Monday, December 27, 2010

Homemade Christmas

Another homemade gift I made this Christmas was a Spice Rub set.  I have been making a Taco Seasoning mix for a couple years now and like it a lot better than all the packaged brands.  The other two mixes I made I haven't tried yet - a Cajun Seasoning and an All-Purpose Spice Rub.  Online comments were very complimentary for both and I can't wait to try them with the bit of the mixes I have left at home.

Taco Seasoning

2 tablespoon chili powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
3 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoon black pepper

1.       Combine all ingredients and store in air-tight container.  Store in a cool, dark and dry place for up to six months.

All Purpose Spice Rub
From Martha Stewart

1/3 cup coarse salt
¼ cup packed light-brown sugar
¼ cup paprika
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried thyme leaves
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1.       In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients, using your hands to break up the sugar.  Store in an airtight container, away from heat and light, up to 6 months.

Cajun Seasoning

2 cups Sea salt, ground finely
4 tablespoons cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons parsley flakes
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp nutmeg

1.       Combine all ingredients and store in air-tight container.  Store in a cool, dark and dry place for up to six months.
Note: This is more a "seasoned salt" than a "seasoning mix."

To make this into a set for Christmas, I started saving small jars.  Some were from pesto or dips, others from crushed garlic or jam.  They were the perfect size, and once given a personalized label, made a great threesome to give as a gift.

Christmas Projects

As you may have seen in my last post, I worked my fingers to the bone to produce an afghan for my brother and sister-in-law for Christmas. I was, all things considered, pretty easy. Just VERY time consuming.

The pattern called for four strips to be made with one cable column in each.  But I hate stitching things together when there is an easier way (why would you knit a hat on straight needles when you could knit it in the round??), so cast on enough stitches to make five columns, plus an extra six stitches on either end for a border. 

I thought the Lemongrass might be too bright, so I added ten rows of garter stitch in Linen to the top and the bottom. Completed ten pattern repeats in Lemongrass.

Pattern: Sutter's Mill Throw, Lion Brand Yarn
Yarn: Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick and Quick, Lemongrass and Linen
Needles: US 13, 29" circular


I've started yet another hobby as well. I had all these beads sitting around from various crafts - beading bracelets back in high school, making wine charms two years ago, and, more recently, making stitch markers.  So during the Black Friday sales I bought a bunch of earring blanks and some posts and decided to learn how to make earrings.  Several of the ladies in my life received a pair for Christmas.

SIL got odd shaped pearls with green crystals.

Mom got green pearls with green crystals.

And several ladies got variations on a theme: rectangular glass beads and metal disks salvaged from a relatively hideous clearance necklace at Cost Plus World Market.

There is a bit of a learning curve for making these.  Getting my "round" loops where the post attaches to the earring blank is not the easiest thing when you're starting.  But I'm getting there.  Soon I'll be busting out earrings like a pro!

Merry Christmas to All

Another Christmas, come and gone.  We spend so much time getting ready for the holiday; baking, cleaning, and shopping for hours.  Then, two days later, all that's left is a fridge full of left overs, a recycling bin full of boxes and ripped paper, and about 8 extra pounds around the middle. 

But I think it's worth it.

I love the Holiday Cheer that abounds. When I cross paths with another car sporting a festive wreath, they always smile and wave. Not only did I get smiles and waves from several workers when I took the ferry, but a lady in the car in front of me ran over to give me a high five.

I love giving present and watching their eyes go big with excitement when they open the special thing you made just for them.

I love how full and warm the house feels when the tree is up in the window and holiday decorations are set on every surface.

But most of all, I love being together with family. We eat, we laugh, we eat, we play games, we drink wine, we eat some more. And we're together, celebrating the holiday with those we love.

Did you think I was joking? This is just our "finger food" meal for five on Christmas Eve.  We had salami, four types of "plain" cheese, cranberry goat cheese, caramelized onion and nut brie, shrimp cocktail, hummus, pickles, focaccia bread, caprese skewers, pasta salad, cheese straws, sage crackers, cheesy puff pastry sticks, two types of sandwich bread, a veggie platter, chocolate truffles, and three plates of goodies.  I brought apple butter bars, peanut butter blossoms, cranberry nut bread, and poppy chow. Dad made a giant batch of rosettes. Mom made lemon bars, peanut butter fudge, mint brownies, thumbprint cookies, scotcheroos, Heath cookies and cranberry bliss bars. 

Good thing Christmas is always a "Calorie-free" weekend!

Ollie says, "OH! The Gluttony!!"

Merry Christmas to All, And to All a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Busy Bird

What have I been doing lately, you ask? That's a silly question. You should know that this close to Christmas I've been busy knitting my fingers to the bone.

I have completed all my small projects, and, after a minor breakdown when I ran out of yarn last night, I even completed my large project.  By large I mean LARGE. Requiring a lot of yarn. More yarn than I purchased, apparently.

But I digress. It is done and out of my mind. Let me show you the other stuff I worked on this weekend, but this time in the kitchen.

Peanut Butter Blossoms, as they are known by almost everyone (including Hershey's).  A very few call them Cyclops cookies.  I made these last year, too. They are still delicious and again, I've eaten more than my share before Christmas even began.  We all snacked on kisses, as well, so we had to use Reese's miniature cups instead on some of the cookies.

Not a bad substitute. Not bad at all.  Particularly when they are still warm and the chocolate hasn't had the chance to re-harden. Yummy!

We made a batch of Cranberry Nut Bread, which I also made last year. I haven't cut into the loaves, but they look as tasty as usual.

I embarked on a new kitchen adventure on Saturday: roast chicken.

I know, it's super simple. We were watching a "techniques" episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and Thomas Keller, a ridiculously famous chef, showed how he roasts a small chicken.  The bird he pulled out of the oven made me salivate. It was gorgeous. Golden brown delicious, as my man Alton would say. 

So we made it. It was every bit as beautiful in person. We had minimal setbacks, such as having never trussed a bird before (watch a YouTube video if you've never done it. It was very educational), and.... well, really that was it.  We had a larger bird than Keller, so we decreased the temp slightly and increased the cooking time.  Not sure if we did it the way he would have (surely not), but the result was A-MAZING.

I think our lil wings stick out too far. Guess I'll have to cook another bird once a week until I get it down. Darn!

Guys - Seriously, does this not look like something you want to eat every week? The skin was crunchy and encrusted with salt.  Even though I know I shouldn't eat it, I just couldn't help myself and basically picked it all off and munched on it while carving.

Thomas Keller's Simple Roast Chicken

1 2-3 lb whole chicken
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Herbs (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 450F.  Rinse tempered chicken and dry it, inside and out.  Salt and pepper the cavity, and truss the bird.
2.  Salt the top of the chicken with approximately 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, sprinkling from up high to get a good coverage.  When it is cooked you should still be able to identify individual salt crystals on the skin.  Season to taste with pepper.
3.  Place chicken in saute pan or roasting pan in hot oven.  Leave alone, without basting, for 40-50 minutes, until the juices run clear.  Remove from the oven and add your favorite fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, etc).  Baste with the juices and allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Keller's Carving Tips:
Remove the twine. Separate the middle wing joint and eat that immediately. Remove the legs and thighs. I like to take off the backbone and eat one of the oyster, the two succulent morsels of meat embedded there, and give the other to the person I'm cooking with. But I take the chicken butt for myself. I could never understand why my brothers always fought over that triangular tip - until one day I got the crispy, juicy fat myself. These are the cook's reward. 

This dish is super easy, and super cheap! I normally like to buy the rotisserie chickens grocery stores sell because they're quick, easy, and very moist, but this was even better. We spent the same amount on our bird, but got a much more meat out of it.  Served with my favorite, oven roasted veggies coated in olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme, and some balsamic asparagus, it was a divine meal.