Monday, December 29, 2014

Netflix Stars - The Great Gatsby

4 stars - Finally got around to seeing this, actually my own copy, a Christmas present.  Great special effects, lighting and costuming.  Save for the Jay-Z hip-hop trying to bring this to the millennials, not a bad remake.  And hooray for the bonus disc!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The 2014 Christmas Cookie Search Continues with Almond Joy Cookies



ALMOND JOY COOKIES

INGREDIENTS:

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons coconut extract
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstach
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
a pinch of salt
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:

Combine the butter and sugars, then add egg, extracts and beat on medium-high speed until creamed and well combined, about 4 minutes.
Add the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, optional salt, and beat on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute.
Add the coconut, almonds, chocolate chips, and beat on low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds.

I baked these with unchilled dough.  They spread and flattened a little, but still turned out looking temptingly good!  The original directions called for refrigerating the dough prior to baking, which I didn't see until writing this post.  

Preheat oven to 350F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper, a silicone sheet or spray with cooking spray. Place dough mounds on baking sheet, spaced at least 2 inches apart and bake for 8 minutes, rotating halfway. Do not overbake. Coconut is prone to burning.  Cookies will be pale and look un-done, but firm up as they cool.  Good luck with allowing cookies to cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes before serving. 

I modified these from the original found on Pinterest, which was pinned from this website.
I did not chill mine, so they did indeed spread a little, but not that much.  I also make my cookies smaller, using a rounded teaspoonful instead.  That shortened the baking time to 8 minutes, rotating the cookies halfway.  I lightly toasted the sliced almonds and cut back to 3/4 cup.  I also increased the chocolate chips to 1 1/4 cup (to make up the difference in the almonds -wink-).

How good were these?  I couldn't get an accurate count of how many I was able to get from the recipe as they kept sneaking and re-arranging the cooling cookies.  I'm thinking by my making them smaller than the original recipe called for it made 4-5 dozen.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Netflix Stars - Labor Day

4 stars - I was surprised.  Predictable?  Yes and no. But the question we kept asking was, "Why was Kate Winslet in this?"  Perhaps suited more for an up and coming actress earning her chops.  She was good, but a bit beneath her abilities.  A bit choppy, and emotional in places, but overall it's a pretty good chick flick.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Thursday Tea Time - 441

This week - Zhena's Seasonal Teas

Cost: $6.99 at Kroger for 16 teabags/4 per container of
Peppermint Mocha…Gingerbread Chai…Sugar Cookie…English Toffee
Caffeine: Yes-Sugar Cookie, No for the others
Type of tea: Black (Sugar Cookie), Red (the others)
Mix ins: Natural Bliss
Fragrance:  "Natural Flavors"  Indescribable but the same ingredient in all, so that must be it.
Ingredients:  Peppermint Mocha-Peppermint, rooibos, cinnamon, cocoa powder, nutmeg, natural flavors…Gingerbread Chai-Rooibos, ginger root, cinnamon, chicory, licorice root, nutmeg, natural flavors…Sugar Cookie-black tea, cinnamon, ginger root, licorice root, cardamom, black pepper (?!), cloves, nutmeg, natural flavors…English Toffee-rooibos, cocoa, licorice root, and?---natural flavors!
Opinion: Why do I keep buying this brand?  The names and flavors sounded so tempting, but they all tasted the same - odd! Per chance were the lids not tightly on and the shrink-wrap caused the flavors to mingle?   Of them all, English Toffee probably was the best of the least.
Rating: 0

They all look different, but all seem to taste the same
: /

Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A most versatile cookie...

Red Velvet Edition!



My daughter saw Red Velvet Cookies on Pinterest.  I liked the idea, but was hesitant to take a chance on a new recipe.  Instead, I used our tried and true 1995 McCall's Magazine Cocoa M&M's Cookie recipe (click here).
FYI:  With or without M&M's, this is a great basic chocolate cookie you can have a lot of fun with and enjoy eating!

RED VELVET COOKIES

1 ¼ cups flour
½ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
New!  1 1/2 tablespoons Adams Extract Red food coloring

Preheat oven to 350. In medium bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In large (to be covered) bowl, combine sugar and butter. At high speed, beat 2 minutes until creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla, beat 2 minutes. Beat in flour mixture. Chill one hour or until dough is firm.

Roll dough in 1” balls and then roll in colored sugar, sprinkles/jimmies and/or powdered sugar.  Place 2” apart on cookie sheets. Bake 10 minutes, switching racks at 5 minutes. Cookies should start to have cracks.  If possible, cool and enjoy!  Hubby and daughter polished off a dozen warm while my back was turned.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Though I am composing a letter to Adams Extract about making their bottles a little bit easier to pour and measure.  Yikes!  Be forewarned to have lots of paper towels handy...and to hide them in your garbage can lest your kitchen look like crime scene!


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Happy Winter Solstice!

May the dawn of the Winter Solstice chase the dark away.
May it bring to you the promos of endless brand new days.
May all your sorrow vanish.  And all your dreams come true.
And may the light of the Winter Solstice always shine on you.

Right here, right now




Saturday, December 20, 2014

SOLD!

An anonymous benefactor purchased my paintings, with instructions to not only have them remain hanging at the gallery through the end of the month, but also be given back to me for my personal collection!

Moonrise Sunrise
Lightning Strike

Friday, December 19, 2014

Netflix Stars - Magic in the Moonlight

5 stars!  How cute and good is this movie??  As we were watching it, my daughter ordered a copy on Amazon!  I don't even particularly care for Woody Allen movies and didn't realize it was until the opening credits.  But I adore Colin Firth and the chemistry between him and Emma Stone was terrific.   And the ending, perfect!  We actually Redbox'd this movie, but I went ahead and gave this 5 stars on Netflix.  Here's hoping there are some special features on the non-rental/purchased copy.  I loved the wardrobe, and how it and the lighting truly invoked the late 1920's.  A very magical and entertaining rom-com.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Cookie Exchange Cookie 2014!


This cookie made the cut for the annual Christmas Cookie exchange party, but will it also take the honor of Christmas Cookie 2014?!  What we like -- the recipe makes practically a gazillion (5-6 dozen, depending how big the dough ball becomes towards the end.  The relatively low calorie/low carb stats (see previous sentence) - 54 calories/4 g complex carbohydrate.  While the "strong coconut flavor" (read extract) is optional, I think it might give a more coconut-y flavor boost...Even though I used the "good stuff" Baker's Coconut.  It was fun to also add sprinkles to make them more Christmas-y.  I also liked the blingy touch of the candied cherry.  A very fun and festive and tasty cookie!



Coconut Jumbles 

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon strong coconut flavor (optional)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (7 1/4 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups (4 1/2 ounces) sweetened flaked coconut
About 36 candied cherries, cut in half, or 72 macadamia nuts, or chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease two baking sheets.

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and coconut flavor until light and fluffy. Sift salt, flour and baking soda together into a small bowl and gradually beat them into the egg mixture. Stir in the coconut until everything is well combined.

Drop the dough by the teaspoonful onto prepared baking sheets; use the bottom of a drinking glass dipped in sugar to press each ball down slightly.
(Or pat and form into a flattened round shape, using sugar if needed to control sticking to fingers)
Bake the cookies for 9 minutes, or until they are light golden brown and just firm to the touch.
(I rotate the sheets half way through, sprinkling colored sugar on the cookies)

As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, plunk half a candied cherry round side up, or a macadamia nut, or a couple of chocolate chips, into the center of each and press down gently. Cool the cookies on a wire rack.

Makes about 5 to 6 dozen cookies.

Source:  The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Listen




"I hear your voice in all the world’s noise." - Paul √Čluard 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday Swag

Today at Texas Art Supply, I attended a Winsor-Newton watercolor demonstration of the new watercolor markers and watercolor sticks with Peter Andrew. In addition to a very interesting and informative talk, we got a very nice bag of goodies from Winsor-Newton.  (I also got good advice for using the markers and sticks).  I love new art toys, and I especially love to get and try them free!
Check it out:

Sweet!
The new Professional Water Colour 2" sample-sized stick in French Ultramarine, the retail-sized Water Colour marker in Cerulean Blue Hue, a 5 ml Professional water colour tube of Alizarin Crimson, a Cotman Size 3 Round watercolor brush, a 75ml bottle of Gum Arabic, and a sample page of six colors - Winsor Yellow, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine (Green Shade), Hooker's Green, Yellow Ochre and Burnt Umber (handy to toss into my travel bag).

If you live in the Houston area or plan to visit, be sure to sign up for their email list for future free store events.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thursday Tea Time - Coconut Chai, 'K?

This week - Zhena's Coconut Chai T-cups


Cost: $8.99 at Tuesday Morning (regular retail price/online:  $12.99) for 12 K-Cups
Caffeine: Yes
Type of tea: Black
Mix ins: Natural Bliss
Fragrance: Cardamon
Ingredients:  Black Tea, Cinnamon, Ginger, Cardamom, Clove, Orange Peel, Nutmeg, Black Pepper, natural coconut flavor, natural cinnamon flavor
Opinion: Why do I keep trying this brand?  Perhaps thinking a K-cup version might be better?  Most of my reviews have been either meh or thumbs down, with the occasional hardly praiseworthy "not bad".  They just don't have a strong taste or flavor.  And you can't really double up on a K/T-cup unless you dial down to 6 ounces instead of 8 ounces.  Don't take a sip before adding milk or sweetener.  This is not drinkable plain, and hardly once you add a slug of Natural Bliss.  I can hardly detect any coconut flavor either.  They get a point for calling it a T-cup instead of K-cup
Rating: 1

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wednesday Work in Progress - 2014 Christmas Cookie of the Year Edition

It's that time…what recipe will earn the title of 2014 Christmas Cookie?
Previous winners have included:  2013 Chocolate Sugar Cookie…2012 Irish Cream Cookies...2011 Chocolate Peppermint Kiss Cookie…and 2010 Sparkly Peppermint Cookies
The cookie bar is set pretty high!

First up,  Caramel Pecan Cookies
Actually they are called "Jeweled Pyramids"
and were a finalist in the current Cook's Country magazine Christmas Cookie Contest (December/January 2015 issue)

Caramel Pecan Cookies

What I liked:  You mix all the ingredients in the food processor, one less bowl/mixer to clean up.
It made extra caramel sauce!  And there are leftover chopped pecans to use for other recipes.   There aren't any eggs in this recipe.  Not much (brown) sugar, either - only 1/2 cup.

However -- Two sticks of butter!

What made me go "Hmmm…":  They were still gooey (the caramel) almost 6 hours later.  I also live in humid Houston but today was not really an especially humid day.  Definitely reconsider making these in the Summer!  I am running an experiment to see how they freeze after being dipped in caramel and pecans.   Perhaps if you want to make them in advance, you could bake and then freeze to the point before dipping.  These may not be a mailable gift treat.  (Apologies to the volunteer taste-testers mailing distance away.)

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) pecans - 1 cup is for the dough, the rest for the dipping
2 sticks (16 tablepoons) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled.
1/2 cup packed (3 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 bag of Kraft caramels
1/4 cup milk (I used skim)

1.  Adjust oven rack to upper middle and lower middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.  Line 2 (4) baking sheets with parchment paper.  Pulse flour, 1 cup pecans, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt in food processor until combined and dough starts to hold shape.  Transfer to bowl and press together.
2.  Original instructions-divide dough into 24 balls, form each into a pyramid shape and space evenly on prepared sheets.  Bake until light golden, 20-25 minutes, switch and rotate sheets halfway through. Let cookies cook on sheet for 5 minutes, and then transfer to wire rack and cool completely.  Save the parchment paper on the cookie sheets.
3.  Microwave caramels and milk in bowl, I stirred about every 20-30 seconds, until melted and smooth, about 3 minutes.  Place remaining pecans (see my advice below) in a shallow dish.  Dip the top point of each pyramid/cookie in caramel to coat and then lightly dip into the pecans.  Return to sheets and let cookies set for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Advice:
- When I can, I weigh my ingredients.  I feel it is more accurate, especially for flour and nuts.
- I also pre-chopped the pecans in the food processor first, emptied it and then filled with the rest of the ingredients.
- Also forewarning, you only use 1 cup of pecans in the dough.  I also think you could get away with 2 cups of pecans.  I had a lot extra.
- Don't pour out all the chopped pecans on the dipping plate.  Replenish as needed.  Those that don't stick on the first pass will start to pick up the excess caramel. A tasty treat for the clean up crew, though.
- If you make the dough balls/triangles big gum ball sized (not jaw-breaker ones), you can get over 4 dozen instead of the two dozen the recipe indicated.   They still baked for about the same time, 21 minutes.  
- With the salted caramel craze, perhaps a sprinkling of sea salt might be yummy, too!

On to the next contender!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Location, Location, Location. . .

Christmas Cookbook 2014
one side
Year-Round Celebrations 2014
the other side
Found at Dillard's (on a round table by the Shoe Department), a two-fer special edition Southern Living  Christmas Cookbook/Year-Round Celebrations book for only $10!  Benefiting the Ronald McDonald House Charities.   You can bet I will be trying and you will be seeing some recipes here in the near future.  (I think this has the Red Velvet Brownies I've been seeing on Pinterest!).   I would trust their recipe - I've always had good results with recipes from Southern Living, Cooking Light, and Martha Stewart's EveryDay Food.  I usually dirty up enough prep dishes and tools to run the dishwasher twice, but they are all worth it.  And this is worth it especially for a good cause.  (Not a bad gift for Secret Santa exchanges with a cap on how much you could spend.  I bet this will be traded/stolen many times over.)

Monday, December 08, 2014

Runway Queen

Squeeee!!

2014 Hallmark Keepsake ornament, "Runway Queen" - Designed by Ruth Donikowski

"With a flair for fun and fancy,
You're a real-life runway queen
Ready for your big debut
on the stylish fashion scene!"

This is staying out all year-round on the shelf near my sewing machine in my sewing studio 

(And love the quote on the box lid - "Pine, Douglas Fir, Artificial - I don't judge"

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Happy 50th Birthday, Rudolph!

Rudolph and Clarice
One of my favorite Christmas television movies growing up, five-year-old me first watched "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" on our black and white TV back in 1964...and still do today.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Upcoming Jo-Ann's Pattern Sales

A Very Merry Sale - December 12/15
(Sorry--This is OOP/out of print)
Worth a search on eBay, Etsy especially
for those chair angel wings!

Burda - $2.49
Simplicity - $1.99

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Thursday Tea Time - Hot Chocolate Tea!

Cost:   $6.49 at Kroger

This week - Red Rose Simply Indulgent Chocolate Peppermint Black Tea
Cost:  $6.99 at Kroger
Number of teabags:  12 K-Cups
Caffeine:   Yes
Type of tea:   Black
Ingredients:  Sugar, Cocoa Powder (Sugar, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Chocolate Liquor, Natural Flavor), Instant Black Tea, Non-Fat Milk Powder, Natural Peppermint Flavor, Natural Flavors, Reb A (Stevia Leaf Extract), Tricalicium Phosphate.
Add ins:  Nothing
Nutrition Facts:  Calories-45, Total Carbohydrate-11g, Sodium- 40mg, Calcium-8%
Fragrance:  Chocolate. peppermint, delicious
Opinion:  I checked out the coffee/tea aisle, a bit woebegone because apparently Dunkin Donuts is not carrying their Peppermint Mocha K-Cups this year.  During the Thanksgiving craziness at Kroger last week, they had a display of an unfamiliar brand of K-cups and I remember seeing a peppermint mocha flavor and thought I would look for that.  When I found this, I thought, "even better!" as I'm not a real coffee drinker per se.  When I got home and stuck it in the Keurig, at first I thought I grabbed hot chocolate - this is how to came out!  It tastes like peppermint hot chocolate at first, then finishes with a pleasant black tea taste.  Win-Win!  This is a nice treat, hot chocolate with the benefits of black tea.  And less than a carb serving compared to regular hot chocolate -- Very good me.  Bonus if you order online this month, here's a 25% off coupon code:  Holiday25
Rating:  5
Christmas lights reflection!
(Yup, this year I put the Phillips Christmas garland lights
along the tops of my living, dining room windows and kitchen sliding glass
doorway.  They may be still on sale at Target for 15% off,  9 feet and 20 feet)
Colored lights, of course.
Not enough time and space here to go into my diatribe against white/clear Christmas lights!

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Wednesday Work in Progress - It's Tuesday on Wednesday!

Who knew Tuesday Morning had art supplies…and DEALS on art supplies?!  Evidently not me.  For starters, I'm nuts about anything in a tin (not shown:  The Whitman's chocolates-filled Salmagundi tin I also picked up - hey, you can chew a pencil but you can't eat it).


Koh-I-Noor Mondeluz 24 Aquarelle watersoluble colored pencils, $14.99 (retail $35))
Koh-I-Noor Graphic drawing pencils 5B-5H (including an F pencil to try!), $7.99 (retail $19.75)



And bonus Martha Stewart set of 10 6mm teardrop rhinestones in Turquoise (I'm thinking raindrops or water splashes for multi-media projects?) $2.99 (retail $7.99).  Apparently Michael's used to carry them, but they've ended up at Tuesday Morning.