Monday, December 30, 2013


In an effort to make at least a couple of my Christmas gifts this year, I found myself flipping through the pages of my Martha Stewart Living magazine, looking for a new project. When I landed on something called "Bacon Jam" I knew it was something that needed to be made, like, right now.
There does seem to be a national obsession with bacon as of late - donuts sprinkled with bacon bits, bacon flavored chocolate bars and enough bacon covered items in the novelty gift shops to take over your whole house (I'm looking at you bandages, toothpaste and bacon-scented fake mustache!)
photo source
I got in on the bacon action by frying up a pound and a half to create a few sets of this jam to give as gifts.
First the time consuming part: dicing up and cooking all of that bacon!
After the bacon was browned and set aside, I removed most of the bacon grease from the pan and added the shallots and garlic until tenderized. Chili powder, ginger and dry mustard was added to the pan. Maple syrup and bourbon was thrown in and brought to a boil, followed by the vinegar and brown sugar. I didn't have sherry vinegar, so settled for red wine vinegar.
Once the bacon was added to the liquidy brown sugar mixture the smell started to be a bit amazing. This kept simmering until the liquid thickened up. Then I transferred everything to the food processor to chunk it up a bit further. The jam has a great smoky taste with just a kick from the bourbon and chili powder spices.

Full recipe can be found on Martha's site here.
Beyond the recipe itself, I followed Martha's suggestions for presenting the jam as gifts, including picking up a set of airtight glass jars from The Container Store. 
A gift tag, package of crostini and sharp white cheddar accompanied each jam jar. No real room on the tag for the whole explanation of how to make the jam, so I left it at the ingredient list for now, knowing my blog would be featuring the recipe very shortly!
Treat bags from Michaels housed the set and I kept them in the fridge until present time. Why yes, this photo of the finished product was taken in the car on the way to Christmas festivities! 
So what's the verdict, is our bacon-obsessed culture here to stay? What will be the next hot food item of 2014? 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Wrappity Wrap Wrap

For the third year in a row I busted out the giant rolls of paper from Staples to create my own "brown paper packages tied up with string." Not having to deal with a dozen rolls of half empty wrapping paper floating around the house? Yes, please. The last two years I featured similar themes, with a set of alphabet stamps doing the honors for the to's and from's. 
This year I made use of the tags I made several months back. They have sat patiently in their tin since May, waiting for their time to shine.
One trip to Michaels later and I had a basket full of 70% off ribbon and decor accoutrement. Glitter: both beautiful and evil. It seriously gets everywhere. I've probably got a lung-full after working with all of these gifts.
I bought several of these floral pieces, enough for each person in my family to get one gift with a little extra something on it.
Since I found the floral decor at Michaels first, I then grabbed enough spools of ribbon to somewhat match. I tried to pick out tags that had the same color scheme to tie it all together, like this blue-hued gift below.

One of my gifts was an "order form" for holiday mantel scarves, like this Halloween one I made a few months back. I decided rather than guess at what fabrics my sister, aunt and mother would like and what length to make them, I would let them tell me. To dress up the gift, I put them in plain white envelopes with a tag, ribbon and extra bit of decor attached to the front.
Another set of gifts all wrapped up and ready for the holidays! Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hip to be Square

My tradition of making my own Christmas cards is facing dangerous territory as our list expands with each year. I used to cap out at making no more than a dozen cards, allowing me to spend loads of time on each, like this one from Christmas' past. That year's "play on words" theme also featured my all-time favorite card: "The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that Jack Nicholson soon would be there."
This year I had about 40 to send out, so looked to Pinterest for a fun design I could make in bulk. Months ago I pinned this card, as a fan of color blocking and knowing I had a one-inch square punch on hand. 
I decided to grab my holiday themed paper and go to town. Each card used 12 squares, so I spent the better part of an evening just creating the stacks of inchies. 
Once I laid out the design on the card, things moved along pretty quickly. 
I relied on glue dots as opposed to a glue stick to prevent the paper from curling up or getting too heavy.
A quick stamp at the bottom of each sealed the deal on the front and then Bob took over with a holiday message in each and addressing all of our envelopes. He's the handwriting expert in this family.
Merry Christmas to all! Hope the festivities are fun for you!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Slow as Molasses

My usual go-to holiday cookie is the Chocolate Crinkle. In fact, I've made these every year since I was in my teens. This year will be no exception, but I found myself trolling the cookie recipes when an Exchange at work was announced. Or if I'm being honest, not when it was announced, but when I had four hours left in my Sunday and the exchange was taking place on Monday at 9am.

I knew I was going to make a batch of crinkles later that week for our family Christmas - we're celebrating this weekend due to crazy family travel schedules - so I wanted to find something a bit different for work. After reviewing America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, I landed on Molasses Spice.

I've always loved Molasses cookies - did you guys have Archway cookies at your grocery store? I grew up grabbing these off of the store shelves, but have never made them myself.
photo source
I ran to the store for allspice and molasses - and hey, while we're at it, more butter, eggs, flour and sugar. 'Tis the baking season, after all. 

Molasses Spice Cookies
Makes 24
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp salt
12 Tbs (1 1/2 sticks) softened, unsalted butter
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup light or dark molasses

Pre-heat oven to 375. Set aside 1/2 cup of sugar for rolling the cookies. Whisk dry ingredients (flour through salt) together. In the mixer bowl, beat butter brown sugar and remaining 1/3 cup sugar. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Then mix in molasses. Add flour mixture and keep on low speed until combined. With wet hands, roll dough into balls and then roll into the sugar. Lay on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Or, if you are like me and don't have parchment paper on hand, use greased tin foil, just to ensure no sticking! Bake for 10-12 minutes, one sheet at a time, taking them out when there are cracks along the top but seem underdone on the inside.

The KitchenAid mixer made things go pretty quickly and soon enough I was rolling the dough in a shallow dish of sugar and popping them in the oven.
Our oven likes to overcook things, so I was keeping a close eye on the cookies. The first batch looked pretty perfect on top, but were slightly overdone on the bottoms. I realized I had to go even further against instincts and take them out when they barely looked baked at all. 
The second batch was perfect - they hardened on the wire rack quickly and stayed softer and chewier longer.
I packed them in a tin and brought them in for the exchange. I like to dump my cookies on a display plate and then use my same tin to collect all of the others. That night I came home with gingerbread, cut outs, chocolate peppermint and more. Even a few Oreos from a non-baker who means well. And, of course, extra Molasses Cookies for home!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Before, During and After

I'm going to let the pictures do all of the talking in this post!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

When You Give a Guy Some Cranberries. . .

When my parents were here for my niece's birthday party a few weeks back, we were the recipients of a butternut squash from their garden and a package of fresh cranberries (not from their garden, but from Wisconsin). The squash was put to good use almost immediately in a co-starring role with an acorn squash in the hit Velvety Squash Soup
But the cranberries? What to do, what to do. . .Bob took the reins and started some searching. He combined his expertise at making bread with our desire for a dessert that night without having to make us go to the store.
He started by chopping up the berries to create the filling. Ode to a food processor. . The filling also contained 1/2 cup sugar. The recipe called for orange peel of which we were fresh out. He boiled the sugar and berries over medium heat and then simmered until thick.
After mixing the dough, chilling it for a bit and rolling it out, he added the berry mixture to the middle.
He folded the dough into thirds, pressed the edges shut and then cut into 1 inch strips. Then he twisted each strip to form wreaths. We covered these for awhile to give them another chance to rise before sticking them in the oven.
In not too much time at all - 15 minutes at 400 degrees - we had our dessert! Voila - Cranberry Wreaths!
If you couldn't tell, I was making the squash soup at the same time Bob was making the wreaths. Hence my soup picture's background of a floured counter surface! What can I say, we only have a few areas with good lighting in our place for foodie photos.

What holiday recipes are you tackling this month?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Vacation Keepsakes

Multiple times during our New England vacation, Bob and I would find ourselves attracted to a souvenir, waiting for one person to make the move to purchase. Then we would shrug and say, "eh, we're on vacation, let's get it!"

We've got a pretty good track record of sentimental keepsakes from our vacations. We bypass the touristy shops filled with snowglobes and picture frames, and instead focus on finding decor for our home. I will admit that while in London I sought out a tiny telephone booth and walked into every tourist shop I could to find the perfect size. And I still ended up buying one that is actually a toy bank.
In Egypt, we set our sights early in the trip on bringing home a set of alabaster vases. These were all over the place, complete with Tourist Trap attractions to test out making your own.
We found this set of three at a bazaar, and after some tough negotiations they were all ours. The vases glow when a tea light is placed inside, and we've used them for table decor during dinner parties and holidays to help set the mood.
We also bought a papyrus that eventually got framed for our hallway. More about the story of this papyrus here.
Our honeymoon trip to Belize gave us this little wooden bird, who now lives on a shelf in our living room. 
So now it was New England's turn to make us some memories. In Vermont we found ourselves stopping at a giant warehouse of a store called The Christmas Loft. Sure, it was September, but as a girl obsessed with ornaments and holiday decor, I knew this had to be a stop. We walked away with a little Jim Shore Halloween ornament who fit in quite nicely on the mantel this year.
I had to snap a picture of the Jim Shore wall for my sister. She collects the Santas and I think her collection is starting to rival The Christmas Loft's!
I've wanted a Nutcracker for awhile now, but haven't been a fan of the glitzy and glittery ones I always see in the stores nowadays. When we saw this little fellow (he stands just about 11 inches) and felt how soft his fur hat was, we looked past the $90 price tag and had him wrapped up. "Eh, we're on vacation. Let's get it!"
As we prepared to leave Burlington, Vermont, we stopped at the Farmer's Market to see what the area had to offer and to grab a snack for the road. You don't usually see booths set up selling alcohol, let alone giving out samples at 10 in the morning, but the allure of gin infused with honey was enough for Bob to plunk down the Visa for this offering from Caledonia Spirits
At the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire, Bob and I followed the 90 minute tour up with a gift shop stop. I've always loved Shaker furniture - I think it goes back to a high chair we always had in our house growing up made in the style. We picked up a medium sized wooden box in light blue. Still looking for the perfect place in the house for this one.
I couldn't pass up this carefully crafted wooden ornament. I really need to watch myself this year. I think last holiday season I was gifted or bought myself at least 10 ornaments. Our trees need to get bigger if I'm going to be going at this rate.
The cute shops in Bar Harbor, Maine were plentiful. Bob was drawn to some canvas paintings he saw at a shop called Spruce & Gussy. This one by Linda Rowell-Kelley found a place on our wall.
Wait, let me give you some size perspective. Can you find it? Small but mighty, we noticed after putting it up that the lamplight shines perfectly onto it like a little spotlight. 
What do you tend to buy when you are on vacation? Are you adding to a shot glass collection, or maybe going the Christmas ornament route? Am I being too judgmental of the tourist stores that seem to have an endless supply of witty t-shirts ("Unbelizeable!") and magnets shaped like states?