Monday, December 13, 2010

Willy Wonka...Willy Wonka...

Felt like freaking Willy Wonka over here making peppermint bark for the season...12 batches to be exact! I made it for party favors to hand out to our Christmas party guests, and to bring to two Holiday parties.

So much time, so little to do. Strike that. Reverse it.

It is pretty easy once you get the hang of it!

Peppermint Bark Recipe (Yes, I multiplied this by 12.....I've got a golden ticket....!)

6 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped ( I use chocolate chips, they work fine)

6 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  (helps the chocolate melt evenly, and stay the right consistency. Don't use too much, or the two layers won't stick together...batch one...)

4 teaspoons of peppermint extract (NOT MINT. Tastes like toothpaste!!! PEPPERmint only ;)  Candy making is serious business, people.)
1/3 cup crushed candy canes (I crushed these in the food processor. AMAZING. really freaking loud, but it works. Or, the way I used to do it.....plastic bag....hammer.....go.) I didn't need close to 6 cups of candy canes for my 12 batches....anyone need dozens of candy canes?? Much less was about all that I seemed to need - just a good sprinkling on top.

Peppermint Bark: Line the bottom and sides of a 9 inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, smoothing out any wrinkles.

Melt the milk chocolate and 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. (double boiler = amazing. heatproof bowl balanced over a bowl of simmering water = just fine)

Once it is melted and smooth, quickly add 2 teaspoons of the peppermint extract, and stir thoroughly.  (It changes the texture...wants to like dry it stir quickly to bring back original melted texture)

Immediately pour the melted chocolate into the prepared pan and tilt the pan so the chocolate makes an even layer.

Place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, or until the chocolate has set.

Then, melt the white chocolate and remaining 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Again, add the other 2 teaspoons of peppermint extract at the end, once melted.

Immediately pour the melted white chocolate over the milk chocolate and tilt the pan so the chocolate is in an even layer.

Sprinkle the crushed candy canes evenly over the white chocolate. (Press down a bit so it sticks into the chocolate, and doesn't all fall right off when you go to break this into pieces)

Place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, or until the chocolate has set.

Remove the Peppermint Bark from the pan by lifting the edges of the aluminum foil.

Peel back the foil and break the bark into small irregular pieces.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Makes about 25 pieces.

 double boiler...
 layer one
 layer two
 with candy cane pieces sprinkled on top

 Pulled out of the pan, once chilled
 breaking into pieces
....12 batches of bark....!

Our Christmas party!

We had the best time at our Christmas Party we threw for our family and friends!
We had a white elephant gift exchange, and an ugly sweater contest!
I made Kylie and myself some pretty awesome "ugly" outfits! And Joe wore a Grinch t-shirt that he let me add a bit of glitter puff paint to!
 My sweatshirt!
Kylie's shirt I made from a plain red shirt....this was pre-bedazzling: we added about 50 glitter pom poms and jingle bells to this later!

I also made lots of fun party snacks!
We had pigs in a blanket, stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, spinach artichoke dip with bread rounds, ranch dip with veggies, my sister's amazing guacamole and chips, olives, cheese, crackers, brownies, mini-cupcakes, and cookies!!

And warm apple cider with optional (amazing) spiced rum to add! YUM.

Recipe for Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients (I multiplied this recipe by three for the party, making 36, and they were gone in minutes!)

12 whole fresh mushrooms - white button are what I used, and some mini-portobello
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (or olive oil)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (plus, I added more over the top before baking)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper - i skipped this and added mixed Italian Seasoning instead - basil, etc.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel.
Carefully break off stems. Chop stems extremely fine, discarding tough end of stems.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add garlic and chopped mushroom stems to the skillet.
Fry until any moisture has disappeared, taking care not to burn garlic. Set aside to cool.
When garlic and mushroom mixture is no longer hot, stir in cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, black pepper, onion powder and cayenne pepper.
Mixture should be very thick. Using a little spoon, fill each mushroom cap with a generous amount of stuffing.

(Then, I sprinkled the remaining Parmesan cheese over the tops to form a crust)
Arrange the mushroom caps on prepared cookie sheet. (So much easier to place one mushroom each in my mini-muffin tins - then they don't roll around)
Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the mushrooms are piping hot and liquid starts to form under caps.

Party. check! so there. the chimney with care

I made us three some adorable stockings!
I bought 3 plain stockings at Big Lots for $2 each, with cute little curled up ends at the...toes?, and each in a different color.
Then, I cut our names out in bubble letters (Thanks Momma, this is how she made our family stockings years ago!!) from white felt.
I used spray adhesive to attach the letters to seasonal fabric.  (No sew!) I picked out a different one for each of us: a (manly, ha ha) red and green plaid (with glitter) for Joe, a forest green polka dot for me, and a striped snowflake fabric for Kylie. She was upset hers had less glitter than Daddy's, so I outlined her letters with silver glitter puff paint!
Then, I cut out a bigger version of the bubble letters in that fabric around the white letters already glued on, and attached each of these to the stockings.

AND stockings I made for the kitties!!

Ta da! Stockings!! So there.


I LOVE Christmas! Have I mentioned this? I love all the garlands I put up, and the little outside lights!
 I bought cheap, plain, artificial garlands at Walmart, and glitter ornaments from the Target $1 bin (where I live), and made these festive garlands to go up the staircase banister.

 I hung more of the same garland, with fake Poinsettia flowers from Michael's, above our kitchen area
 View of everything from outside!

Oh, Christmas Tree....!

We got our tree! A real, live, six foot tall tree! Hooray!
Last year I had a real one, but it was about 2.5 feet we finally have a place big enough, with a little rearranging!, for a full size tree.
I love it!
I got some amazing bird ornaments with feathers and glitter, and made a bow from ribbon for the tree topper we lacked.

 First ornament!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Thanksgiving Pot Luck!

We had a Thanksgiving pot luck & Chili/Soup cook-off at work! Very cool.
I brought a salad to balance out the mass amounts of chili I knew everyone would be consuming.
I love salads with fruit in them, so I decided to make up my own recipe with some in-season fruits, and one that was easy to make ahead of time!

It was so simple to make, and everyone really liked it!

I put baby spinach in first, with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. 
Then, added layers of :
freshly sliced oranges,
canned Mandarin oranges,
canned, sliced pears (because fresh would have turned brown),
grapes that I halved,
halves and pieces of walnuts
and dried cranberries

...and tossed the whole thing together.

I actually made this the day before, dressing and all, kept it in the fridge overnight, and in the fridge at work all morning, and by lunch it was still great!

Spinach holds up really, really well to dressing and doesn't wilt for a long time.  This made the salad even easier, since I could assemble everything ahead of time.

I sliced oranges the fancy way, and then also added some canned ones. ( in their own JUICE, NOT syrup)
I don't know WHY Joe & Kylie don't like canned Mandarin oranges - I love them!!
But, the trick to fancy orange slices is to peel the orange with a knife, taking off both the peel and all the white part. Then, cut in to each orange section right inside the white part from the left side, then the right, at a V angle, leaving you with perfect orange slices with no white part at all! You're so fancy!

Another fancy tip is to slice all the grapes in half. Not only are they easier to eat without flinging them across the room, while attempting to stab them with your fork...but they look very professional.
I don't think you need a step by step on this one, but I promise it doesn't take as long as you are thinking...just do it!

Now, the canned pears you may be thinking....umm, I don't want my salad to taste like an elementary school fruit cocktail... don't worry! Get the kind canned in their own juice, not sugar syrup, and slice them all evenly, and they really taste good! The reason I did this (I know pears are in season!) was because I knew the fresh pears would brown and look really gross, if I was going to make this all the day before.  Canned pears hold up nicely.

This salad, whether made for 2 people, or 75, is a simple, and wonderful addition to any meal!
So there. YUM!!