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Archive for December, 2010

Santa and his reindeer have come and gone, leaving not a trace of the Reindeer Snack Mix that was set out for them. They obviously needed to fuel their bodies with carbohydrates for the strenuous night that lay ahead! Many versions of Reindeer Snack Mix exist, but this one has just the right combination of saltiness, spiciness, and sweetness so that everyone who comes in contact with it finds it addicting! Why wait until next Christmas to make this Mix? Put it out at your next gathering and watch how fast it disappears!

Reindeer Snack Mix
Taste of Home Test Kitchen recipe

Ingredients:
2 cups Bugles
2 cups square-shaped, cheese-flavored crackers
2 cups pretzel sticks
1 cup Corn Chex cereal
1 cup bite-sized shredded wheat
1 cup pecan halves
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1-1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
3/4 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions:
1. In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients.
2. In another bowl, combine the butter, syrup, Worcestershire sauce, Cajun seasoning and cayenne pepper. Pour over the cereal mixture and toss gently, but thoroughly, to coat.
3. Transfer to an ungreased 15-inch x 1–in baking pan. Bake, uncovered at 250 degrees F for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Serves 9.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. This recipe lends itself easily to substitutions. I use Crispix cereal in lieu of Corn Chex; pecans, walnuts, almonds and cashews work well individually or mixed; popcorn can be substituted for the shredded wheat (although I feel the shredded wheat absorbs the sauce much better); smaller, stubbier pretzels make it easier to grab a handful than the thin stick ones. I always add more Bugles than called for, because these are the first item to be picked out of the Mix and eaten. I usually double these dry ingredients and mix them in a large roasting pan.

2. In step 2, I add 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder to the sauce mixture. The level of spiciness can easily be adjusted by adding or reducing the Cajun seasoning and cayenne pepper. Make about 1.5 to 2 times the amount of sauce per batch for better coating.

3. I roast the mix in two shallow-lipped baking pans. Don’t try baking it in a deep pan (such as a roasting pan) because the Mix will take longer to dry out.

Enjoy!

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Frankly, the holiday critters are getting to me. First there was the Thanksgiving scorpion hiding in my roasting pan and now there is a Christmas rat eating styrofoam cups out in my garage. My exhausting holiday schedule doesn’t leave me the energy to deal with them and since my husband is always yelling at me to delegate, I’ve delegated critter control to him. With him on guard and with most of the shopping and wrapping done, I can relax a bit now and get on with the holiday activities I enjoy – number one, baking cookies!

Rich and refreshing – that’s the only way to describe the taste of peppermint and chocolate together. Each of these flavors on it’s own is very distinctive and bold, yet together they complement one another very nicely. Janet Taylor McCracken’s recipe for Double Chocolate-Peppermint Crunch Cookies from Bon Appetit is a delicious example of peppermint and chocolate sinfully combined. This recipe caught my eye because it uses bittersweet chocolate both in the cookie dough and in the drizzle. Bittersweet chocolate is my kind of chocolate. No sissy milk chocolate for me! Adding to the chocolate side of the flavor scale is cocoa powder and espresso powder. To balance that off, peppermint extract is added to the dough and crunchy peppermint candies are sprinkled on top. My daughter says, “Beware! These cookies are so rich, you’d better have a glass of milk on hand!”

Double Chocolate-Peppermint Crunch Cookies
Janet Taylor McCracken – Bon Appetit

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (do not exceed 61% cacao; 15 to 16 ounces), divided
1- 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 large eggs
4 candy canes or 16 red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies, coarsely crushed

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Stir 2 cups chocolate chips in medium metal bowl set over saucepan of simmering water until melted and smooth. Measure 2/3 cup melted chocolate; transfer to small metal bowl and reserve for drizzling.

Whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, espresso powder, and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until creamy. Add sugar and both extracts; beat until smooth. Add eggs; beat to blend. Beat in melted chocolate from medium bowl. Add dry ingredients; beat just to blend. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips. Measure 1 level tablespoonful dough; roll dough between palms to form ball. Place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing cookies 1-1/2 inches apart.

Bake cookies until cracked all over and tester inserted into center comes out with large moist crumbs attached, 8 to 9 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes. Transfer cookies on parchment paper to racks to cool completely.

Rewarm reserved 2/3 cup chocolate over small saucepan of simmering water. Using fork, drizzle chocolate over cookies. Sprinkle crushed candy canes over, arranging some pieces with red parts showing. Chill just until chocolate sets, about 20 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 weeks ahead. Store airtight in freezer. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Ho! Ho! Yum!
Enjoy!

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The air was damp and the sky was overcast, but still it was a lovely morning for a walk. The half-dressed autumn trees swayed in the breeze and encouraged their leaves to fall gracefully to the ground. As each season arrives and brings its unique character, I pause to breathe deep and say to myself, “This is the best time of the year.” And it always is.

#1 – Bingo, Anyone?
Breathe a little fun into your holiday gathering. On Christmas Eve each place setting on the tables in my house will have a little something extra – a bingo card. I’m making bingo cards and the markers will be holiday m&m candies. Just a little bit of fun before dinner starts. You can either make your own bingo cards using stickers or rubber stamps or go to DLTK to customize your cards and print them up!

#2 – Reuse It!
Breathe easier because here’s another idea for reusing plastic water bottles and saving the world from more trash. How about making cute bracelets out of bottles! Check out Dana’s Fashion Blog for complete instructions and pictorial.

#3 – Looking For a Good Book to Read?
I came across an article on LISTVERSE titled Top Ten Best Novels of the Last 20 Years. At first I was just curious, but as I read the article I became intrigued. A lot of these novels are out of my normal reading comfort zone, but Franz Kafka once said, “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.” That’s intense and it leaves me breathless, but I’m still off to the bookstore to check out those titles!

#4 – Hit the Road
Feel like taking a road trip? MapCrunch is an interesting site where you can “teleport to a random place in the world!” Select a country and click “Go” and an image of a random street in that country appears on screen. Some scenes are breathtaking and some are not. Move your cursor to the lower right-hand corner of the image and you’ll see the address of the scene. A pointer on a map indicates where you are located in that country.

#5 – All Good Things Are Yours
Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more; and all good things are yours. 
~Swedish Proverb

Take a deep breath . . . there are only two more weeks before Christmas!

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November 1982. That’s what it reads on the upper left-hand corner of a slightly tattered, grease-spotted, magazine page. There’s no additional clue to reveal the identity of the magazine from which I carefully tore out the page. That I saved this page all these years is impressive, but what is incredible to me is that in those early-parenting days I had enough time to read a magazine, let alone had the ambition to make the recipe on the page. Having an eighteen-month-old baby who never slept took its toll out on me back then. So why on earth would a sleep-deprived, working, young mom clip out a recipe for a fancy holiday hors d’oeuvre, when she barely had time to make herself a sandwich? I’m sure it was wishful thinking on my part that my baby would eventually be like others and take a four hour nap instead of a twenty-minute one or that I’d eventually be able to leave the house to make friends and have the energy to entertain! Ever the optimist!

Well, that baby grew up and sleeps quite a bit these days. Somehow I survived his sleepless ways and am thankful that I hung on to that page and recipe all these years. The Hot Mushroom Turnover recipe has become a family favorite. These delicate little turnovers are made with a forgiving cream-cheese pastry and filled with the goodness of fresh mushrooms, bits of onions, rich sour cream, and fragrant thyme. They’re great for holiday entertaining because you can freeze them unbaked –  popping them into the oven when you have company or just when you have a craving for them!

Hot Mushroom Turnovers

Ingredients:
1 – 8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1-1/2 cups + 2 T all purpose flour, divided use
1/2 + 3 T cup butter, softened, divided use
1/2 pound mushrooms, minced
1 large onion, minced
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 egg, beaten

Directions:
1. In a large bowl with mixer at medium speed, beat cream cheese, 1-1/2 cups flour, and 1/2 cup butter until smooth. Shape into ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile in 10-inch skillet over medium heat, melt 3 T butter. Add mushrooms and onion and cook until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in sour cream, salt, thyme, and 2 T flour; set aside.

3. On floured surface with floured rolling pin, roll half of dough 1/8-inch thick. With a floured 2-3/4-inch round cookie cutter or inverted glass, cut out as many circles as possible. Repeat.

4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

5. Onto one half of each dough circle, put 1 teaspoon of the mushroom mixture. Brush edges of circles with egg wash, using a small brush. Fold dough over filling. With fork, firmly press edges together to seal. Prick tops with fork.

6. Place turnovers on ungreased cookie sheet and brush tops with remaining egg wash.

7. Bake 12-14 minutes until golden.

Makes about 3-1/2 dozen.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. Do not attempt to put more than 1 teaspoon of filling into the turnovers. The turnovers may not seal correctly or may burst while baking if they are over-filled.

2. The onions should be minced smaller than the mushrooms. The mushrooms shrink while they are cooking. Ultimately you want both components to be of the same size.

3. I seem to always have leftover filling. Either use the extra filling for something else (topping for Brie?) or double the amount of pastry dough.

4. In a pinch I think puff pastry sheets could be used instead of making scratch pastry.

5. If you freeze them, make sure you bake them a little longer.

Enjoy!

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It’s only December 3rd and I’m already feeling behind on my holiday decorating and shopping. Plus, at the rate I am going, the winner of my last Mystery Photo Contest may never get her prize. I’ve been working on a set of note cards for the winner and even though I’ve already made twelve cards, something inside me keeps saying the set is not yet complete. I keep adding little flourishes to “finished” cards or I come across another photo that I think would make a pretty card or I decide to experiment with different materials. One of the cards in the set was created from an old map and an outdated calendar. No wonder I’m so far behind on everything – I keep finding ways to reuse things!

#1 – Reuse It!
I like to think that I am pretty creative when it comes to reusing things. Remember the busted plastic hamper that I wrote about wanting to use as a tomato cage? Well, here’s an idea for reusing those foam packing sleeves that are put on fruit for protection. To protect my fragile Christmas ornaments from damage or breakage, I slip one of the solid or lattice-type foam fruit sleeves on them. These especially work well on round glass ornaments.

#2 – Got a Bit of Yarn?
If you think it is cold outside, think about how cold it is for an impoverished child who has AIDS. I came across a site called Knit a Square. The founders of Knit a Square collect donated knitted or crocheted squares from around the world and make blankets, vests, hats and pullovers for abandoned children, AIDS orphans, and for child-headed families in South Africa. The project began as a family project, but has become a registered charity whose goal this year is to collect “105,000 squares (3000 blankets) and and additional 5,000 knitted and crocheted garments.”

Got a bit of yarn? Knit or crochet a square to help keep a child warm.

#3 – Exercise to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
According to an article in Brainangle, one must exercise both his brain and body to help prevent Alzheimer’s:

Mental exercise is one way to help prevent Alzheimer’s. Another means of prevention is to remain physically fit throughout life. All of the organs in the body benefit from being physically fit, including the brain. One Harvard study of more than 18,000 participants found that people who got the most exercise showed less mental decline than those with sedentary lifestyles.

Physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain and keeps it working efficiently by stimulating the production of neurotrophins. This is especially true for the hippocampus which is the first area of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease. This increased blood flow and neuronal efficiency can reduce the natural shrinkage that occurs in the brain as it ages. An average person will lose between 15% and 25% of brain cells by the age of 90. Those people who get the most exercise will be at the bottom of that scale, while those people who never exercise will be at the top of that scale.

#4 – I-5 Know How
Last week when my daughter was driving back to college with a friend, fog was anticipated on the interstate. Although I’ve previously posted Tips for Driving in the Fog on this blog, I found additional information that I shared with her and her friend. Gary Richards, a San Jose Mercury News columnist, offered these safety tips for driving in the fog and the rain in his column “Roadshow”:

No. 1: Sl-o-o-o-o-o-w down.

No. 2: In thick fog, drive with lights on low beam, reduce speed and crack open your window and listen for traffic you cannot see. Never drive with just your parking or fog lights on.

No. 3: If you are on Interstate 5, look for reflective dots on the right shoulder when approaching an exit. Three side-by-side dots will appear three-tenths of a mile from an exit. At two-tenths of a mile, two dots will appear and at one-tenth of a mile one dot will appear.

No. 4: Watch electronic warning signs. When visibility is less than 100 feet, Caltrans will flash “Dense Fog Ahead” messages.

No. 5: When visibility is less than 500 feet, Highway Patrol cars will turn on their flashing lights and lead traffic at a safe pace through major roads between Kern and San Joaquin counties.

No. 6: If an accident occurs or your vehicle stalls, pull as far off the road as possible, turn on flashing emergency lights, set out flares, and move to a safe area, preferably behind a guardrail. If there is no safe place next to the road, stay in your car and remain buckled up.

No. 7: S-l-o-o-w down. Driving too fast is the No. 1 cause of accidents on wet days.

No. 8: Know how to defrost your car. Before turning on the defroster and blower, move the heat control to “hot” and allow the engine to warm up first. If the windshield starts to fog on the inside, open a side window slightly and turn the defroster to a higher speed. If you have an air conditioner, use it to reduce humidity and moisture collecting on the window.

No. 9: If your car has anti-lock brakes and goes into a skid, you may feel a vibration when pressing the brake pedal. Don’t panic. Hold the brake pedal down firmly. Sensors in anti-lock brakes are adjusting to the wet road, which is why the pedal vibrates. Nothing is wrong, as long as you hold the brake down. Don’t pump or lift your foot off the pedal.

No. 10: Drive in the tire prints of the car ahead of you. When a car hydroplanes, it’s riding on a thin layer of water between the tires and the road. The water in tire prints has already been displaced, so you get better traction.

No. 11: If your car hydroplanes, hold the steering wheel steady and lightly apply brakes. When you feel the tires touch the pavement, slow until regaining control.

#5 – Light and Darkness
I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.
Og Mandino

Enjoy your first weekend in December!

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Standing in the aisle of a grocery store with my trusty clipboard in one hand and my market basket in the other, I searched a shelf for an ingredient for my Thanksgiving dinner. A woman pushed her squeaky shopping cart past me and said, “You look very organized.” For a moment I studied her face to determine whether she was being sincere or sarcastic and then I looked down at my clipboard and explained, “It’s a matter of survival.”

To survive and to alleviate stress during the holidays, I try to be as organized as possible. This past Thanksgiving holiday was a good example. With people coming and going on different days for almost a week, my home resembled an inn. What the woman in the grocery store was commenting on was the stack of papers on my clipboard. Everything I needed food-wise for that week was on my clipboard and at my fingertips: my master plan of menus for every day of the week, copies of the recipes I’d be using, and my super Organized Grocery List. After I explained to her how my Organized Grocery List worked, she said, “You should publish it!”

I organize myself by making lists and creating forms. This process requires me to think things through, to prioritize, and to jot down details. Here’s my Organized Grocery List that the woman in the store wanted published and it’s yours for free! It’s in a PDF form which allows you to repeatedly fill it out and print it up. The List is organized by grocery store departments such as meat, produce, dairy, etc., as well as by type of store. Some items are more cost effective to purchase at a warehouse store, other items are more easily purchased at a regular grocery store, and finally some items can only be purchased at specialty stores or farmer’s markets. Each item is color coded when it is put on the list to make for quick shopping at each of the stores.

Here’s to organized grocery shopping and less stress!

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