Thursday, November 29, 2012

Attending my first Blogger conference and Cookies for a great cause!

Tomorrow morning I'll be heading to Mixed, a blogger conference
in the beautiful mountains of Virginia! The conference is being held
at Mountain Lake Hotel, which was the location for the movie, Dirty
Dancing. Please don't tell anyone I've never seen that movie! So what
does a blogger conference have to do with my Martha Stewart penguin
cookie cutter? Well, OXO is one of the sponsors and they've asked all
attendees to bring along a couple dozen of our favorite cookies to raise
awareness and money to support the fight against pediatric cancer. OXO
employees coordinate bake sales as part of their Good Cookies program
and OXO matches funds raised! Anyone, any group can host a bake sale so
if you're interested in being a Good Cookie too, read this and get involved!
I'm getting involved by donating a few dozen of my favorite, which
happens to be Bridget's sugar cookies, also known as my favorite
sugar-butter canvas! I've been eager to use Martha Stewart's penguin
cookie cutter and so I did... To create this little group of happy penguins!
They look like they're on a double-date, don't they?
I have to tell you something very exciting! I decorated these cookies
without outlining first! I know I said I'd never be able to do it but the
more I watched Dani free-hand ice her cookies, the more convinced I
became that I might be able to do it too - And, I did! Of course, Dani's
icing bottles help a lot because the decorating tip is built right in!
Believe me, the fact that I iced 50 penguins free-hand without making
one mistake shocks me as much as I'm sure it does you... But it's true!
It will be difficult to let them go tomorrow... Which is why I
plan to donate them and then buy them back as quickly as I can!
If you're creating penguin cookies or any decorated cookie that's about this
size, I highly recommend using pretzel stick candy bags. They are perfect!
 All that's left is to tag 'em and bag 'em!
Then off we go!
By the way... Check out this cast of speakers at Mixed! Can you believe
it? Clearly, Paula and Susan have way outdone themselves... If you
really want to feel your heart pound, take a look at the sponsors!
I am so excited and I also wish you were coming with me!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Raspberry Napoleons!

I decided today that we're skipping right over Christmas...
And focusing on Valentine's Day instead...
Don't let the decorations in our living room fool you. It may
look like we're snuggling in for a cozy wintry Christmas...
But we're not! We're squarely focused on the New Year...
Why the rush to get through the holidays?
Because the new year will bring us the end of Ranger's deployment!
So this afternoon, as I flipped through my binder of saved recipes to
try, I decided Martha's Raspberry Napoleons was the perfect fit...
For my rush to get to Valentine's Day!
Martha's pastry cream comes together like a
dream in no time at all and, it's incredibly delicious!
A little bit of milk, 4 large egg yolks, a pinch of salt, a little sugar and corn
starch... One whole vanilla bean and, a little bit of butter is all it takes!
In just a few minutes you have the best pastry cream you can imagine!
It can be made a couple of days in advance too. Just be sure to cover it
with plastic wrap, pressing it against the cream to prevent a skin from
forming. This is a same-day operation for me so while my cream chills...
It's time to get my puff pastry going!
I prefer to work on plastic wrap for easy clean up and to use powdered sugar
to help keep my pastry from sticking to it. I believe adding flour to dough
makes it dry while adding a little sweetness can only help make it better!
You could cut your pastry into any shape but since we're on a Valentine's
Day kick here, I'm going with what makes the most sense... Hearts!
After poking holes in my dough I brushed each shape with an
egg wash to give it a little shine when it comes out of the oven!
By the way... While this is puff pastry, this is not what you want for Napoleons!
To tamp down on the puffiness, cover the dough with parchment or another Silpat mat
Then place another baking sheet or two on top to weigh it down!
That way, you'll have perfectly un-puffed puff pastry for your Napoleons!
Un-puffed, yes. But still beautifully tender and flaky!
Now, grab your pastry cream from the refrigerator and put it
into a pastry bag fitted with a half-inch round decorating tip, stat!
Then pipe the pastry cream onto the puff pastry heart...
And, dot it with fresh, plump raspberries!
If you love yourself, as I clearly do, you'll cover a raspberry,
or four with cold pastry cream and pop it into your mouth!
When you get to the top, grab some powdered sugar...
And let it snow! Like it sometimes does in
early spring... Say, around Valentine's Day!
A little or a lot... It's up to you!
I added a couple of tiny hearts too...
I dotted the top heart with an extra bit of pastry cream
and a single raspberry, which could certainly serve as a
tasty holiday dessert bite all on its own. If you were doing
Christmas and needed such an idea, that is. Which I don't...
To finish my Napoleon I chopped up one
of the baked pastry hearts into crumbs and...
Sprinkled them on top!
Here's to a sweet homecoming!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wish you were here!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hickory Farms brings the Holidays to our Troops and a Give-away!

When I received the e-mail from Hickory Farms asking me to help
promote their FREE military shipping and Operation Gratitude, which
helps send delicious Hickory Farms gifts to our Troops and families in need, I
almost did not open it. Afterall, I'd just finished placing a huge order to ship to
the Ranger and his buddies so I assumed the e-mail was just confirmation of my
order. It's like Hickory Farms and their marketing department are psychic! I mean,
who doesn't love Hickory Farms? I can't imagine celebrating the holidays without it!
Hickory Farms and I go waaaaay back! My first memory of them is from
the summer of 1976... I was ten years old and it was the first time I could
remember being in the states. Prior to that, (and again shortly thereafter)
our family lived in Germany where the Captain was stationed for nearly
all of his twenty years of service to the US Army. Don't misunderstand me,
because there is nothing in this world I'd trade for being born and raised
in Germany... It was the best life! However, there were no malls and there
was no Hickory Farms. So imagine the wonder of being dropped into the
middle of White Lakes Mall in Topeka and seeing mile-long ribbons of
savory Hickory Farms sausage wrapped around the very first Icee machine
you have ever seen. It was wild. And, tasty! And... I loved every minute of it!
Of course, Hickory Farms has evolved and no longer offers beef rope by the
yard... But even better, today Hickory Farms offers high-quality gifts packed
full of sweet nibbles and classic savory meats and cheeses that everyone can
be proud to include in their holiday feasting celebrations. Hickory Farms has
long been a part of our holiday traditions and, ever since the Ranger began
deploying around the holidays, I always ensure Hickory Farms makes it into the
packages we send him to share with his battle brothers. So what about you...?
What goodies always make your holidays more special? Is it Hickory Farms
or something else that confirms the holiday season is finally here?
How we spend and celebrate the holidays changes over the years... When your
children are little and you're trying to keep them from filling up on cheese and
crackers so they'll have room for the turkey you got up at five o'clock in the
morning to prepare, you wish for the day they're all grown up. Then, when
they're all grown up and your child spends the last four holidays in Afghanistan,
you realize you would give anything to have cheese and cracker problems again...
Nevertheless, while the way we celebrate our holidays and who we celebrate with may change, memories of our past holidays and hopes for future holidays spent together again is what keep me moving long... And, I'm thankful again this year that traditional American companies like Hickory Farms is not only still around after sixty-one years, but also that they continue to innovate their products and take the lead to support our men and women in uniform.
By offering FREE oversease shipping and by donating products to our troops, Hickory Farms ensures that every solider can have a little bit of home for the holidays no matter where in the world their job takes them. So if you're a military mom or dad, brother or sister, aunt, uncle, grandma or grandpa or just love someone in the military, send them Hickory Farms! And, if you're just ordering for your own holiday, be sure to consider one of the many Hickory Farms gift packages partnered with Operation Gratitude that come with the promise from Hickory Farms to donate back to our troops!
Heck! You don't have to buy anything to help send delicious Hickory Farms to our troops... Simply Like Hickory Farms on Facebook and for every 1,000 likes, Hickory Farms will donate $100 to Operation Gratitude!
Now, about that Give-away I promised...
Simply leave a comment telling me about your favorite holiday tradition, food-related or not and you'll be entered to win a Home for the Holidays gift box valued at $55.50 and so generously provided by the good people at Hickory Farms. Be sure to include your e-mail address along with your city and state. 
In consideration for my mention, Hickory Farms sent me the same, which I promptly turned around to Afghanistan just yesterday!
For extra entries, Tweet, mention my give-away on your own blog or Facebook page and tell me you did it! Winner will be selected at random and announced on Tuesday December 4th!
Although it's been a terribly sad week for our family and the holidays certainly won't be the same, (again) without our Ranger here to celebrate with us, there is still so much we have to be thankful for. I am comforted by amazing parents, the love of a good man, two fine sons and more friends than I deserve. I delight in the joys of your holidays and wish you the best life has to offer, with love.