Cookies, Cookies, Cookies!

I know, I know.  The holidays are over and the baking is done.  Time for the new year and shedding a few holiday pounds.  Well, not in my house!  Every year I bake all day and put together a gift basket for my dad and step-mom and this year we’re doing our Christmas this Sunday so today was all about baking and baking and baking!
Everything that I made today is great for the holidays but who says you couldn’t make them any time of the year? Not me!  I love a good cookie any ‘ol time especially with a nice cup of hot coffee.  These cookies are nothing out of the ordinary but they are some of my tried and true favorites.

Lemon Bars

Lemon bars are one of my favorites.  Made with fresh lemon juice and a nice cookie crust, they melt in your mouth and melt your troubles away!  Now if they would just melt the holiday pounds off my thighs, I would love them even more.

Crust
2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter

Filling
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp lemon rind, grated

Mix flour, powdered sugar and butter in a food processor and press into a 13×9 pan.  Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.  For filling, mix eggs, sugar and lemon juice in a blender.  Blend until smooth.
Add 1/4 cup flour, baking powder and lemon rind and mix well.  Pour over crust and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.  Let cool then sprinkle with powdered sugar through a sifter.  Cut into bars are serve.

Lemon Bar Filling
Cookie number two is another bar and one of my dad’s all-time favorites.  They have just a handful of ingredients and are super easy and quick to put together. 
Walnut Bars
Dad’s Favorite Walnut Bars
2 eggs beaten
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts
Beat eggs with a wire whisk, add brown sugar and mix wel.  Add remaining ingredients.  Pour mix into an 8-inch square pan coated with cooking spray.  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.  Cool.  cut and roll in powdered sugar to coat.
Chocolate crinkles have always been a favorite of mine.  What’s not to love really?  Yummy soft chocolate cookie coated in powdered sugar… they’re irresistable.
Chocolate Crinkles
Chocolate Crinkles
3 beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 squares (4 oz) unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/2 cup cooking oil
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
powdered sugar
In a mixing bowl combine beaten eggs, sugar, melted chocolate, oil, baking powder and vanilla.  Add flour to chocolate mixture, stirring until combined.  Cover and chill for 2-3 hours.  Shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Roll balls in powdered sugar to coat generously.  Place 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake in a 375 oven for 10 minutes or until edges are set and tops are crackled.  Cool cookies on a wire rack.
Pour yourself a cup of coffee or a glass of milk and enjoy!

This next recipe comes straight off the Hershey’s Kisses package….
Ingredients:
48 Hershey’s Kisses
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
2 tbls. milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
granulated sugar
Heat oven to 375.  Beat shortening and peanut butter until well blended.  Add 1/3 cup sugar and brown sugar, beat until fluffy.  Add egg, milk and vanilla, beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt, gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.
Shape dough into 1 inch balls.  Roll in granulated sugar and place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Immediately press a Kiss into center of each cookie.  Cookie will crack around edges.  Remove from cookie sheet to cool on a wire rack.  Cool completely until chocolate is set.
After the baking was done, the cookies were cooled and put into tins and I had sufficiently sampled everything, I put it all together in a beautiful basket.  Along with the cookie tins I added a couple jars of homemade jam, some tea, a crock of fancy Dijon, and a few little kitchen tools and some cute napkins.  Sure, it would have been much easier to make a trip to the mall and pick up a sweater, but this gift is so much more personal and I know they will put the cookies in the storage freezer and enjoy them throughout the year. 
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Project #4: Toy Box Makeover

Toll painting used to be all the rage back in the day and our house growing up had it’s fair share of the country cottage thing happening. Well, I’m not much into the cutesy country look myself but my mom had this chest just sitting around that needed a good home and it turns out we could use (could always use) some more storage for all the toys that accumulate around here, especially after Christmas!

This chest sat in my garage for weeks while I tried to decide what to do with it, and for some reason I had the hardest time.  In the end I kept it simple with a coat of blue paint the same color as the upper part of the wall and ceiling in my son’s room and a coat of dark glaze to tie in with his black furniture.


Before



After

Lantern Art Project

My son made a super cute art project in preschool the week before Christmas that I loved!  Lanterns made using a glass jar, tissue paper, Elmer’s glue and some craft wire and beads.  I thought it was so cool that I went to the craft store to buy the supplies so we could make some of these little beauties at home to give out as Christmas gifts.  We found that grandmas especially love to get these!

Water some elmer’s glue down with a bit of water and brush over the outside of the jar.  Attach cut pieces of tissue paper in whatever colors your heart desires until the surface if completely covered then put on another coat of glue to hold the tissue in place.  Let dry.  Cut a piece of craft wire (I used 16 gauge) long enough to wrap around the top of the jar a couple of times and twist the ends around a pencil for a curly Q effect.  Wrap the wire around the top of the jar, twist to hold in place then add some pretty beads to the ends of the wire.  There’s no right way to do this, whatever looks good to you.  Play around with the beads and the twists in the wire until you like it.  Use some little pliers to crimp the ends of the wire so the beads stay put.  Add a tea light and you’re done.  Instant ambiance! 

Project #3: Coat Hook Re-Do

So they say one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Well, in this case there was some serious work to be done to make this sad old coat hook into a treasure again!  I picked this up at the second hand store for a buck fifty and thought it would make a great place to hang my son’s sweatshirts in his bedroom.

My second hand store find… needs a little love.

I put a couple coats of primer on it then did a quick coat of red spray paint.  I cut three stars out of heavy duty paper and used a little spray adhesive to attach them to the board.  Next I sprayed on 2 coats of  ivory paint.  When that was mostly dry, I removed the paper stars.  I had a little bleed through, but not to worry, when it was completely dry I took some fine sandpaper and scuffed it up a little so it was distressed and the edges of the stars ended up looking great!


My second hand store find… fabulous!

Salted Caramel Pie… Yum!

Okay, so I have a thing for caramel. Love, love, love it! I couldn’t resist making this fabulous, but easy to throw together recipe that I saw in Food and Wine Magazine last month.  It takes a little time but almost no effort.  I did manage to mess up the first batch I tried because I let the water bath dry up during the baking process.  This resulted in a curdled mess of goo that had to be dumped in the sink…. so sad!  Second time around I made sure to keep adding to the water and it worked like a charm.



A blurry photo, but you get the idea.  Mmmmm, good!


Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • Two 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
  • Fleur de sel
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
This is what you get if your water bath runs dry.  Not good!
  • Preheat the oven to 350°. In a food processor, pulse the graham cracker crumbs with the melted butter and light brown sugar until the crumbs are moistened. Press the crumbs evenly into a 9-inch glass or metal pie plate. Bake for about 10 minutes, just until lightly browned. Let cool. Increase the oven temperature to 425°.
  • Scrape the condensed milk into a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish and sprinkle with a scant 1/2 teaspoon of fleur de sel. Cover the dish with foil and place it in a roasting pan. Add enough hot water to the pan to reach one-third of the way up the side of the baking dish. Bake, lifting the foil to stir 2 or 3 times, until the condensed milk is golden and thickened, about 2 hours; add more water to the roasting pan as necessary. The consistency of the caramel should be like dulce de leche. Don’t worry if it is lumpy; it will smooth out as it chills.
  • Scrape the caramel filling into the pie crust, smoothing the top. Spray a sheet of plastic wrap with vegetable oil spray and cover the pie. Refrigerate until the filling is chilled and set, at least 4 hours.
  • In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream with the confectioners’ sugar until firm. Remove the plastic. Mound the whipped cream on top of the pie and sprinkle with fleur de sel. Cut into wedges and serve. If you’re not serving the whole pie, put whipped cream on individual pieces to serve.
  • ***One of my favorite kitchen tools is my Zyliss whipped cream canister.  You can keep cream in it for a couple of weeks and use it as you need it.  I can’t live without it!  Beats the heck out of whipping it up with a beater every time you need whipped cream and you’ll waste a lot less too.

Deep Fried Plantains

My Dad and step-mom are hosting a college student from the Ivory Coast and invited my family to dinner to meet her.  She made us the most amazing dish that night… delicious and super easy!  Growing up in Oregon, plantains weren’t something that I every really had the chance to try but apparently this is a staple where our new friend comes from and let me tell you, I’ve been missing out.
One of tricks is to choose plantains that are very ripe, ones that look like bananas that are a week past their prime.  You just peel them, quarter them lengthwise and cut into cubes then toss with a bit of kosher salt.  In small handfuls, add them to a pan of very hot vegetable oil.  (You can test to see if the oil is hot enough by tossing in one piece of plantain.  If the oil is hot enough it will bubble and sizzle.)

Let these cook in the hot oil for 20-25 minutes until they are a beautiful golden brown then remove with a slotted spoon.  Warning: let them cool for just a bit before trying one because they are HOT!  That’s all there is to it!

Project #2: Jewelry Display Board

I have a new love of big, drop earrings and have encountered a problem.  Where oh where to store them, preferably out of reach of my very curious 3 year old???  My sweet little jewelry box that my grandpa made me years ago has teensy tiny little compartments that are great for studs and such but not large enough for the bigger, better, bolder earring I’ve been loving lately (okay, they’re not really that crazy or anything, just too big for my current storage situation).  I saw a couple of cute ideas on Pinterest and decided to give my own version a try…

First, I started with a tried and true trip to the Good Will.  Here’s my find, not much of a looker, but I had a vision.

 
I painted the frame black with spray paint (2 coats).  After it was dry I gave it a little roughing up with some fine sandpaper for that distressed look then put on a coat of polyurethane to give it a nice pretty shine.

I attached come cork tiles to the existing picture and covered it with fabric then put the whole thing back into the frame.  I probably shouldn’t admit this, I’m sure there was probably a better way, but I taped the back up with duck tape to hold the fabric onto the cork and to hold the whole thing in the frame.  Worked like a charm and since nobody will be looking at the back, I decided is would get the job done and that’s what mattered.  Am I right?

I made the frame big enough to accommodate lots of earrings, bracelets and necklaces too.  Super easy and you could use any color on the frame and any fabric under the sun to make it fit you style.

Kitchen Remodel

Last year I decided I couldn’t stand to look at our kitchen for another day!  The dark red walls and the yellowing, dated cabinets were down right depressing.  I’m a gal who likes to hang out in the kitchen so I figured it was about time to make this a room I actually wanted to spend some time in.  However, kitchen remodels can cost much dinero and our pockets weren’t exactly overflowing at the time.  So, we rolled up our sleeves and set to work!  Here are a few photos of what we were dealing with…not horrible/terrible but I was done, done, done with it!  

 So, one of the hardest decisions, was what in the heck to put on the counter tops.  Obviously with our limited funds, new granite was not on our list of choices, so we narrowed it down to tile.  After many, many trips to our local home improvement store, we found something that we both could agree on.  A nice neutral grey toned tile.  Fortunately, I have a handy hubby who was able to install the countertops saving us bunches of our well earned money.  We chose white subway tile for the backsplash because it’s classic and super inexpensive.  The white also added to the light and cheery vibe I was going for.

I spent days and days out in the garage priming and painting the ugly cabinets inside and out, not my favorite part of the process!  A week, 2 coats of primer and 2 coats of paint later, we were ready to hang ’em up.  Add some lovely Target hardware and presto, what a difference.  We did splurge and had a few of the upper cabinets remade with glass inserts. Well worth the additional expense as it made a huge difference in the final product. Love, love, love them!

One of  the biggest changes and by far the cheapest, was a new paint color on the walls and a fresh coat of white on the ceiling.  I chose a robin’s egg blue which was so crazy different than the red that I kinda hated it when I first started rolling it on.  Once the whole room was painted, it started growning on me and now I absolutely adore it.
I don’t know what our total cost was for this kitchen re-do but I know it was a small fraction of the price we would have paid for brand new cabinets and granite countertops and wow, what a huge change!

Banana Crumb Muffins

Every time I have a banana or two that gets a little too ripe for eating, I throw them in the freezer to save for baking.  One of my favorite recipes for ripe bananas are these delicious banana crumb muffins.  I’ve even tried a gluten-free variation using the Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free baking mix and they were pretty tasty too!
Muffins
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 bananas, mashed
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup butter, melted
Crumb Topping
1/3 packed brown sugar
3 tbls all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tbls butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375.  Lightly grease 12 muffiin cups or line with papers. 
In a large bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  In another bowl, beat together banana, sugar, egg and melted butter.  Stire the banana mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened.  spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar,  3 tbls flour and cinnamon. Mix in the melted butter with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened.  Sprinkle over muffin batter.
Bake for 18-20 minutes.