Wednesday, December 15, 2010

We Wisk You a Merry Kissmas

I recently came into possession of three bags of dark chocolate Hershey Kisses. Lord, help me, they were buy two, get one free at Food Lion and I had a $1 off coupon. So 216 individually wrapped kisses later, I was trying to figure out what to do with them--besides eat them immediately. I made a batch of Rich's favorite Peanut Butter Blossom cookies, whose recipe promised to use 48 and only used up 24. Drat. So I made the Triple Chocolate Threat Kiss cookies, knocking off another 36 or so. Only 156 or so left, right? Then, my friend Jenna gave me the great idea of filling the tines on stainless steel wisks with kisses and attaching a note that says "We Wisk You A Merry Kissmas." Too cute and great teacher gifts. So I used 40 for 4 wisks. Are you keeping up with the math? Today, my sister, Rebecca, gave me another great/horrible idea to make these pretzel treats. WOW! I never knew I could eat so many kisses in one sitting. We made 85 of these babies tonight, using the last of our kisses. Phew. Wait a minute, you say. That doesn't add up. There are 31 unaccounted for kisses. Where did they go? I'll never tell.

Now, hurry, Christmas, hurry! I've gained three pounds in as many weeks. If I keep baking I won't be able to fit into my brand new jeans.

Pretzel Kiss Surprises
  • 85 square pretzels
  • 85 Hershey Kisses, any variety except the filled ones would work I imagine (there are about 72 in a bag so use more or less as you like)
  • assorted M&Ms, marshmallows, salted peanuts, raisins or other topping
Preheat oven to 200'. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Arrange pretzels and top with one Kiss apiece. Bake 5 minutes, or until the Kiss melts into the pretzel when pressed with the back of a spoon. Remove from oven and working quickly press toppings as desired into Hershey Kisses. Let cool before storing.

We topped ours with marshmallows, raisins and M&Ms. We also made pretzel sandwiches. The pretzel sandwiches were actually my favorites, but I really enjoyed the raisins too. Would love to try these with salted peanuts next time. Thanks Becca, great idea! I think I'll be taking a bag of these to the childcare workers at the gym tomorrow. I have a feeling I'll be seeing a lot of them in the next few weeks. :-)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Kefir Update

My kefir grains arrived in the mail last week, thanks to Marilyn at Here's a picture of what they look like. Kind of a yellowish cottage cheese curd. The instructions said the kefir grains will grow and if you get too many you can always eat them. So I gave one a try. Tasted like a chewy, yeasty dough but with a slimy texture. I know, Mom Hogan, this is really grossing you out isn't it? To get started, I poured 4 cups of milk over the grains, secured a light cloth over the top and set it out on my counter for 24 hours.

What a huge difference from the powdered version! The first batch I made of kefir with cow's milk I used Yogourmet's powdered kefir starter. Part of the reason I'm using the kefir is because I'm lactose intolerant and the kefir is an inexpensive type of yogurt drink with lots of probiotics that's easy on the stomach. Well, over the course of a day I worked the quart of yogourmet's kefir into my diet. Not a good idea. I was sick for 24 hours because the powdered version didn't devour enough of the lactose sugars in the milk. With the kefir grains, I didn't have to boil the milk and within 24 hours I had kefir I could use right away. I have now had three quarts with no side effects, and I'm finding I really like the flavor. It's very mild, although the texture isn't as creamy. But I think the lighter texture is also because I'm using 1% milk versus the goat's milk I used for the hot cocoa recipe earlier. Haven't tried to make this into hot cocoa yet. I haven't drank milk since I was a kid. Now what am I going to do with all of those $2 Silk coupons you gave me Maridith? :-) I've been drinking the kefir straight with meals and also using it to replace both the soymilk and yogurt in my smoothies. The kefir grains from Marilyn also came with great recipes on how to use it to make sourdough, since the kefir beverage can replace the yeast in the recipe. So something else to try.

Now the only problem I'm having is that my kefir grains are converting one quart of milk every day. I'm using 1% milk but that's still way more dairy fat than I'm used to and it will start to get expensive. I haven't figured out how to handle this. I put it in the fridge to slow it down but apparently that doesn't make the kefir grains very happy. So if anyone wants to buy freshly made kefir beverage from me, I will have a few quarts available each week. Bring your own container and I'll only charge you $2 a quart to cover the expense of the milk. I'm pretty sure that's much less expensive than you'll find it at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. When the kefir grains start to double I'm happy to share those for free.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Gingerbread Men

I wish you could smell this picture. There's nothing like the smell of gingerbread baking in the oven. We started making these at Christmas a few years ago. We enjoy decorating them as a family and then give them away to friends and neighbors. This is our first batch this year and we made 25 or so gingerbread men and then 5 or 6 stars for us to eat. This year I used Royal Icing, which allows you to do all kinds of fun and fancy decorations and sets fast and quick. But really we do very basic things with our gingerbread men so next time I think I will stick with the old shortening icing recipe. I posted both below.

The funny thing about decorating cookies as a family is how everyone's personality shines. Here are my cookies: cute, colorful, a little skimpy on the frosting maybe, but all neatly identical for gifting.

And here are Rich's cookies: such an engineer. I like how he worked the NC State basketball player into the mix. When I pointed out that we were giving these away to other people he said I was stifling his creativity. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

And then we have Lincoln's cookies: generous on the candy. Such a giver. Mommy piped the frosting on his, because the tip I used was too small and you had to really squeeze hard to get it out. The ones he decorated all by himself he got to eat. He was very happy with this arrangement. I know, I'm such a control freak.

The next day, when the cookies were hard, I bagged them up with these cute bags I found at Michael's. The kids and I are going to deliver them this afternoon in our little red wagon to the neighbors. I love where we live but we don't see much of our neighbors. Must be lots of fellow introverts. I guess that's why we all chose to move to a neighborhood with acre lots. So this is a good excuse to say hi.

Gingerbread Men
6 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 sticks butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 tsp ginger
4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 eggs
1 cup unsulfured molasses

1.) Sift together flour, soda, baking powder. Set aside.
2.) Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Mix in spices, salt, eggs and molasses. Add in flour mixture.
3.) Divide dough in half and form into disks. Wrap in saran wrap and chill in fridge at least 2 hours.
4.) Lightly flour counter and rolling pin. Line baking sheets with parchment.
5.) Preheat oven to 350'.
6.) Roll out first disk of dough, keeping the other in the fridge, to 1/4" thickness. Use large gingerbread men cookie cutters to cut out cookies and transfer to baking sheets.
7.) Bake for 8-10 mins. Let cool and decorate as desired.

Royal Icing
1 lb. confectioners sugar
5 Tbs meringue powder
1/2 cup frosting
Gel paste food coloring
(*Gel paste and meringue powder available at Wal-mart or AC Moore or other craft store.)
Combine all ingredients except gel paste and beat for 8-10 minutes until still peaks form. Add gel paste to change colors as desired. To thin, add water 1 Tb at a time. To make the frosting more stiff add powdered sugar. Freeze any extra frosting for later use.

Shortening Icing
4 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup shortening
5 Tb milk
1 tsp vanilla
Blend all ingredients. Color as desired. Freeze any extra frosting for later use.
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