Monthly Archives: April 2009

Cookies & Crafts

COOKIES & CRAFTS

When my own children were little boys, we always decorated cookies for the holidays. I always hoped these would be some of their favorite memories later on. But when my granddaughter, Savannah, was born, baking cookies took on a whole new meaning. By the time she was two, she was donning a little apron to help me make and bake cookies. Children love to make cut-out cookies. Granted, the cookie dough may become a tad tough from excessive handling, and children tend to pour rather than sprinkle on jimmies and colored sugar..but if you don’t mind having sugar and sprinkles all over the kitchen floor, and aren’t obsessed about how dainty the cookies look, this is a great project to share with your children, grandchildren, or even the neighborhood children.

In addition to my own grandchildren, we’ve had co-workers’ children and my sister’s three youngsters here for “the cookies and crafts” day. The most I’ve had at my house to do cookies and crafts at one time were twelve children, which I have to say – is a tad much. We did manage to get everyone around the dining room table (which has three extension leaves) but with twelve children and half a dozen mothers on hand to assist, it turned into a rather chaotic session. That particular event took place one Christmas. The children decorated small artificial trees which I bought for about a dollar each at Big Lots; the mothers contributed assortments of tiny non-breakable ornaments and garlands, mostly from Michael’s Craft store.

Each child decorated his own tree which was theirs to keep. After the trees had been decorated and admired, I brought out large tree shaped cookies, some tubs of frosting (I make my own butter cream but you could use the commercial frosting mixes if you didn’t want to make your own) and we had loads of miniature M&Ms, Red Hot cinnamon candies, and a wide variety of Christmas jimmies, sprinkles and colored sugars (I buy all of these things after the holidays, when they are on sale). The mothers helped me fill 12 muffin liners so that each child had his or her own candies for decorating.

Despite the chaos of having twelve children and six mothers in my dining room, this was probably the biggest hit of all the cookies and crafts sessions we have enjoyed.

The children in my life (now four grandchildren, a godson, and my sister’s three youngsters) have enjoyed decorating plastic buckets for Easter (mostly with stickers and felt marking pens) to then use to collect eggs at our Easter egg hunt, and they have also decorated large egg shaped cookies. We have had Valentine’s Day cookies & crafts; the children make and decorate Valentines for their parents (red construction paper, paper doilies, a variety of stickers) and then got to decorate large heart-shaped cookies to take home.

One Christmas, we made little graham cracker houses which they decorated (I put the houses together out of graham crackers and royal icing the day before) while another year, I made up large house-shaped cookies for them to decorate. On these occasions, they also made some kind of ornament to take home. One time, I asked the mothers to give me small school pictures of their children and the kids made ornaments out of their photographs, some construction paper, and yarn.

On another occasion, we had a white elephant sale after the children had decorated cookies—I collected over a period of several months, with the help of friends, a wide assortment of knick knacks and other little items that were “like new” but no longer wanted. Many of these items were Christmas decorations, but we also had all sorts of other things including unopened packages of men’s handkerchiefs, unopened gift soaps, unused coffee mugs—things like that. Friends contributed towards this event, and one of my friends made up little white elephant sale tickets for the event. We gave each child twelve tickets to “buy” something for their parents for Christmas. Several mothers manned picnic tables in my front yard, loaded with all of the White elephant donations and the children were allowed to go and “shop” for gifts for their parents. Everyone was delighted with the outcome of this project so – we are planning to do this one again, perhaps next Christmas. (I’ve already received a boxful of white elephant donations).

If you have some children in your life, it doesn’t take much to plan and

carry out a cookies & crafts session with them. For Valentine’s day this year, I wasn’t feeling up to par and didn’t feel like standing in the kitchen making cookie dough—so I cheated, with slice and bake sugar cookie dough. I did several packages at one time, adding perhaps ½ to ¾ cup of flour to the mix, to make the dough stiffer and less likely to spread too much. I made up the large heart shaped cookies about a week in advance (stored in plastic containers with wax paper between the layers). I did make up my own frosting (because we all like it so much!) and a daughter in law helped me by providing heart shaped paper doilies and some of the stickers. We just had my grandchildren and a godson here for this event and discovered, much to my chagrin, it was much easier to handle with just a few children. (With a lot fewer sprinkles and colored sugar all over the floor).

You may have a lot of good ideas of your own – and if you do, I’d be happy to hear from you. I’m always searching for new ideas for cookies and crafts!

Chocolate frosting recipes

To make a chocolate frosting:

1 lb confectioners (powdered) sugar, sifted
1 stick butter, softened
2 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup (more or less as needed) cold coffee or water or milk

Blend the powdered sugar with the softened butter and melted chocolate. Add drops of cold coffee (or milk or water) as needed to make the frosting smooth and fluffy. If you are using milk, I really prefer evaporated milk to make a creamy frosting. Add the vanilla. Just beat with an electric mixer until it’s smooth. (Generally speaking I double this recipe to make a big batch. The frosting will keep a long time in a covered container in the refrigerator; just return to room temperature to use).

To make chocolate glaze:

1 stick butter
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 lb box of sifted powdered sugar
¼ to ½ cup cold coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract

Melt the butter and chocolate in a saucepan together over low heat – stirring frequently (chocolate burns easily) – then begin adding the powdered sugar; when it gets too thick, add coffee to thin it out…keeping adding the powdered sugar and coffee until you’ve used all of it – and it smooths itself out into a shiny smooth glaze. If you don’t want to use coffee, use water. Coffee intensifies the taste of the chocolate. The glaze should be thick and shiny but thin enough that you can drizzle it over brownies or cookies or a cake.

My sons love this glaze drizzled over their favorite – angel food cake. Like frosting, the glaze can be kept in the refrigerator and then reheated over a low flame in a saucepan,
When you want to use it again. You may have to add a few drops of water to get it going.

I had to think about how I make these because I don’t really follow a recipe on a card -
But this is how I make chocolate frosting and glaze. You can always substitute something like Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa if you don’t have unsweetened chocolate squares but the squares provide a little additional shortening (fat, butter) to the recipe and you may have to allow for that. Hope this makes sense.

Easter 2009

We’ve just celebrated Easter a week early, because my son Steve, who lives in South Dakota (while I am in southern California) was here for a week and it was a golden opportunity to have a dinner and give him the opportunity to see siblings, nieces and nephews, his aunt & uncle and some cousins. We had a great afternoon and the children all decorated large egg shaped cookies I had made up in advance. I’ll take this moment to tell you – I used Masterpiece cookie dough that my grandson was selling for a school fund raiser – to make the cookies. The dough really worked well for cut out sugar cookies; I did add flour to make the dough stiffer and easier to handle.

Well, here we were celebrating Easter a week early – and a week AFTER Easter would have been a lot more convenient because then we could have gotten all the Easter candy for the baskets at half price-and Easter was falling early this year, as it was – I began wondering how many people even know how the date for Easter is determined (and trust me, I couldn’t come up with an intelligent answer if someone asked me point-blank) – but

Here is what I learned:

How is the date for Easter determined?

The short answer: Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox.

The long answer is REALLY long and literally covers thousands of years of history, arcane astronomical calculations and a little political wrangling. For a well-documented discussion of the matter see: http://www.assa.org.au/edm.html. This site details everything you ever wanted to know about Easter but were afraid to ask.

One interesting side note about the date of Easter is that the Eastern Orthodox churches do not celebrate Easter (called Pascha) on the same date as most other Christian churches. The Eastern Orthodox Church uses a different method to calculate the date and it generally falls a couple of weeks later than the western Easter.

So if we celebrated according to the Eastern Orthodox Church, maybe we could have gotten all the candy at half price?

Well, regardless – we had a nice Easter dinner; the kids all enjoyed decorating cookies (that is a big hit with my grandchildren and nieces and nephews) and it kept them all busy for over an hour. Michael’s and Joann’s both have some new easy to use Wilton products  that simplify cookie decorating for the small fry – as well as some of us older folk.

It looks like we may be going up to the mountains to celebrate our actual Easter Sunday with friends if I can find a sitter for one of our dogs. -

Have a Happy Holiday wherever you spent it. More importantly, let us all remember what Easter is really all about.

Finding the Right Tools to Cook or Bake

When I started out with my own kitchen, I didn’t have very much in the way of baking utensils–mostly just what had been given to me at bridal showers or as wedding gifts. In 1958, wedding and shower gifts were really modest – a toaster or a waffle iron or an electric mixer were really “big” gifts. Many years later I was at a bridal shower at which the bride received everything imaginable including a set of luggage. I remarked “What is left to give her as a wedding present?” and her grandmother, who overheard me, said “Why, money, of course!” Obviously I got married in the wrong decade.

Well, I’m here to tell you that I love kitchen utensils, kitchen gadgets, pots, pans, baking pans, small appliances, cookie sheets–anything that goes into the kitchen. I love it. Having had some friends pass away in the past two decades, I also inherited a lot more kitchen gadgets and utensils. Yeah, I know. No one needs fifteen wooden spoons or six potato peelers or three flour sifters or eight cookie sheets–but I can’t bear to part with any of them because many of them belonged to someone I knew and loved. Whenever you handle or use something that belonged to someone you loved – a sister, or your grandmother, or a girlfriend – you are holding in your hand something that they held in their hands. (I have two cookie cutters that belonged to my grandmother. I use them often and think of her every time I do).

I am also greatly enamored of things needed to make cute or fancy cupcakes, cookies. cakes, muffins, and whatever, such as food color pastes, different flavoring extracts, edible toppings, paper cupcake liners in different sizes and cutesy food decorating tips or marking pens – and a huge assortment of sprinkles that fill one entire wall of racks (I buy them on sale half price after every holiday). My grandchildren love the sprinkles too and have been having a high time with the new icing tips that dry “hard” like royal frosting.

If you are near a Michael’s or a Joann’s store – they both have fairly decent sections devoted to Wilton products and other good things needed to bake cookies, muffins, cupcake and layer cakes. But if you are NOT near one of these stores (though I can’t imagine anyone not having a Michael’s or a Joann’s in their town) -one of my other favorites is something called Kitchen Krafts that publishes a catalog but can also be accessed on www.kitchenkrafts.com.

No, I don’t get a discount from Kitchen Krafts (I wish) – but I have one of their catalogs in front of me and they are celebrating their 20th anniversary. I can spend as much time going through one of these catalogs as I can a catalog for BOOKS such as those published periodically by Edward R. Hamilton. Ok, we are catalogue buffs and probably spend as much time going through catalogs as we do books. But you can often find something really – obscure – in a catalog that you aren’t going to find at the local hardware store or Walmart or Target. But if all else fails, type what you are looking for into Google.com and see what pops up. I find a lot of stuff through Google too, including, believe it or not – the most recent acquisition – a fermenting crock so we could make a big batch of sauerkraut. (If all goes well we will be canning about 30 quarts of sauerkraut in a few weeks).

As you might have guessed, a lot of our friends think we are a little strange. The rest know it.

Happy Cooking!

Sandy