Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Christmas 2023, Gift 4: Sourdough Bread

Today's gift is the bulk of the gifts I am giving this year.  Immediate family is getting a loaf of sourdough bread per household this year as I want to spread the sourdough love :).  Sourdough starter, to me, has become as precious as any precious metal people can name.  Sourdough really is the best bread.  I've tried so many recipes over the years, but once I started baking with sourdough I'm not going back to other methods of baking bread if I can help it.  

I use King Arthur Flour's Rustic Sourdough Bread Recipe, but a while ago I made a change to the method because the original recipe has you bake it in the oven on sheet pans, which works, don't get me wrong, but I prefer the dutch oven method of baking sourdough as it gives a superior product.  After the bread has gone through it's first initial rise, I get two bowls and place parchment paper in them and then form the dough into two circular loaves and place in the bowls (I use my kitchen scale, I will readily admit, to make sure the loaves are pretty much the same size) and then set a timer for 1/2 an hour for the bread to rise in the bowls (cover bowls with plastic wrap or a damp towel).  

While the bread is rising, I place two 3 quart cast iron dutch ovens in the oven to heat up while the oven preheats to 425 F.  After the 1/2 an hour is up and the bread has risen, I score the top of the loaves with a knife (I like to just do a good old "x" on the top).  Remove the dutch ovens from the oven and place on the stovetop, carefully removing the lids (be careful to remember that those suckers are now 425 degrees so you don't get burned...I've heard horror stories).  Then I lift the bread, parchment paper and all (lift by the parchment paper) and CAREFULLY place the loaves of bread into the dutch ovens.  Place the lids back on the dutch ovens and put back into the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes and then remove the lids.  Bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Remove dutch ovens from oven and then remove the bread carefully from the dutch ovens (I lift them by the parchment paper) and place on cooling racks to cool (remove the parchment paper after you get them onto the cooling rack).  Wait for the bread to cool for at least an hour before you cut into it for the best results (confession:  A lot of times we make it about 20 minutes and then start slicing into it).  

I don't do large scale sourdough starter, so baking sourdough loaves for everyone has actually taken a decent amount of time this year.  I'd use a cup of sourdough starter, feed my starter, wait for it to get happy and then put back into the fridge until the next day, put the starter out on the counter to get warm and happy and start the whole process over again.  After the loaves cooled I placed them in heavy duty bread bags, I use these (affiliate link!) as they are the best bags I have found that help to keep the bread safe and fresh and used the ties that came with the bags to seal them.  I then just stuck all of the loaves, as I made them, into the freezer for Christmas Day (so they don't have time to mold before than or get stale).  I hope the family likes them as sourdough really is a labor of love :).

So, yeah, pics are of a couple of rounds of sourdough I'd done right before I went to put them into the freezer.  I only have one more round of sourdough products to make and I'm done with Christmas gifts (woohoo!).

Enjoy all!

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Christmas 2023, Gift 3: Crocheted Christmas Tree Ornament

I can't take credit for this gift idea.  I saw an ornament like this on Pinterest and thought it looked cute, easy and quick.  And I was right on all accounts!

If you can knit a long row of stitches and bind off or you can crochet a single chain of stitches with any type of yarn you like, you can make these.

I just took a chunky yarn I had, crocheted a straight line and as I went I kept folding the chain I'd done over itself in a wavy type of line to make the Christmas tree.  When I had it the length I wanted (and the tree was big enough for my tastes), I finished the chain, tied off, and then went to work with the line I made.  I took another type of yarn I had in my stores in brown and then I made the Christmas tree on a flat surface so it was all lined up right.  I then took my crochet hook and went down through the tree in the middle so the hook came out of the middle of the bottom "branch" of the tree.  I then cut a length of my brown yarn so it was a decently long amount (better safe than sorry, I say) and knotted one end well so it wouldn't slip through the crocheted stitches that made up the tree.  I then just started slowly pulling the crochet hook back through the tree with the brown yarn in tow.  I'd stop between every layer and carefully put my crochet hook down (with the rest of the tree still on it) while I knotted the brown yarn in between the layers to create a "trunk" for the tree.  From what I saw on Pinterest you could also use beads for this, but I couldn't find my beads, so I just went with good old knots instead.  Once all the layers were done, the tree was essentially knotted together and done, but the ends of the tree looked weird just kind of hanging out in space, so I took a bit more green yarn and tied the hanging ends onto the branch above or below to make it look better.  I then crocheted a little trunk for the tree (not necessary if you aren't experienced enough to do that) and then tied a hanging piece of yarn to it and voila!  Tree ornament!

The time this took was nothing, honestly, as I'm decently fast at crochet now a days.  The biggest thing I had problems with was the green yarn LOVED to fray and separate on me, so I was having to be slow and careful to pull the yarn through the center of the tree.  Overall, though, I think it turned out cute and didn't take up a lot of time.  This went into a gift box with some of the cinnamon applesauce ornaments and another gift done!  Yay!

I am sure there are more in depth patterns for these online if you do a quick search.  I just eyeballed mine.


Friday, December 15, 2023

Christmas 2023, Gift Two: Roasted Candied Nuts

This is a recipe that I made up years ago when I ran a recipe blog to help me cope with my kids various food intolerances and allergies at the time (I am truly thankful that today we only have to deal with the peanut allergy when it comes to food instead of the garlic, corn, oat and other things I had to deal with back then).  I made this around the holidays after thinking back on my time working in the college program at Walt Disney World (short version of that story:  I did not have an enjoyable experience) and the roasted candied nut cart they used to have at Epcot Center where I fell in love with roasted candied nuts.

I have made these a few times throughout the years and decided to make some to give away in small baggies as kind of a snacky type of gift for a few people with a few other gifts.  This was also a way to use up some nuts that had gotten buried in my freezer and I wanted to use up without me eating them all *ahem*.  

A few things I learned this year with this recipe.  One:  This recipe had always turned out well for me in the past with the previous ovens I had, but I think I over browned the sugar mixture on the stovetop the first time I made it and so when I went to roast them in the oven the outer edge nuts ended up burning on me (which will make a nut lover like me want to cry) and I hadn't even roasted them the full time yet.  So, do watch these when they are in the oven as nuts love to burn (which sometimes we just have to remember those lessons).  I made a second batch and was way more careful watching them and they turned out well, (however I still had to pull them after the first initial roasting) so, once again be sure to watch them as oven temperatures vary.  The last bit of roasting with the 300 degrees is basically to help candy the mixture, but if the mixture when you stir it after the first initial roasting, is sticking to a spoon and getting hard quickly like candy, feel free to pull the nuts as the candy mixture is set up and ready to go at that point.

So, here you go folks.  This recipe does not call for sugar, instead it calls for maple syrup and honey (when this was written was the start of people avoiding refined sugar), which lends it a wonderful flavor.  I also have started, when making this, to coat the final nuts in powdered sugar for added "snow like" effect.

Roasted Candied Nuts
  • 2 Cups pecans or other nuts
  •  1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 TBS honey
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • pinch to 1/4 tsp (depending on heat preference) Cheyenne pepper
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

2.  Combine maple syrup, honey, vanilla and salt in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat until mixture reaches a near boil.  Add cinnamon and Cheyenne pepper, stir well and then add nuts to mixture.  Stir well till all nuts are coated with the mixture. 

3.  Bring mixture back to a simmer.  Pour nuts onto a well greased parchment lined baking sheet that has a rimmed edge (grease pan, place parchment on pan and then grease me this stuff is sticky).  Be sure to spread nuts into an even layer on baking sheet.  Place in 400 degree oven for about 7 minutes or until nuts start to smell nutty.  Stir nuts.

4.  Lower heat to 300 degrees. 
5.  Keep roasting and stirring nuts every few minutes until sugar mixture turns deep brown and clings to the nuts.  Remove pan from oven and let nuts cool on pan.  Mix nuts a couple of times as they cool (it'll stop them from sticking together as they cool).  You can also sprinkle a little more salt on the nuts before they cool (if you like a bit of a salty flavor), but be gentle with it as you don't want the salty taste overpowering your sweet.  Once cool, break nuts into individual nuts (or cluster sizes you like) and toss with powdered sugar (optional).
6.  Place in a bowl and store at room temperature and serve or place in an airtight container for up to a week or place in decorative containers of choice (small cellophane bags are really cute with this) and give away as gifts at the holidays.


Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Christmas 2023 Gift One: Applesauce Cinnamon Ornaments

This is one of those recipes that is so easy that it will blow your mind, but also comes together in a really pretty and rustic type of decoration.  I first made these ornaments years ago when my kids were small.  We'd just invested in a bigger tree than our little apartment tree we'd used for years and I had next to no ornaments to put onto it.  I wanted the tree to be pretty for the kids, but didn't have any money to spend for expensive boxes of ornaments.  I found this recipe and gave it a try.  And I loved it!  The ornaments will make your entire house smell like cinnamon, they look pretty on the tree and you can pack them away and use them year after year.  My old ornaments died years ago, due to the fact that Alvah decided he liked to eat them (PICA). Finally this year I thought back on these and decided to make them again to give some as gifts for his speech therapists and others.  So, let me show you how to make them!

Applesauce Ornaments


  • 1 Part Applesauce
  • 1 Part Cinnamon
  • Optional add ins:  A few dashes of nutmeg, cloves, other spices.  


1.  Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.

2.  In the bowl of a mixer, with a spoon (which is what I did this time) or other implement, mix the applesauce and cinnamon together to form a dough.  Go slow if you use an electric mixer of any type or you will be inhaling way too much cinnamon for comfort and you will have a cinnamon coating over your entire kitchen.  Once dough forms, mash it into a ball with your hands and, if you have a decent amount of dough, divide it into a few pieces so you don't have to roll out too much at once.  Put dough ball you are working with between two pieces of parchment paper (you can also use plastic wrap, but I have better luck with parchment paper).  

3.  Roll out dough to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness (thicker will just take a bit more time to dry out/bake if you prefer thicker ornaments).  Cut out with simple shaped cookie cutters (trust me, keep it simple.  This dough loves to break and is crumbly, so if you try to get too elaborate you'll be reaching for the eggnog wayyyyy too much to battle frustration).  Use a straw to cut a hole in each ornament so you ave a hole for string later on (after about three ornaments blow out the dough that will get caught in the straw to keep the straw will help your holes cut cleaner).  Use a spatula to transfer ornaments to parchment lined baking sheets (less likely to break that way).

4.  Bake in 200 F oven for two hours or until the ornaments are well dried.  Remove to cooling racks to cool completely.

I used 1/2 cup of applesauce and 1/2 cup of cinnamon for my batch this time around and I ended up with about two dozen ornaments.  Not bad at all.  

Alternate method (non bake method):  Place ornaments on baking sheets and place somewhere out of the way that is dry for 3 to 4 days or until ornaments are well dried.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Christmas Cookie Recipes

Hello again, all!

Blogging delayed, again.  We've just been super duper mega busy around here.  I've been turning and burning getting things decluttered around the house (I am determined to start out next year with a fresh and free type of feeling if I can), getting Christmas goodies made and all the things.  I have to say I'm tired, but I feel good that the season so far has been a lot of fun for the kids, which is important to me.  We have the tree up with the son's favorite candy canes on them (well...for about an hour until he eats them all...I have to do the flavored candy canes in stages or he'd make himself sick just gorging himself on those).  Gingerbread houses are made (I'll share pictures of those on another post), the advent calendar has candies in it that the kids are having fun opening the drawers every day to get their Andes mint.  Today I'm working on getting some Christmas gifts made as I am SO far behind on that.  I am, literally, just starting home made gifts today, which yikes...not a great start.  Hopefully I can get it done quickly this week as I really want to get some relaxation time in next week to just enjoy the holidays before they are here and over.

Now, onto what I did pretty much all of last week.  Christmas cookies!  I thought I'd share what I made in case you need some inspiration this year, so let's get to it!  Links are provided for the recipes in case you want to make them :).

1.  Basic Butter Cookies

Butter cookies are, by far, one of my favorite holiday treats.  When I saw what the price was for one thing of the blue tinned Dansk cookies, I decided to find a recipe to make my own.  

Opinions?  These are delicious.  Mine didn't turn out very flaky, but I did roll them out and cut them instead of putting them through a cookie gun (honestly, I just didn't want to clean the cookie gun...did I mention I am tired?  Lol!).  I'm mainly the one eating them right now, which I might be okay with *ahem*.  

2.  Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

This recipe made a ton.  Like 53 cookies, ton.  Since I made these the right way a few years ago (be sure to chill your dough overnight for the best results), these have become one of my daughter's favorite Christmas cookies.  

These turned out really well.  I used the espresso powder that was optional in the recipe, and it helped to probably boost up my cocoa powder, which was ancient.  My husband and daughter really like these.  I think they taste like a brownie cookie.  Both my husband and daughter say they are better than brownies.  You can make them and decide for yourself *laugh*.

3.  Cashew Butter Blossoms

I made these last year and they were a hit with the family, so I made them again this year.  I took the classic peanut butter blossom recipe and just subbed out cashew butter for the peanut butter.  This recipe made no where NEAR the 48 the recipe said they would.  I got 23.  But I think I made my cookies a lot bigger than called for (probably closer to a tablespoon as I couldn't find my melon baller, which is what I normally use to figure out a rounded teaspoon called for in recipes...I'm determined to organize my kitchen drawers next with a better system so I can find things).  I'm glad I got a pic of these when I did as my daughter blew through them and they are already gone.

4.  Gingerbread Cookies

Technically this recipe is for a gingerbread house, but the first time I made a gingerbread house with the recipe, my family, especially Alvah, fell in love with the gingerbread.  If you hate the ginger scented cardboard that a lot of gingerbread cookies end up being, you need to try this one.  It reminds me of Pepparkakor (Swedish spice cookies).  Let's just put it this way.  One recipe of this stuff calls for one TABLESPOON of ground ginger and one TABLESPOON of ground cinnamon.  Yeah, that heavily spiced.  I made a double batch this year and we used 1/2 for the gingerbread houses and one half for gingerbread cookies.  Alvah has already taken at least one bite out of each cookie, so I think he likes them *laugh*.

5.  Sugar Cookies

My husband's favorite Christmas cookie.  I use his Grandma Molly's recipe for sugar cookies every year and these are always a hit.  I did notice this year that Crisco has contains more water to pad out the weight, I think, and as a result I had to add more flour to get the right texture.  I also added a bit of tallow to the frosting for the cookies as it too called for Crisco, just to make sure everything would turn out right.  It did, but processed foods, yeesh.  I don't buy many outside of chips for Alvah, and boy do I notice a difference in quality, quantity and price with those things.  Irritating to say the least.

And yes, before some well intentioned individual pops in and says that Crisco is not good for you and such...I know.  But, I only buy a little 16 oz thing of Crisco every year for Christmas baking, so I'm not too worried about it.

And there you go folks.  The Christmas cookies I made this year.  I'm still considering making some thumbprint cookies closer to Christmas so I can hopefully have some for my birthday (it's the week after Christmas) as I love those things, but we'll see how much I want to bake after the holidays are progressed further *laugh*.

Enjoy all!