crumbly. Stir in orange peel, orange juice and egg just until moistened; stir in cranberries and nuts. Spread in pan. Bake until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 55-65 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Loosen sides of loaf; remove bread from pan. Cool completely before slicing.

Note: I tripled the recipe above leaving out nuts and it made ten mini loaves.  Just in case you want to make an army of bread, I thought I’d share that with you.   I baked five loaves at a time for 35 minutes.

 

(taken from www.cooks.com)

 

Christmas goodies and treats for crackheads trying to pretend they’re not crackheads

In my attempt to keep from following in the footsteps of Vanilla Ice, or Hanson, or even Justin Bieber, I’d like to avoid going down in history as a one-hit wonder.  Since my Christmas Crack recipe has gotten so much traffic of late, I figured it was time to branch out and see if I could dig up some different recipes that would help make the holiday season merry and bright.   I’ve compiled three recipes: one of my all-time favorite cookies (thumbprints) and two new ones that showcase lots of chocolate.   Maybe you, too, would like to expand your repetoire from saltine toffee to something new, lest we become known as “Crackheads.”   These recipes include butter (*gasp!*) and cream cheese (*zowie!*), and that’s one of the reasons why I have a rule to only make these treats during the month of December.  This year, we’re also making goodies for some of the guys Todd works with, so I’ll be able to get my need for baking out of my system before January (hopefully).   If you’d like to place an order, please do so by the end of the day on December 23.  I have to have time to wrap presents some time, after all..

Oreo Cookie Truffles 

1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 pkg. (16.6 oz.) Oreo cookies, finely crushed (about 4-1/4 cups)
2 pkg. (8 squares each) Semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Mix cream cheese and 3 cups cookie crumbs until well blended. Shape into 48 (1-inch) balls.  Dip in melted chocolate; place on waxed paper-covered baking sheet.  Sprinkle with seasonal sprinkles.  Refridgerate 1 hour or until firm.  Store in tightly covered container in refrigerator.

Tips from the Kraft website:

On melting chocolate:  Place unwrapped chocolate squares in microwaveable bowl. Microwave on HIGH 2-1/2 min. or until chocolate is completely melted, stirring every 30 sec.

On dipping truffles easily without wasting a bunch of chocolate:  Add truffles, in batches, to bowl of melted chocolate.  Use 2 forks to roll truffles in chocolate until evenly coated.  Remove truffles with forks, letting excess chocolate drip back into bowl.  Place truffles on prepared baking sheet; let stand until firm.

(taken from www.kraftrecipes.com)

Jam Thumbprint Cookies

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
3 cups sifted flour, or more
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
strawberry or raspberry jam
Cream butter and sugar together.  Add egg yolks, flour, vanilla; mix well.  If dough is too soft to handle, work in little more flour.  Roll dough into little balls.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Make a thumb print in the center of each.  Fill thumbprint with your favorite jam.  Bake a small batch first, and if the cookies in the first batch spreads too much, work a little more flour into the dough.  Bake at 400 for 8 to 10 minutes, until light brown around the edges.   I always try to undercook these–no more than 9 minutes, even if they look soft (but you should know I am firmly in the soft camp vs. crunchy camp).  Leave them on the cookie sheet for 2-3 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.
Mint Chocolate Cookie Crunch
1 bag mint chocolate chipe (or Andes mint chips)
2 1/2 bag (or 5 1/2 cups) dark chocolate chips
1 pkg. Oreo cookies
4 cups Rice Krispies
Finely crumble the Oreo cookies (I used my food processor to get a fine crumble, but using a rolling pin on the cookies in a ziplock bag would work too).
Melt the chocolate and mint chips until just melted.
Combine the Oreos, Rice Krispies, and melted chocolate combo in a large bowl.
 Stir until well coated.
Using a spoon or ice cream scooper, spoon out cookies to your desired size on waxed or parchment paper.
 
Let them sit out for a while until they firm up.  This recipe makes a LOT of cookies, so it’s an excellent idea for gifts!

On a scale of 1-10…could you rate…

I wish I could say that it’s because we would like to advance science, or that we’re interested in how sleep affects relationships, but if I’m being totally and utterly honest, the first thing that caught my eye when I saw the flyer about a UK research study was the pay.    Christmas money, yay!  (Although I’m not a rocket scientist, I also probably don’t need a grant to learn that lack of sleep adversely affects relationships.  Duh.)   Regardless of my inherently selfish ulterior motives, for the next seven days Todd, Ben, and I will be doing our small part to advance scientific studies.  Somewhat.

Part of the study is to keep a sleep journal for seven nights, and Ben gets to wear some kind of sleep sensor watch-like device.  He’s really into his part, which we expected when we chose him to be the child involved in the study.  He’s conscientious of putting it on at night and replacing it to the storage bag in the morning.   Although neither Todd nor I have to wear any devices, we have to answer questions before going to bed and upon waking up each morning.  Some of the questions have caused me to stop and think while others haven’t left me a large enough line on which to write my complete answers.  For example:

Did you take any naps today?  YES   NO

Where is the choice that allows me to write “Are you kidding?  Did you see my to do list for today?  Did you even notice that yesterday’s to do list has spilled into today’s? I bet you couldn’t find ‘take a nap’ on my list ten years’ worth to do lists! Are you trying to trick me?!”   Did I take a nap.  HA.  This is cleverly followed by

If yes, were these naps planned?  YES  NO

This one is surprisingly accurate.  In order for me to actually take a nap on any given afternoon, not only would it have to be unplanned, but I would have to actually fall asleep while changing loads of laundry or in the middle of chopping vegetables for dinner and drop down unconscious on the floor.  While dangerous, I think then I would probably go ahead and give in to the nap at that point.

There’s a list of emotions with the instructions to rate on a scale from 1-10 how we felt, such as:

How happy were you today?  That’s a valid question, I suppose.   Good start.

How tense?   As someone who has to constantly remind herself that shoulders do not belong up around one’s ears, I’d say 10 is a bit too conservative of an answer.  They’d probably throw out a 27, however.

How irritable?    Thank GOODNESS I get to answer my own questionnaire instead of passing it over to the kids, or worse, Todd!  “Hey guys, how irritable has Mom been today, do you think?” he’d ask with a snicker.  The kids would cower, shift nervously between feet before barely whispering an answer.  “Is there…some kind of… witness protection program you can put us in if we answer? Can you guarantee our safety?”

And perhaps the funniest of all:

On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your ability to concentrate and focus attention today.

Insert peals of laughter here.  I used to think my mom was losing her marbles because she would start a sentence and let it trail off, unfinished, just before it got to the really useful part.  Now I know she was probably already moving on to the next thing in her mind and couldn’t always be bothered to finish every little thought.    Most days I have to work incredibly hard and make a concerted effort to finish every sentence.  It can lead to my irritation (see above) with those who can’t just get inside my head and know what I’m thinking.

Between a 10, 9, and 6-year-old who don’t want to do their schoolwork and a 4-year-old who is asking for more “school” work (“Like Andrew does, Mama!”),  just about my entire day is an inability to concentrate and/or focus.  Add in housework, laundry, meal planning, errands, kid activities, and anything else that may come up–please don’t ring, phone– and I don’t know how to honestly answer that question.   1?  Negative 7?!

In any case….what were we talking about again…….?

 

I can’t wait until we go to the lab for the follow-up questions at the end of the study.  Hopefully I’ll get a good night’s sleep the night before.

Family Picture Day, Tighe Style

We’ve been trying to get our family photo shoot done since…shoot…late October maybe.  There was a weekend of wonderfully warm weather that would have been perfect for a late fall outdoor session, but our photographer was out of town (how dare she go visit friends on fine-weather days?!).  Then there was Thanksgiving weekend where the weather was also warmer than normal, but we were out of town (how dare we go to Michigan to see family on Thanksgiving?!).  In between the days of sunny and warm, there were the days we’d scheduled to have our pictures taken.  Those ended up being rainy.  Or flash flood warning-y.  Or both.  Did you know that Lexington had one of its rainiest Novembers on record?  And most of the rain came on the Mondays when we scheduled to do pictures?!

In any case, since time stops for no man–or family, apparently–and the leaves were all not only off the branches, but also halfway to next season’s soil, we figured we’d better get it done.  Finally we settled on this past Thursday.  The weather forecast looked chilly, but clear.  The race was on.

A while back, we’d driven by a church in town and I instantly knew that was the setting I wanted for our pictures.  I loved the outside and the doors, and thought it would be perfect for our group.  Todd agreed.  Although he liked that setting, he also wanted to find something else that fitted his idea of the perfect place, so we put quite a bit of thought into it.  We also had to figure out what we would wear.  Somehow we came up with three (count ’em, three different outfits for everyone to wear).  I wasn’t sure how long we’d have before children would start rebelling against standing still and smiling, but we prepared for all three.  For us to be ready, it meant ironing.  A lot of ironing.  Not that I’m complaining.  ….well, actually I am.  I really don’t care for ironing, not one little bit.  I did it with gritted teeth when I lived at home, and by God’s grace, I found a friend in college who loved to iron  (but, by all other accounts, seems normal and wonderful…).  She volunteered to do my ironing when we roomed together.   Perhaps she couldn’t stand to be seen with me and my wrinkled shirts….

Today, however, more than 350 miles separate my dear friend and I so the ironing falls to me.  Here’s part of what I was up against:

In addition to school, laundry, baths and showers, putting dinner in the crock pot so we could eat as soon as we got home later that night, and sending everyone to find their shoes, socks, and anything else they were hoping to wear,  ironing took up most of my free time that morning and afternoon.  Somehow we managed to get dressed and pack the car with the other two outfits and get over to the church to start our shoot.  (Speaking of shot…. I was)

It wasn’t five minutes into the shoot that one of our prayed-for and rejoiced-over sons elbowed another one of our prayed-for and rejoiced-over sons, who fell into the still damp grass and got a grass/mud stain on his jeans.   Hadn’t planned for that.  As much as we prepared their shirts and sweaters, they only had the jeans they were wearing.   After resisting my urge to have an all-out apoplectic fit, we reorganized the kids, pleaded with them not to fall down or do anything that might cause anyone else to fall down, and tried to get back to business.    I suppose someday it will be funny, like the memory of the Easter when Hannah and Patrick were our only two kids and I gussied them all up for church, only to have Patrick run out to the car and trip and fall on the sidewalk, landing right in a muddy puddle   (On second thought…that’s still not funny.)

I bet photographers see a lot of “interesting” family dynamics.  I’m certain our photographer got an eyeful that afternoon, but she was incredibly gracious.  On the whole, the kids did a fine job: there were no more incidents of dirtied knees, and even though Chloe started out with a mini fit of “I don’t want to smile for the camera, Daddy!” she did manage to change her heart and when she did, she cracked all of us up with her tilted head poses and cheesy grins.   It will be a long two week wait to see if our pictures came out as well as we hope!

We changed locations for our second outfit, but after taking the second round of shots, it became evident that daylight was fleeting and the kids were reaching their end.  We decided to nix the last change of clothes, which just happened to be the one with all the ironed shirts.  At first I was kind of irritated with having spent all that time working on something we didn’t end up using, but then it hit me:  I’m way ahead for my ironing for Christmas!  I’ve already prepared the boys and announced that they are all wearing blue shirts for our annual Christmas Eve service.   They knew better than to argue with their Mama.

Who says you can’t have pie for dinner every now and again?

Cooking for others has become a joy for me.  When I can’t think of any other way to help out, making a meal for someone usually comes to mind.  Sure, in the entire scope of humanity, one meal isn’t going to make a tremendous difference, but often it helps.   And when I can’t think of a creative birthday present idea, I like to make a deep dish apple pie.

One of the best investments I ever made kitchen-wise was to buy this Deep Dish Baker at half price when I hosted a Pampered Chef show with my sister-in-law Laura in the early 2000s.  After hunting through the Pampered Chef website, I don’t think they make it any more (and definitely not its cover, which admittedly I don’t use nearly as much as the baker), but if you click here, it will take you to the next best thing.  At first I suppose it sat in my cabinets, feeling lonely and unloved.  But I remember the night I first made Taco Dip in it for a parenting class we were facilitating at our house back in early 2002, and since then, I’ve used it almost as much as my favorite coffee mug.   It has appeared in other recipes on this blog, namely the one for chicken pot pie.    In fact, it’s almost as necessary to my childbirth class as my workbooks and birth videos.

For this use, however, we started with granny smith apples: six pounds of them.  I wasn’t sure how many we could cram into the pie, but I certainly knew I didn’t want to be caught short.   Plus, my kids love granny smiths over any other apple variety (they’re sour pusses, just like their mom), so I knew they wouldn’t go to waste.

By this time, I was wishing I had one of those fancy peeler/slicer/corer tools, but alas, there is only so much room in my kitchen, and I don’t.  So we set to work doing it by hand.  I should mention that at this point in the process, it was just me.  Hannah didn’t know she was about to be indentured into the preparation of this ginormous pie.  It was probably better that way.  By the time I’d cored what felt like the 27th apple, I waved her into the kitchen with my bruised palm to work her magic.

 

Hannah and Patrick are in charge of making the lunches for all the kids every day, and one of the jobs Hannah enjoys is slicing apples for the kids.  Since I received a really sharp knife a few years ago as a birthday present, we can do all sorts of culinary tricks with it.  Chopping up cauliflower is like cutting through butter.  Chopping and mincing are a breeze, and Hannah has honed her slicing skills to see just how thin she can slice an apple.  I think she’s to the point where we can see through them!  In any case, I knew that she was the perfect person for the job.  I needed many thin slices to stack as high as possible inside the crust, and she was able to deliver.

As willing as Hannah was to lend me a hand with the apples, as soon as they were completed, she slipped into the other room to do whatever it is fourteen-year-olds do.  Perhaps it was to text her friend, “My mom just made me slice, like, two thousand apples! Ugh!”  along with all the appropriate text-speak that I pretend to be up on.   It was just as well.  When she’s ready to make a pie, I’ll be happy to teach her at every step, but I don’t want to push it on her.  I love to bake and want her to love it too.   This is the no-brainer step, as I like to think of it:  flour, sugar, lemon juice, and then (shhh! my cheating step…I use pumpkin pie spice in my apple pie.  All the seasonings are mixed together so I don’t have to.  I barely even measure them out, but sprinkle and stir until the color and aroma seem right).

Finally we’re almost getting to the baking point, the it’s-going-to-smell-sooooo-good-in-your-house-for-the-next-several-hours point.  That’s almost as good as eating it for me.  Way better than a Glade Plug-in, that’s for sure.

At this point, I start to wonder if I’ve gone completely mad in making such a huge pie.  There are supposed to be six adult consumers who may or may not be eating sweets at any given time plus eight children who may or may not like apples in their desserts tonight.   Is this overkill?  No matter, I tell myself, plus it’s too late to change.  The deep dish, enough pie for an army, it is.

My crusts always turn out the same.  I’ve looked at and studied different ways to decorate the crust–whether it be a fork, or a fancy cut-out design, but every time it ends being the “two finger pressed into the thumb” edging.   Oh well.  That’s just the kind of person I am: once I find something that works, I don’t venture too far from it.  In some ways, that’s good.  I’m sure I could use a little peril every once and again, however.

It’s only now that I realize I’m out of aluminum foil and have absolutely none in the house.  Because this baker is bigger than the usual pie plate, the usual crust protector like the one seen here doesn’t fit across the monstrosity.  I start to panic a wee bit, but think of my neighbor across the street.  That afternoon, Kelly was my hero because she came to the rescue with three strips of foil–enough to cover the edges of my pie and ensure that the crust didn’t overbrown.  Three strips of foil may not be a big deal any other time, but when it’s pie time, it will make or break your creation.  Thank you, Kelly!

Skip ahead around 15 minutes at 425 degrees and then another 35-45 minutes at 325 degrees and you’ve got yourself a beautiful pie that dwarfs any strange Lego minifigs you may have wandering through your kitchen (we have a plethora at our house, but they don’t limit themselves to the kitchen alone! They can be found in the dryer most days, and underfoot when it’s dark at night.)

And a lovely smelling house.

The pie, thankfully, turned out perfect.   At some point during the behemoth’s cooking time, I usually start to wonder if it’s too big to bake the crust all the way through on the bottom without overbrowning the top.   This time, however, there was no need to worry.  It was flaky on the top and around the crust, the apples were soft but not mushy, and the bottom was just fine.  Served with some vanilla ice cream, it could have been a meal in itself (not counting the lack of protein or veggies….I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about me in regards to even suggesting to have pie for dinner…)

 

And while it’s true that the children in attendance for this evening’s dessert chose cake and ice cream or just ice cream (with the exception of Hannah.  Patrick, to my utter surprise, skipped dessert altogether.), this is the damage done by those of us who indulged.   I did feel like someone could have rolled me home, but it was a good roll.  A happy roll.  A full of still-warm apple pie with a smidge of ice cream roll.   I’d do it again if I had six pounds of apples and three strips of foil.

If you’re interested, here’s the recipe I started with, straight from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.

Apple Pie

1 recipe Pastry for Double-Crust Pie (this is what google is for, people)

6 cups thinly sliced, peeled cooking aples (about 2 1/4 pounds)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

3/4 cups sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 raisins or chopped walnuts (optional)

Prepare and roll out Pastry for Double-Crust Pie.  Line a 9-inch pie plate with half of the pastry.  If desired, sprinkle apples with lemon juice. In a large mixing bowl stir together sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Add apple slices and, if desired, raisins or walnuts.  Gently toss till coated.  Transfer apple mixture to the pasty-lined pie plate. Trim pastry to edge of pie plate.  Cut slits in remaining pastry; place on filling and seal.  Crimp edge as desired.  To prevent overbrowning, cover edge of pie with foil.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes.  Remove foil. Bake for 25-30 minutes more or until top is golden.  Cool on a wire rack.  Makes 8 servings.

 

 

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