Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Eve & Freebie Christmas Tags

Well I'm not entirely sure how it happened so quickly but Christmas is officially upon us! If you're like me then you'll still be running around today finishing up all the last minute details. If you're still wrapping presents then I've got the perfect freebies for you - printable Christmas gift tags from around the blogosphere! Simply visit one of the links below to download the images, then print and attach to your gifts :)

Vintage tags from Wild @ heart

Adorable bird tags from Wee Birdy

Mitten tags from Trillustrations

Simple but pretty tags from Paperseed

And if none of those are floating your boat then visit Living Life as Art where they've compiled 135 pages worth of tags.

I hope those celebrating Christmas have a very merry one! For me, the next few days will be filled with family and friends and there won't be a lot of room leftover for blogging ;) So this will be my last entry of 2010 but I'll be back in the new year and I hope that you will be too. Thank you so much for all your support for my blog; it's truly a pleasure writing for you :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Cookies - Holiday Icebox Cookies

Well here it is, the final installment in my Christmas Cookies series -  a couple of days late because of some car trouble and then a corrupted SD card (this entry might be light on photos)! Today's recipe is Martha Stewart's Holiday Icebox Cookies. According to Martha, Icebox Cookies are really just fancy sugar cookies. According to me they are fancy sugar cookies that require a crazy amount of effort.

Ingredients:1 1/2 cups butter
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, plus an extra egg white for "glue"
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5 cups flour, plus more for work surface
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup cocoa powder
Food coloring, in various colors

Directions:Using an electric mixer, mix the butter and the sugar until creamy. Add the eggs and the salt, and mix well. Beat in milk and vanilla. Don't be worried if your dough looks terrible at this point. I thought my milk might have turned based on the consistency. This picture is kind of dark but will give you something to reference should you try these.

Add flour a little at a time, mixing it in until all of it has been incorporated.

Divide the dough into balls, one for each color. For chocolate dough, add cocoa (1/4 cup is enough to flavor half a batch). Mix well with electric mixer. For colored dough, start with 1/4 teaspoon food coloring, and mix well. Add more in tiny amounts for darker colors. Gel-paste coloring can be intense, so add it gradually.
Wrap each ball of dough in its own sheet of plastic wrap; pat flat into a rectangle. Refrigerate at least one hour or until ready to use. While you could make any number of colours, I decided to make only three colours of dough because this recipe was already starting to get a little complicated for my liking. You'll see in the picture below that my red dough really looks more like pink. This is because I didn't want to add too much food colouring which would ruin the flavour of the cookies. The good news is that the dough will darken a bit once baked.

After you've refrigerated for an hour set up your work surface with parchment or waxed paper. Sprinkle generously with flour, then roll out each piece of dough 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick to make the swirls; you can use thicker layers for the bull's-eyes. A bench scraper (I don't even know what a bench scraper is. I used a knife and my fingers to complete all of these steps) is a good tool for trimming dough's edges to make them even. The egg white, brushed on with a pastry brush, will act as a glue, making the layers stick together.

To make a bullseye, for center, with your hands, roll chocolate dough into a 1/2- to 1 1/2- inch-thick rod; chill 20 minutes. Place rod on edge of rolled-out dough that's been brushed with egg white. Roll rod inside sheet of dough. Cut the dough where it meets up. Seal by pinching and pressing gently. Chill 20 minutes, then repeat to add other layers. I did not wait 20 minutes in between adding layers because I just didn't have that kind of time to devote. So my end result is probably not as pretty as it might have been but who has an entire day to spend making a single batch of cookies?!

For spirals, measure and trim two or more colors of dough to same size. Brush on egg white, then stack layers. Brush top with egg white. Starting at one end, roll up the dough. Smooth and straighten the layers as you roll them so there are no gaps, then gently pinch and press the edge of the roll to seal it.

I had intended to take pictures throughout these steps but couldn't because I was literally covered in dough. Martha says that this is an easy recipe for children to help with but I couldn't agree less! I struggled with getting the dough rolled and stacked and rerolled and I just can't see that a child would fare any better than I did.

Roll each log in parchment or waxed paper; twist the ends of the paper closed. To help the logs keep their round shape, set each in a cardboard paper-towel roll that you have sliced open lengthwise. I ended up with about 12 different logs so in order to have enough paper towel rolls on hand you'd need to know you were making this recipe well in advance. To remember what colors you have already used, with crayons, draw the designs onto key tags; tie the tags onto the paper covering the logs. I used plastic wrap to cover my logs so this step wasn't really necessary. Chill logs until they are solid, about 1 1/2 hours.

At this point I was so sick of this recipe. Between mixing all the different colours of dough and chilling for two separate intervals I had spent over three hours working on these cookies and they weren't even near finished!

Cut 15 inches of dental floss (or double thickness of thread). Let log soften for about 10 minutes. Remove parchment. Wrap floss around log and pull through. I just used a knife. Make the slices thin: 1/4 inch or less.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place slices on an ungreased baking sheet (lined with parchment paper) and bake 12 to 15 minutes, until firm but not browned. Let cool on baking sheet for several minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

If you haven't discerned it by now, I thought these cookies were a ton of work. Yes, they are pretty and yes they made a nice addition to my platters this year but, all told, they took about 4 hours to make. Even worse, they didn't really taste that great. They weren't bad but there was definitely nothing special about them and I've made better sugar cookies for Christmases past. Normally Martha can do no wrong in my eyes but this is a recipe that I will not be making again.

And that's it for this year's Christmas Cookies. I hope you've enjoyed reading about my experiences with these recipes. I know our colleagues enjoyed eating everything!

I'll be back with one more entry tomorrow and then I'll be going on a bit of a Christmas hiatus. Details tomorrow!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Cookies - Oatmeal Chocolate Chip

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies were a last minute addition to my Christmas Cookie list. They replaced Martha's Cocoa Shortbread Diamonds after I realized that the shortbread required a food processor. We have one but I've never used it before and, after having already made 3 types of cookies in the preceding 24 hours, I decided it wasn't a good time to learn. Instead, I went with a family favourite that I knew was sure to please. My mom has been making these Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies for years and we all love them!

1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add vanilla and mix until combined. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Drop dough onto greased cookies sheets and bake for 8 to 10 minutes.

And that's it, you're done! These cookies are chewy and chocolatey and incredibly addictive. I use a standard sized cookie scoop and one batch yields just over 3 dozen cookies which is great because you can whip these up in no time. I promise, you're going to love them!

Make sure to come back tomorrow for the last installment in my Christmas Cookie series, Icebox Cookies!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Cookies - Chocolate Candy Canes

Continuing with the sharing of the results of this week's Christmas Cookie marathon, tonight's feature is Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies from Kraft.

1 pkg. (250 g) Philadelphia Brick Cream Cheese, softened
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2-1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
4 squares Baker's Semi-Sweet Chocolate, melted

Heat oven to 350ºF. Beat first 4 ingredients in large bowl with mixer until well blended. Add flour and baking soda; mix well. Blend in semi-sweet chocolate. Shape tablespoonfuls of dough into balls; roll each into 3-inch rope. Place, 2 inches apart, on baking sheets, bending top of each to resemble candy cane.

Bake 10 to 12 min. or until lightly browned; cool 5 min. on baking sheets. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.

To top, melt white chocolate chips and drizzle over the cookies. Before the chocolate set, sprinkle with crushed candy canes.

I have to say that this recipe was so straightforward and easy to make that I don't really have any advice to add. The dough was easy to work with and the baking time was exact. The recipe says it yields 52 cookies and I ended up with 48 so no complaints there either. The one mistake I made was not crushing the candy canes very evenly which left me with big chunks on some cookies and not much more than dust on others. But these cookies are so simple and delicious that they will definitely be made again next Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Cookies - Peanut Butter Bites

Today has been a cookie baking marathon, trying to get all of my Christmas cookies finished in time for Tuesday (Chris' last day in the office before Christmas). Happily, everything I've made today has turned out beautifully. I'll be sharing all the recipes and results with you in the days leading up to Christmas and tonight's cookie is Peanut Butter Bites.

I got the recipe for Peanut Butter Bites from Better Homes and Gardens and they were a great find as they were easy to make and are really delicious.

Ingredients:3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
21 miniature chocolate-covered peanut butter cups, halved

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine butter and peanut butter. Beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping side of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. My stand mixer didn't need the help of a wooden spoon; it incorporated all the flour on its own. If necessary, cover and chill about 30 minutes or until dough is easy to handle. I didn't need to chill the dough, it was greasy but not at all sticky or difficult to form.

Shape dough into 1-1/2-inch balls. Press a peanut butter cup half into each ball and shape dough around peanut butter cup to enclose. Place cookies 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are very lightly browned. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool.

This recipe yielded 38 cookies for me and they baked up perfectly in 10 minutes. I will definitely be filing this recipe away to make again!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cookies in a Jar with Freebie Printable

Can you believe that Christmas is only a week away?! If you're looking for a last minute gift idea that's homemade but easy to put together then look no further than Cookies in a Jar!

The idea is that you are providing your recipient with all the dry ingredients needed to make a batch of cookies in one pretty package. For the jar above I used a recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies found on

You'll need:
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Putting it together is simple. Just mix the salt and baking soda in with the flour, then layer the ingredients in a quart-size jar in the order listed, with the chocolate chips on top. Depending on the size of your jar, you might want to put some of the chocolate chips at the bottom of the jar and then the flour mixture will settle around them giving you more room. I put 1/2 cup of chips in the bottom of my jar and the ingredients filled it right to the top. Make sure you pack down each layer, especially the brown sugar, so you end up with a pretty layered effect.

Close up your jar and decorate any way you like. I don't like to put labels on my jars because that makes them harder for the recipient to reuse. Instead I used pretty candy cane stripe ribbon, some bells and a cute Christmas button from a set I purchased on sale at Michaels during the summer. They've been used on all my gifts this year!

The last step is to print the instructions so your recipient can make the cookies. And I've made this step easier for you by creating a pretty freebie printable using elements from Shabby Princess! Just click on the image below for the full size version and then print it in any size you'd like (I used 4x6) and include it with the jar.

This gift is so easy to make and I love that when your recipient is finished with the jar, she can reuse it for making her own Cookies in a Jar gift :)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Freebie Christmas Tag Printables

My plan tonight was to bake more cookies but unfortunately an hour of shovelling heavy snow left me feeling more like sitting on the couch than standing in the kitchen! But all was not lost since I made good use of my couch time by creating some Christmas gift tags to share with you.

I did three variations on the same set of tags. The trees are clip art and the font is Honey Script. The first version has the standard To and From.

The second is for gifts from your kitchen like cooking or baking.

 And the last version is for your crafty projects.

Just click on any of the images to get the larger version. I made them so you can print four tags on a standard 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper but you could print them smaller or larger as required. I think they'd look great printed on cream coloured cardstock. Hope you like them!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Cookies - French Butter Cookies

Last night I made the first of my five Christmas cookie recipes. First up were French Butter Cookies from Chatelaine.

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/4 cups  unsalted butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 tsp vanilla

I actually didn't have unsalted butter so I just left the salt out of the recipe. I also added an extra 1/4 cup of sugar to counter the saltiness of the butter.

Preheat oven to 375F degrees. In a small bowl, using a fork, stir flour with sugar and salt.

In a medium-size bowl, beat butter with vanilla until creamy. Then gradually stir in flour mixture, mixing with your hands, if you like.

If necessary, refrigerate dough until firm enough to roll into balls, about 30 minutes. It took some effort to get the butter creamy so, by the time I added the dry ingredients, the dough was really soft and I had to refrigerate it. I was disappointed because the prep time was supposed to be 10 minutes but having to cool the dough down added a lot of extra time.

Roll into 1-inch balls. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, at least 1 inch apart. Flatten slightly with a fork to measure 2 inches in diameter. I sprinkled cinnamon on top for a little extra flavour.
Bake until cookies are lightly golden with darker edges, about 6 minutes. I had to bake these cookies for closer to 15 minutes before they started to turn golden. Even after 15 minutes I don't think they had baked up quite like they were supposed to.

Remove cookies from baking sheet and cool on a rack. Store in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator
for up to 3 weeks.

These cookies are very plain. The cinnamon helped give them some flavour but they are not the best butter cookies I've ever made. They will still make their way onto my cookies trays and I'm sure some people will love them but I felt like they were a lot of work for about 30 unexciting cookies. Better luck next time!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Quilled Snowflakes

Last holiday season I came across a tutorial on Reese Dixon for Quilled Snowflakes so pretty that they are now one of my favourite things on the Christmas tree.

Via Reese Dixon

If you've never heard of quilling then don't worry because I hadn't either. Here's a bit of an introduction: Quilling  involves the use of strips of paper that are rolled, shaped, and glued together to create decorative designs. The paper is wound around a quill to create a basic coil shape and then these shapes are glued together. You can buy special quilling paper or you can cut your own into strips. The same goes for a quilling tool. I bought mine at a craft store but you could make your own by breaking the top off the eye of a needle or cutting a slit into the end of a toothpick.

Once you've got your supplies, you're ready to go. Quilling is based on basic shapes that are very easy to master and it won't take you long to make your first snowflake. The tutorial is broken down into simple steps and Tresa has included photos to guide you through each one. By the time you're finished you'll be totally impressed with yourself!

While you're over at Reese Dixon, be sure to check out some of Tresa's other projects. She's got a lot of other pretty Christmas ideas. Her theme this year is Christmas Sweets and she's got tutorials for everything from Lollipop Ornaments to Iced Sugar Cookie Softies. It's practically endless Christmas inspiration :)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gingerbread House

Remember all those Christmas cookies that I posted about needing to make? Well they've had to wait another couple of days. Last night was Chris' work Christmas party and there was no time for baking by the time we got home. Today is devoted to making a cake for my brother who turns 27 on the 15th but whose birthday we're celebrating tomorrow. Since I don't want to reveal the cake before the party, I decided to make a gingerbread house while I was waiting for the cake to cool.

My very sweet husband surprised me a couple of weeks ago with a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer gingerbread house kit. I've been waiting until we get closer to Christmas to make it and today seemed like the perfect day.

The kit came with everything you need, even pre-made icing and little jelly figures. I've never made a gingerbread house before so I was hoping for some instructions but except, for the picture on the box, there was nothing to guide me.

The house was fairly easy to assemble, I just "glued" the various pieces together with icing and held them in place until it firmed up. I did make a mistake by attaching the roof before decorating the sides of the house. It was really difficult to fill in windows on the sides of the house where the roof hung lower. Oh well, lesson learned for next year!

It's certainly not the most beautiful gingerbread house I've ever seen but it was a fun project and not a bad end result for my first try. You can get your own kit at Sears here in Canada or any other place that sells products by The Wild Baker. Check out the rest of their Christmas project kits here!