Friday, January 28, 2011

Make It Monday: Gingerbread House

We make a gingerbread house every year around Christmas. It's a tradition Jake and Alyssa look forward to (Ok, I do too.) Last year, we made the gingerbread from scratch, cut it out, and assembled the house with homemade frosting. We had gone to the store and picked out different goodies to decorate it. It was a bit more expensive than the pre-made kits, but it was so much more fun!

I had wanted to make our own again, but the Christmas festivities seemed even busier than normal this year. Maybe it's the homeschooling. Maybe it's that I now have 3 tornadoes wreaking havoc on my house. Whatever the reason, our beloved gingerbread house had gotten postponed. I still had good intentions of heating the oven and  mixing up a big batch of gingerbread, but a quick trip into Kroger changed my mind. I found a kit on clearance for $2.50. Pre-made, here we come.

Ok, Leighton always does the "mortaring" part. My job is to stand around and take pictures. He was at work and I had to step up to the job. It was not pretty.The frosting was thick and goopy.It ran down the sides, bringing the candy pieces down with it.

While this house was not as nice as our previous one, the kids still had a good time making it. Alyssa surely had a good time eating it. One piece on the house . . . one piece in the mouth . . one on the house . . . one in the mouth . . .

* Disclaimer: I am not to be held responsible for the quality of these pictures. My computer screen is on the fritz, making it difficult to edit photos. Hold Leighton Leaf responsible for being unable to fix the screen. =)

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tasty Tuesday: Butterscotch Fudge

This was the first week that I didn't know in advance what we were making. I searched the internet Monday night looking for something different. I came across this recipe.

1 cup granulated sugar                          1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed          1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream                                1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted

1. Combine sugar, brown sugar, sour cream and butter in a large heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugars dissolve and mixture comes to a boil. cover and cook 2 to 3 minutes to wash down sugar crystals from sides of pan. Uncover and cook until mixture reaches the softball stage or candy thermometer registers 240°F, sitting occasionally. Remove from heat, and let cool 30 minutes.
2. Add vanilla, and beat with a wooden spoon until mixture thickens and begins to lose its gloss. Stir in pecans. Pour into a buttered 8-inch square pan. Cool completely. Cut into squares.

Why do kids like to eat sour cream straight from the container?

Posing so they can begin making the fudge.

"Helping" her put in the butter.

Ready to mix.

Jake hard at work, while Alyssa is sneaking a taste.

This was my first time making non-chocolate fudge. My chocolate recipe is super easy: throw all the ingredients into the microwave, heat until melted, pour into pan. I had no idea what the soft ball stage is, or that you determine it by the cold water test if you do not have a candy thermometer. (I have thought about getting a thermometer, and am determined to now.) I tested the mixture four times because I was afraid of over-cooking it. As it turns out, I think I did anyway. Next time, (unless I have a thermometer by then) I will use a shallow dish instead of a glass cup for the cold water. The mixture falls to the bottom and is difficult to get to unless you stick your whole hand in. It didn't look like a ball in the water, so I kept cooking. Finally, the mixture in the pot started to change and I figured it was time to dump the water and check. Sure enough, I think it was more like the firm ball stage.

Almost done.

Cold water test.

Firm ball?
We ate dinner while it was cooling. I got busy cleaning up and such, and forgot about the fudge. It cooled for 45 minutes instead of 30. It was hardened. I put the pot back on the stove to heat it up a bit in order to beat in the vanilla. It wasn't pretty. I beat it. Leighton beat it. I beat it again. Finally, it was the best it was going to get, and I poured it into the pan.

After vanilla.

Ready to be cooled.

I'm not really sure why the name of the recipe is Butterscotch Fudge. It tastes just like caramel. It is overly sweet. Jake tasted it and said, "Mmm, is this caramel?" And then, "I like this better than regular butterscotch."  (And he LOVES butterscotch!) The fudge itself is crumbly and sticks in the pan. I should have lined it with foil like I normally do. It might have something to do with possibly being over-cooked. I have no desire to make this recipe again, even though the kids LOVE it. I did learn a few things, and that is important. Anyone have a good butterscotch fudge recipe? I would love it try it.
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Monday, January 17, 2011

Tasty Tuesday: Chocolate Chai Bread

I am a big fan of quick breads: banana, pumpkin, zucchini, chocolate chip,  blueberry, lemon poppy seed . . . the list goes on. My absolute favorite is chai. I had never even heard of chai bread until a few years ago. After I had made the chai tea mix the first time, I came across a recipe for the bread. It's been my favorite ever since. One would think though, that since it's near and dear to my heart, I would keep track of the recipe. Unfortunately, that's not the case. I thought I had a copy of it in my recipe folder. Not there. Not a problem, I thought. I'll just get it from, where I often find recipes, and where I originally got it. Hmm, not there anymore either. I searched all over the internet, but could not find my beloved recipe. I settled on the one below.
My Happy Helper

He sat like a little puppy, waiting for Alyssa to drop him chocolate chips.

2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped             1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water                                                         3 tablespoons chai tea mix
1/2 cup butter, softened                                         1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup packed brown sugar                                     1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs                                                                     1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup confectioners' sugar                                     1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter, softened                                 4 to 5 teaspoons milk
1 tablespoon chai tea latte mix

1. In a microwave, melt chocolate with the water; stir until smooth. Cool slightly. In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla, then chocolate mixture.
2. Combine the flour, latte mix, baking soda and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream.
3. Transfer to three greased 5-3/4-in. x 3-in. x 2-in. loaf pans. Bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to a wire rack to cool completely.
4. For frosting, combine the confectioners' sugar, butter, latte mix, vanilla and enough milk to achieve desired consistency. Frost tops of loaves.

This was her first time mixing all by herself.

Taken before she spilled chai tea mix all over the counter.

Ready to alternate mixing.


I called. He saw. He ran.

Ready for the oven.

Jake said, "Mmm, I could smell them while I was brushing my teeth!"

Psst . . you can see on the left where someone stole a piece before the picture was taken. I won't tell you who, but it starts with an M and ends with and E.

This recipe was a little different from the other one, (I don't think it had chocolate.) but it was delicious. Both loaves were gone within 2 days. The boys would have eaten it completely by themselves if I would have let them. Yeah, it's that good. Also, I learned a new trick this time. Make the baked goods at night so the kids are getting in bed when it's coming out of the oven. I actually got to lick the frosting beaters!

If you don't want to take the time to make the chai tea mix, (as we showed here) you can buy a latte mix at the grocery store. I recommend making the mix and definitely making this bread. You will not be disappointed!
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Make It Monday: Crayons

This is a project that I had been thinking about doing for weeks. I was planning to use our silicone ice cube trays and broken pieces of crayons. As it turned out, my niece bought the kids a Crayola Crayon Maker for Christmas. They were very excited. The idea of melting crayons in the oven was no longer thrilling to them. So, I gathered the crayons and had Jake and Alyssa peel all the paper off.  I took the machine out of the box and began reading the directions. Step 1: Installing the Light Bulb. Light bulb, light bulb . . . there's no light bulb.  I look at the box: Requires Bulb. Oops. This is why you're supposed to read the directions before starting a project. Back to Plan A, silicone trays.

By this point, the kids had tired of peeling crayons, so I finished by myself. (This was definitely not high on the excitement chart.) While the oven was heating to 400° F, we broke the crayons into small pieces and placed them in the silicone trays.  I would suggest separating the colors as you peel them. We had to test the purples, blues, and blacks to see which they were. That was a perfect job for Alyssa though, as she "tested" every crayon. You can make theme colored crayons (red and green for Christmas, pink and red for Valentine's, shades of blue for the sky or greens for grass.)

Making sure they are red.

Zachy getting into Mommy's purse and eating mints while she's distracted.

Ready to be melted.

Then, it was time to melt them down into our new creations. The directions said to keep them in the oven for 5-10 minutes, until melted. I checked the tray after 3 minutes to get a picture. I also took them out after 3 minutes, when I noticed the melted tray and saw the smoke. My tray must be rubber and not silicone. Oops. I used a plastic knife to try to mix the semi-melted crayons so they would meld together and be usable.

Naively sitting in the heat.

After 3 minutes at 400° F.

Somewhat Combined.
We popped them out of the tray after they cooled. Only 3 of them broke. Those pieces can be used next time we do this. The crayons actually look good (as long as you don't flip them over!) They work well too. The kids had fun coloring with them and seeing the swirl of colors on the page.

This picture just makes me laugh. I told Jake, "Let me see your handsome face." He immediately turned around looking like this. I snapped the picture and asked what he was doing. He replied, "Showing you my hands and face."

Jake's Display
We learned a few tips for next time: drop the temperature down a bit, use an X-Acto knife to get the paper off,  use a muffin tin lined with foil or melt the crayons first and pour it into candy or soap molds, and (most importantly) don't put a rubber tray in the oven!
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