Monday, November 29, 2010

yummmmm..... nutella cookies

As I mentioned in the last post, I have a lot of butter in my house right now.  That can be dangerous, I know, but it also makes whipping up a batch of cookies pretty simple and painless (unless you count the calories-but at Christmas that just seems cruel).  So, when I saw this blog party linked on one of my favorite blogs (Anything Pretty) I knew just the cookie I wanted to share. 

My kids LOVE Nutella and they come by it honestly.  We always have it in the house and my kids actually prefer it to peanut butter when it comes to lunchbox sandwiches.  Many of their friends have been confused over the years by their "chocolate sandwiches" and many more have been converted to Nutella fans after having lunch at our house.  But, back to the cookies.  I found this recipe several years ago, on the Food Network-it was actually for Halloween but we love them anytime and especially at Christmas. 

Here's how they looked last Christmas after we piped some snowflakes onto them and added those sweet little round sprinkles:

You can find the original recipe here:  Giada's Hazelnut Chocolate Smoochies  I have made a few changes and don't usually use the kisses because we like the cookie in its natural state. 


1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (recommended: Nutella)

1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup orange sprinkles, or orange sugar

1 (9-ounce) package of chocolate candy kisses, unwrapped (recommended: Hershey's)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another medium bowl, place the chocolate hazelnut spread, butter, and both sugars. Using a hand mixer, cream the ingredients together, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and blend until incorporated. Stir in the dry ingredients, just until incorporated.

Shape the cookie dough into walnut-sized balls. Rolls the balls in the orange sprinkles or orange sugar, pressing to adhere. Place the cookies on a heavy cookie sheet about 4 inches apart. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven. Quickly place a chocolate kiss in the middle of each cookie. Return the cookies to the oven and bake for another 3 minutes. Cool the cookies on a wire rack.

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Dare to DIY

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cinnamon (and other) Scones from King Arthur Flour

One thing I love about this time of year is that I can shamelessly load my cart with tons of butter and blame it all on the baking.  I mean, really, you can't expect to be able to bake anything unless you have several pounds of (preferably Land O'Lakes) butter in your fridge and freezer, can you?  I certainly can't. 

Once you've stockpiled your butter, it's time to get serious about baking and planning for baking.  Last week, while innocently searching the web for a cinnamon scone recipe, I found the promised land (insert angelic voices singing here)  the KING ARTHUR FLOUR WEBSITE and lost myself for hours in their recipes, their blog and then their shop where they have all kinds of amazing things I never knew I even needed for baking.  Gourmet ingredients meets cool baking tools and acccessories and they even have gluten free stuff that will make baking for my mom (who has celiac) a lot simpler.

After drooling onto my laptop for several hours, I finally got down to the business of making these beauties, Triple Cinnamon Scones:

I didn't have all the ingredients that they suggest in the recipe, so I used a few substitutions-making mine only double cinnamon scones because I didn't have the cinnamon filling.  I also took the "traditional" route and sprinkled the scones with cinnamon sugar before baking rather than using the glaze they suggest. 

The recipe was very easy to pull together-basically some flour, sugar, baking soda (these are scones after all) and then some 1/2 and 1/2 (how could this go wrong? I ask you!) and eggs along with the cinnamon chips.  In case you haven't seen the cinnamon chips-I used these from Hershey:

So, it's just mix the dry ingredients, cut in 1 stick of butter and then add the wet-forming it into a log of dough and then cutting it however you want.  The recipe suggested these rectangular shapes and I really liked them. 

After a little freezing (30 minutes) and then a little baking (17 minutes seemed to do the trick) you have these amazing scones:

After these came out so, so, so good, I thought it might be time to change things up a bit.  If cinnamon scones are good, why not try something a little more chocolatey?  And, if chocolate is good, isn't coffee even better?  Why, yes, I think so!!  Here's where it got interesting:

I took the basic recipe, which results in a moist scone-pretty amazing in itself.  Then, I added some Starbucks, because really-why not? 

If you haven't baked with the Starbucks VIA instant coffee-believe me, you should.  It is perfect for baking.

I mixed it with the 1/2 and 1/2 and let it sit a while before mixing it in the egg and dry ingredients:

As it sits, all the granules dissolve and it smells heavenly.  I added it to the dry ingredients with the egg:

Then, I added the chocolate chips, mixed and formed it into a log.  I followed the directions from the King Arthur website about the size of the scone dough.  It's really helpful to know you are on the right track and kind of fun to use a ruler for baking.  Those little white spots in the dough are chunks of BUTTER, yes butter. I am pretty sure that's why these are so moist when they are done. 

Again, they went into the freezer and then the oven.  The end result was yummy!  Next time, I think I will sprinkle them with a little raw or sprinkle sugar for a touch of sweet (the dough isn't very sweet at all) and a little extra crunch which makes the cinnamon ones so delicious.  Hungry yet?  Here's a bite:

Here is the recipe for the Cinnamon ones (again, from King Arthur Flour)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Too early for Christmas decorating??

Ever since the kitchen went from disaster area to nearly completed, I have been DYING to put some decorative stuff in there.  Obviously, it's not Thanksgiving yet and we are having some family here for Turkey Day, so it's still a little too early for Christmas stuff, right??  right???  I really want to pull out some of my pretty red decorations and put them in my pretty "edgecomb gray" kitchen.  Somehow, I think all my decorations will look nicer this year, without the backdrop of pink and too bright green (the green was my fault, to be honest).

But, I am showing restraint.  Waiting, however impatiently, one more week-to put out lovelies like this one:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sneak Peek at the kitchen re-do

I have been hesitant (or lazy, you choose) to post photos of our kitchen renovation because we aren't quite finished.  Doing all the work ourselves has been awesome, humbling, frustrating and ultimately very rewarding.  Of course, if the budget had allowed, we  might have considered hiring someone, but I doubt it. 

This remodel technically did start with outside help last winter when we had the kitchen roof replaced, demolished the ceiling (that's the part we did-you can see the damage here) and our contractor basically rebuilt our ceiling so that it's vaulted.  I sort of hesitate to use the word vaulted because it's a really small kitchen, but there it is. 

Fast forward to this September and the project picked up some momentum again.  I spent several weeks painting cabinets, staining countertops and generally losing my mind.  This last week, with the finish line clearly in sight, we tackled a small project and the results are amazing. 

Here is the space we started with (before renovation)  And, yes, that is one pink countertop tucked underneath the other-don't ask:

Yep, pretty bad, all things considered.  After new counters, painted cabinets and a lot of work, it looked like this:

Much better, even with the glare.  There's something about not having pink countertops anymore that just makes me happy. 

I could never figure out why there was a big open space next to that cabinet, but maybe it was because of the configuration of the old countertops?  It would be hard to reach there over that L shaped pink structure that was there before. 

We purchased a sheet of MDF, which I had never worked with before.  It's actually pretty amazing and if you are painting it-a perfect material for a few small shelves.  We were lucky enough to already have shelf brackets on hand that we had picked up at our local builder's surplus store so it was just a matter of elbow grease to get this done. 

First, we measured; next my husband cut the MDF to the right size for the shelves we wanted. 

A few coats of the same paint that I used on the upper cabinets on the sink wall (Minced Onion by Benjamin Moore) and the shelves were ready to go in.  Leveling things in an old house, and especially this section of our house can be tough.  This section of our kitchen used to be a porch and has a decided slant to it, so it's definitely a bit of a challenge. 

My husband installed the brackets:

And, then the shelves finished off the whole thing:

It's kind of hard to believe it's the same space, but it is!  Here's a side by side of the very before and after:

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Public Service Announcement for all Lego enthusiasts and Target shoppers

It's been well documented on this blog that my youngest child, my son, loves Legos.  He eats, breathes and sleeeps legos and will regularly inform anyone who is listening that he wants to be a Lego designer when he grows up.  In fact, readers of my blog also love Legos because this post has gotten more hits than anything else I have ever written.  The cute photos of those chocolate minifigs went so far around that I got them sent TO ME.  Pretty cool, internet-thanks for that!

Anyway, with that information in mind, you can imagine my excitement when I found this at Target yesterday:

Thrilling, really-it's a Target gift card with a Lego set right there.  The very best part is that the Legos really are free.  The only charge is what you put on the gift card, so the Lego set is a bonus!  I grabbed it, stuck it in the cart with all good intentions of putting it in my son's stocking and honestly, patting myself on the back a bit.  Score!!  cool Lego stocking stuffer, right?? 

Not so much.  Here begins the PSA.  If you purchase this really cool gift card (the little plastic box is actually the gift card-cool!)  Do NOT,  I repeat, DO NOT  leave the gift card on the counter, completely visible, right next to the sink.  Because, if you do, when your Lego kid comes home and you tell him to wash his hands right away, the Lego gift card will be RIGHT THERE!!! 

He was totally excited and did have fun putting together "Bullseye" the little white Target dog, but yeah, not so much for the stocking stuffer.  Oh, well...  Maybe someone can learn from my mistake.  Here is what it will look like when it's finished (hopefully, for you on Christmas morning)

Christmas Card Photos thanks to Shutterfly

I have been using Shutterfly for pretty much all of my digital photo printing and organizing since shortly after I (finally) went digital.  Honestly, I had used another company when I was still using my beloved film camera, but once I was all digital, I made the switch to Shutterfly initially based on the fact that they didn't send me emails threatening to delete my old photos if I didn't place an order soon.  On their website, they state their policy pretty simply:  "Shutterfly has never deleted a photo."  I like that!  I also love that I can get my printed photos at my local Target. 

So, I was pretty excited when I found out that they are giving away 50 free photo cards to bloggers everywhere just for writing a 150 word post about their cards!  Count me in!  I love their cards, so it's not hard at all to write about them, and to spread the word that if you have a blog, you can get 50 cards (FREE) as well.  Here's the link for the promotion: 

Now, the worry about getting the perfect shot with 3 kids has begun.  I just finished up an awesome project about local parks and we found this spot in one of them:

I love white birch trees, especially a whole bank of them.  When we found this particular spot, both of my daughters said we should come back and take our Christmas card picture here (I was so proud). 

In years past, I have taken a group shot of all three of my kids together.  Honestly, it's been getting tougher and tougher every year.  The odds of getting everyone looking at the same time, and smiling and not doing bunny ears is statistically very low.  This year, for the first time ever, I am seriously considering changing over to one of the collage cards and taking individual shots of each kid and then putting those photos on the card. 

I think I will still take a few group pictures and see if I can use at least one on the card with the individual photos also.  I like to prove that for one day at least, they were sitting together nicely and not making bunny ears. 

After browsing through the selection of Christmas photo cards, these are my favorites so far:

With love Chartreuse (bonus that it's called chartreuse)

This one is really nice, too:

It's cute and called Peppermint Bliss

Now, all I have to do is get something for them to wear that doesn't clash, schedule some time for the photo, devise an appropriate bribe  treat for cooperation and hope that it doesn't rain.  Not too bad. 

If you've got a blog, be sure to sign up for your own 50 free cards, just follow this link and you will receive instructions on how to participate: 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Deadline and a Paycheck

I love listening to NPR-really, I do.  When I am home most days, whether I am working or not, it keeps me company.  Even though I am not always paying attention, I like to think that some sort of information or knowledge is seeping into my brain through radio osmosis.  I also really like the names of everyone who reports for NPR.  I think if I ever have another baby (which is very, very unlikely) or get a dog (again, not going to happen) I just my name it Owen Bennet Jones, just so I can say the name several times a day. 

Another, sometimes frustrating, consequence of all this radio listening is that bits and pieces, snippets of reports and interviews do often find their way into my long term memory, but they are only that:  bits and pieces.  I can't remember which show I was listening to (was it All Things Considered or Here and Now?  I wonder)

I am sharing all this, possibly boring, information because a few weeks ago I heard something that really stuck with me.  A musician was being interviewed and the reporter asked something along the line of "how did this album come together?"  The musician, half joking, answered:  "I got a deadline and a paycheck." 

Yes, so simple!!  I am deadline oriented and who doesn't want to get paid for their work?  When I have a writing job, even the most mind numbing, mundane topic (like vacuum cleaners or cell phones) I can get them done because I have both a deadline and a paycheck.  Brilliant!!!  (if you are imagining Owen Bennet Jones saying that in his British accent, you are not alone).

But, more often than not, the things I have to do are amorphous-no deadline and certainly no paycheck.  I spend a lot of my time on volunteer projects and those certainly have a deadline but always lack a paycheck.  Arbitrary, self-imposed deadlines don't really work for me-my own experience has proven that time and time again.  But, would it be possible to self-incentivize?  I am not sure.  Right now, my "to-do" list includes many things with deadlines that have to be done and will get done, but it also includes things like:

  • learn to use sewing machine (which I've had for at least 5 years)
  • hang frames in upstairs hallway (they somehow fell off over the summer)
  • organize photos on laptop (that could take literally a week)
  • write a novel (yeah, that is really on the list)
When it comes to following through, it's hard to find time (and, honestly sometimes the effort) for everything you want to accomplish and things just pile up.  In a day that also includes laundry, helping at school, cleaning out the fridge, shopping for socks because seriously everyone in the house only has one of each sock and some work thrown in, tthe things you want to accomplish get further and further aways. 

So, a deadline and a paycheck-I can dream, right?  I am giving myself a deadline to learn to use my sewing machine-otherwise it goes!  Those frames need to get back on the wall and I am plugging along on my novel this month at Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month).  None of these have a paycheck, yet-but I hope the deadline helps.