Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wow. 2009, where did you go?

Christmas was awesome this year; my husband spoiled me and my kids are amazing... all the typical blog gushing. We had an amazing season- a great end to a great year, with the exception of the very untimely and unexpected passing of my wonderful sister in law, Shelby's, mom this last week. My heart goes out to Shelby, my brother, Sam, and all the the Ratto family.

This next year promises to bring lots of excitement. Aside from the everyday miracles in watching my own children grow, the coming year has blessings around every turn. Gabe and Gigi are expecting their first AND second cousin this April. Two of Mike's sisters, Cassi (expecting a boy) and Kelsie (expecting a girl) are due within two days of each other. It's an exciting and emotional time for the whole family. There are also the weddings of my TWO best friends this year. Mariah and Travis are getting hitched in May, and Jen is eagerly awaiting the return home of her husband, Justin, so they can have their wedding ceremony in November.

On the down side, I'm fat. I need to get my chubby butt in good shape for all these weddings I'm in. I hate being out of shape. I feel better when I exercise and my clothes fit... but I REALLY HATE making new years resolutions. They never mean anything to people... most people quit the first day and the rest within the first month. Regardless, I WILL start exercising. My wonderful husband bought me the most wonderful gift ever: a new stroller! I've needed and wanted one since Gigi was born, 18 months ago! But, I'm not doing this because it's a New Years Resolution, instead, because I've always loved to walk and run... I just took a 6 month break, now I'm back, and, hopefully, my back will be back.... or something like that...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Goodness

I'm not a very big drinker, and I'm definitely not a RUM drinker, so when Mike asked me to make Hot Buttered Rums for our Christmas party, I figured I wouldn't even taste them. I found a recipe online and it got great reviews, so what do I do? I change it. I did try it as it was called for, but I REALLY liked how mine turned out. (You make a mix that goes in the fridge or freezer then you mix it with the alcohol later.) They were the hit of the party and then Mike asked me to make a ginormous batch for the bar and I had people who had sworn their recipe was the best ever ask for MINE. They said it was their new favorite! So, since I've taken to putting different recipes to my blog, I thought I'd add this one, too! I forgot to mention, I ALSO made this drink with vanilla vodka and that was more my style, but I don't know what you'd call that... Hot Buttered Vanilla Vodka...??? It doesn't quite have the same ring to it.



1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp molasses
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp (plus a pinch!) of ground nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vanilla ice cream (softened)

Dark Rum (or Vanilla Vodka)
Hot water
Whipped cream or Cool Whip (optional)

Cream together softened butter, sugars an molasses. Add in Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, Vanilla and Salt. Beat until well mixed. Add softened ice cream (too cold and it hardens your butter!) Beat well and then store in fridge until set.

In an 8 oz glass:

Put one heaping ice cream scoop worth of mix into glass. Add 2 oz of rum. Boil your water and remove from heat to slightly cool. Pour very hot water into glass and fill. Stir until melted. Top with whipped cream or Cool Whip and a sprinkle of nutmeg. You could also garnish with cinnamon sticks!

yield approx 6-8 drinks

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Monkey and Banana Cookies

A great and inexpensive party favor, I've done sugar cookie treat bags for the past two years on Gabe's birthday. This year, I had a little left over dough, so I thought I'd share how I did it.

Sugar Cookies

3/4 cup shortening
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (for easter cookies, I use 1 tsp lemon extract!)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups flour

Thoroughly mix shortening, sugar, eggs and flavoring. Blend in baking powder, salt and flour.

Cover and chill for at least one hour... or overnight.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

roll dough 3/8" thick (1/4 " if using cookie cutters) I just started using powdered sugar in the place of flour to powder my work surface. It doesn't keep things as "sticky-free" but it does keep the dough from getting that pasty taste it can get after multiple rolls with flour.

I DO NOT have any fancy baking equipment. To make both cookies, I used a large glass (which doubled as my rolling pin), a medium glass and the top to a sprinkles container.
Cut your face shape out with medium sized glass. After cutting my medium circles and placing them on my ungreased cookie sheet, I used the perimeter of a circle as my guide for cutting the ears out. Using the round top to my sprinkles, I cut two 3/4 circles for each head.

it them onto the head. 10 and 2 works well, higher and you get mickey mouse...
This picture doesn't do much justice, but you then "score" the pieces together. To do that, using a toothpick or another fine, sharp impliment, scratch fine lines from one piece to the other. I will usually pat down the area and then score again.

To make the banana shape, I made a full circle with the large glass then cut into that with the medium to make a crescent moon shape. Consider making your "moon" slightly more narrow than your desired final result because you cookie will grow :)
When I transfer onto the cookie sheet, I bend the shape into a more obtuse angle and then cut the points off either end.
Icing for sugar cookies is all about consistancy. Too thin and it becomes transparent and then crunchy when dry, too thick and it gets dry and powdery looking and doesn't stick well (especially important when you are putting as many sprinkles on as these cookies have)

I like to use:
1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup) softened
3-4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4-6 Tbs milk

mix together with beaters adding sugar gradually and one Tbs. of milk at a time. This seems anal, but consistency is so big to me, I alway will take the time. Your icing should be light and fluffy but have a slight satiny look to it.

To make the flesh color, I tint the white frosting with cocoa powder. It does give it a slight chocolate flavor, but it is very light. Frost the whole cookie with this color.

Using construction paper, draw a circle close to the size of the head and then draw the shape of the face. Also, cut two gum drop shaped pieces of equal size to fit in either ear. Cut these out and poke a hole in them with a tooth pick.
Fit these pieces onto the cookie being careful not to push the toothpicks too deep into the ears. If they happen to crack, use some of your icing to "glue" them back together. It really does work (trust me, it happened a few times!)

Sprinkle generously, lightly pressing into the exposed frosting. Remove the patterns and use a toothpick to cover the toothpick holes and move any loose sprinkles.

Use more sprinkles for the nose and two white chocolate chips for the eyes- upside down and pushed in.

I used more frosting, darkened to a rich brown with lots of cocoa powder and additional help from red, blue and green food coloring. It should end up being about the color of Hershey's chocolate. Put into a baggie with a tiny bit cut off the corner, I used this for the piping... dots on the eyes, the mouth and the outlining on the banana.
Allow to dry for 24 hours (preferably out of the eyesight of 3 year olds.) The less handling the better as the sprinkles can become loose.

Vanilla Mini Cupcakes...

I LOVE CUPCAKES and am constantly trying new recipes...I really like how these turned out, light, but not too crumbly, sweet but subtle and the tops have a nice, light crisp to them. I, also, really liked these in the mini size for the party. They tiny size totally justified having two...or three...

Vanilla Mini Cupcakes

Here is the yummy cupcake recipe I used...

Makes approx. 4 dozen mini (about 2 dozen regular)

1½ sticks butter (softened)
1¾ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsps vanilla
½ tsp salt
2½ tsps baking powder
2½ cups flour
1¼ cups milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Line mini-muffin tins with paper liner

In a large bowl: cream together butter and sugar. Add in eggs, vanilla, salt and baking powder- beat well. Add in flour in three batches alternating with milk. Mix until very smooth.

Fill paper liners to the top, but not overflowing for the best size. Bake for 13-16 min until the edge of the tops are light golden brown and toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Cool on rack completely, at least 30 min to an hour. (If they are still warm, your frosting can melt!)

Delicious Cream Cheese Frosting:
This is my favorite frosting... more flavor than buttercream and subtler than most cream cheese...

1 stick butter
4 oz cream cheese (half package)
1 1/2 tsps vanilla
4-6cups powdered sugar
approx. 1/4 cup milk

Cream together softened but not warm butter and cream cheese. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar and one tablespoon of milk at a time until desired sweetness and consistency. Frosting should be very thick but smooth. For this particular cupcake, I prefer a sweeter flavor to a strong cream cheese, so I tend to add more sugar. It's easier to thin the frosting while keeping your desired flavor than to thicken it up without making it too sweet so I ALWAYS add milk in slowly and sparingly.

(For a more "crystally" finish to your frosting, you can add Bakers Sugar which is a VERY fine granulated sugar. There is a bit more of a texture, but it's not grainy like regular sugar. You will still need to use powdered sugar.)

Cupcake decorating for the cheap... I put my frosting (typically colored with food coloring) into a plastic baggie and trim off a corner. I start on the outer rim and swirl my way to the inside.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Count To Three

Yesterday, we celebrated Gabe's birthday. We had friends and family over for a pasta feed. I LOVE when I get an excuse to cook for people, because otherwise, I rarely do it.

Gabe was well behaved and Gigi stole the spotlight, like normal. He got some great presents: clothes, a few toys (including a new Woody, RC from Toy Story, a drawing board, and some books), some movies and even a sled! And, Gabe, the master of enthusiasm, said things like, "Oh my gooooodness! Thank You!" and "So cool!" for every gift.

Thank you so much to everyone who came out to celebrate!

I took a few pictures before the party started, but didn't pick my camera up again the rest of the time.... ooops.

(watching the snow fall.... "come make 'snose'man, daddy!")
(treat table)
(monkey and banana cookie party favors)
(the mini cupcakes were a hit! I tried a new recipe and loved how they turned out... they were moist and soft in the middle with a slight crisp to the tops! YUM!)

We've been working on teaching Gabe how to answer basic questions... What's your name? How old are you? etc... He's doing so well! He sticks out his hand and says "My name is Gabey!" (we are working on, "it's nice to meet you"). When we ask how old he is, he says, "count to three!" It's too cute to correct.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Keeping the season alive...

I've never really seen Christmas through the eyes of a child... until now... and, wow, how amazing it really is. I have never enjoyed the season as much as I do right now.

For the first time, Gabe is really into Christmas. I mean, REALLY INTO CHRISTMAS. It has been such a joy. We watch Christmas movies on a loop. "The doggy movie" ("The Grinch" (he loves Max)), "The Choo Choo Movie" ("Polar Express"), "Frosty," "Santa"....the list goes on.

(They NEEDED "tickets" for the "Choo Choo Movie")

Gabe also LOVES our trees. He takes EVERY SINGLE PERSON who comes in to see them. "Come see Christmas! Come on! Christmas, this way..." He is so awesome.

(We came upstairs to find Gabe asleep here...)
(looking facing through the railings....)
(...right at our Christmas tree)
Mike and I have started taking the kids "Christmas Lighting," as well. We bundle the kids up, grab some cocoa, drive around town and point at houses. The kids' enthusiasm levels NEVER drop. 30 minutes later, Gigi is still exclaiming, "WOOOOW! PRETTY! COOL! YELLOW! BLUE!" And, Gabe is squealing, "LOOK, MOM! CHRISTMAS! SEE CHRISTMAS?! SEE SANTA?! MORE CHRISTMAS, MOM!" It's an absolute blast.

I hope every year is this exciting.

This is just an audio clip, but you get the idea.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas preview!

It's safe to guess, my parents don't know about this blog. So, with that, I am so excited to post part of their Christmas presents! Last weekend, the absolutely fabulous Stacy Jacobsen met up with us to take some pics of the kids! Mike and I even snuck in for a few- the first time since we got married 4 and a half years ago! As always, I am in awe of her amazing work! Thanks, Stace!