Sunday, January 29, 2012

Crisp Oatmeal Cookies

I know most people's oatmeal cookie recipes are for a soft, slightly chewy cookie, but not mine.  My father came across these cookies at some point in my teens and it was the only oatmeal cookie he'd ever liked - partly because it wasn't soft and chewy; he prefers crunchy cookies.  He wheedled the recipe out of whoever he got the cookie from, and the rest was history.  Because these were the only oatmeal cookies I ever made, it kind of stands to reason that my own children like crunchy oatmeal cookies best.  And some of them won't eat other oatmeal cookies at all unless there's a layer of icing in between two of them. :)

Oatmeal Cookies
1/2c. soft butter
1/2c. shortening (we use palm kernel shortening by Spectrum, but Crisco will do)
2c. light brown sugar
2 eggs
2c. all purpose flour
2tsp. baking soda
1 to 2tsp. cinnamon ( I use 1 heaping teaspoon)
2c. quick oats
1tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350.

Cream together sugar, butter, and shortening.  Beat in eggs.  Mix the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon, and then add to the creamed mixture.  Sir in the oatmeal and vanilla.  Cover and chill mixture for 1 hour.  Roll into balls, slightly smaller in size than a walnut (actually, we've taken to just using a small cookie scoop), and place 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet that has been lightly coated with cooking spray.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.  We like to bake ours until they are turning darker around the edges.  They should be puffy when you pull them from the oven, but they will deflate in just a few seconds.  If you bake these and they stay softer, increasing your baking time by a minute or two should get them crunchier.

The mixture will keep for a few days in the fridge, but if it's been refrigerated for awhile, you'll need to let the dough warm up a bit on the counter before you start forming and baking them, otherwise it will be hard as a rock, and the cookies may not flatten out as much or bake up as crisp.
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Monday, January 23, 2012

Versatile Homemade Bread Recipe

I probably have a hundred different bread recipes floating around the house, but this is my fall-back.  My tried and true, most versatile, easily multiplied or divided recipe.  I have used it for regular loaf bread, cinnamon bread, dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls, pizza pinwheels, pizza crust, cheesy breadsticks, croutons, and even donuts.  It's not that I don't have recipes for the other things, and even recipes that will give a slightly better cinnamon roll, pizza crust, or donut, but this one is quick, since I have it memorized, and it's so easy to double, you can whip up a large batch(enough for 2-3 loaves), use half for dinner rolls and make up half into cinnamon rolls to pop in the fridge and then bake in the morning.
Years ago, hubby's Grandmother scribbled this onto a 3x5 index card for me.  She and his Grandfather ended up living with both sets of in laws in order to make ends meet.  Although her mother and her mother-in-law made bread practically the same way, one used milk, and the other used water.  She started using a combination of both, maybe as a way to compromise. :)  For whatever reason, it woked out great.  I loved her bread, and have never had any complaints on mine.
First I'll give you her recipe, then I'll  share tips.

Homemade Bread
yeast - instant - 1Tbls, or active dry - 1 packet
1/4c. warm water - if using active dry yeast
1c. boiling water
1c. milk
1/4c.melted butter or oil (or a combination of both)
2 Tbls sugar
2 tsp. salt
4 -6c. all purpose flour

If using active dry yeast, put yeast and 1/4c. lukewarm water in a small bowl and let sit until bubbly.  If you are using instant yeast (rapid rise), you skip this step and just add your yeast in with the flour.

Pour your boiling water into a large bowl, or the bowl on your stand mixer(fitted with a dough hook). Add your milk, melted butter/oil, salt, and sugar, and mix 'til the sugar and salt are dissolved.  By the time you've add in the cold milk and other ingredients, and stirred until they are dissolved, your liquid should be just about the right temperature for your yeast.  But you should still check.  Instant yeast can stand a slightly higher temp., but as long as it's not much warmer than your wrist it will be fine for either.  Stir in your yeast here if using active dry.  Add in 4c. flour and your yeast (if using instant).  Mix until everything is incorporated and dough comes together.  Keep mixing, adding flour a little at a time until your dough is smooth and elastic, or if using a stand mixer, until the dough cleans itself off the inside of the bowl.  Form dough into a ball and place in a large, greased bowl; cover with a non-fuzzy towel and let rise until roughly doubled in bulk.  Punch down.  Shape.  Allow to rise a second time.  Preheat oven to 350 during the second rise and bake for approx. 30 min.  Loaves are done when they are golden brown, you can easily turn them out of the pan and they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Makes 2 standard loaves.
To increase or decrease this recipe, for each loaf you'll need:
1c. liquid (1/2c. each, milk and water)
1Tbls sugar/honey
1tsp. salt
2Tbls. melted butter/oil
2-3c. flour
yeast - 1 1/2 tsp. instant, or 1/2 pack of active dry (plus 2Tbls warm water to dissolve it)

Lots of things will affect how much flour you will actually need.  The humidity, the moisture content of the flour, or how accurately you measured.  You just start with the lowest amount and keep adding.  As long as the dough isn't super soft and sticky (too little flour), or very firm/hard and not very pliable (too much flour), you should have a pretty good loaf.  Practice makes perfect.
Also, kneading is the key to a good loaf because that's what activates the gluten, so knead it well - 10-15 min by hand, or 5-10 min in your mixer. Personally, I love that part and will frequently pull a batch out of the mixer to knead by hand.  It's a great stress reliever.

Now these are some of the things I do:
I substitute honey for the sugar.
I almost always substitute at least half of the regular, all-purpose flour with some sort of whole wheat; regular wheat, white wheat, or Kamut.  You can use more whole wheat, but this recipe always performs much better if you use at least 1c. all-purpose flour.  Gradually substituting one cup of whole wheat for one cup of all-purpose is a good way to sneak up and switch your family to more nutritious bread.
If using instant yeast, and making a standard loaf, or dinner rolls,  it's not necessary to allow the bread to double at the first rising.  You can just knead for several minutes and then let the bread rest for 10-15 min before shaping and then allowing to rise fully before baking.  I usually do two rises though, the additional rise does make a finer texture.

Now, the fun variations I've used this recipe for:
Dinner Rolls - just shape into rolls, allow to rise and bake at 425 for 20min. Brush tops with melted butter.
Herbed rolls - add 2 tsp. italian herb blend in with the salt and sugar, use olive oil. Rise and bake as above and brush finished rolls with butter.
Cinnamon bread - roll out loaf, spread with butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and sprinkle lightly with sugar or brown sugar, roll into loaf, rise and bake as for regular loaf.
Pizza pinwheels - roll out, spread with pizza sauce, add mozzarella cheese and pepperoni, roll up, cut into rolls and bake at 425 for 15-20 min.  These don't need a second rise.
Cinnamon rolls - roll out, spread with butter, sprinkle on cinnamon, add a layer of brown sugar and roll up. Cut into rolls and bake at 425 for 15-20 min. As with the pinwheels, these don't need a second rise.  Also, you can make them up the night before, put them in the fridge, and then pull out and bake the next morning.  These are decadent with a cream cheese glaze: Mix together 2-3 oz soft cream cheese and 1/2c. soft butter, then add approx. 1 1/2c. powdered sugar, dash of salt,1 tsp vanilla and a dollop of sour cream. This isn't runny like a regular glaze, but more like a very thin icing.
Cheesy bread - roll out, cut into strips, place on pan - fairly close, but remember, they'll rise; sprinkle with garlic salt, add cheese (your choice - we like an Italian blend), sprinkle with parsley or italian herb blend. It's easiest to sprinkle everything on after they have risen  - that way there's little to no room between the sticks for stuff to fall through and burn. Bake at 400 for 15-20 min.
Bread sticks - roll out, cut, and place on pan as above, but brush on melted butter or a mix of melted butter and olive oil, sprinkle with garlic salt, herb blend, and parmasean cheese.  Bake at 400 for 15-20 min.
Donuts - Cut into circles, or strips (that you can then fold in half and twist like cinnamon twists in bakeries), and allow to rise.  When they are about finished rising, bring a large pot of oil slowly up to 350 degrees.  Fry 'til golden brown and then carefully flip over.  It should take 3-4 min to cook each side.  Cook one first, let cool a bit and tear it apart to make sure it's done before cooking the rest.  Drain on paper towels.  Only cook 2-4 at a time, depending on the size of your pot. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon(our favorite), or you could make a simple glaze out of milk, powdered sugar and a few drops of vanilla.
Pizza - no second rise - roll out, top with sauce, mozzarella and your choice of toppings and bake at 425 for 15-25 min depending on the thickness of your crust.  This does make a pretty bready (that has to be a word) crust, so I'd suggest rolling it fairly thin.  If you are making this dough for pizza, you don't have to knead it as much.  In fact, the more gluten is activated, the harder it will be to roll thin.

There you go.  A tried and true, depression era recipe that has been served at countless meals through my hubby's family and into my own.
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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Wedding Plans

     For those of you who have planned a wedding in the last, say 21 years, congratulations!!  You have my respect.  I don't really remember it being this involved, but then again, my mother probably did more than I remember, or ever gave her credit for.  Thanks Mom!!
     I must first add that unless you like to be harassed, don't go to one of the big chain bridal stores.  Give them a little bit of information (which they supposedly need for your daughter to try dresses) and suddenly you're receiving snail and e-mailings by the truckload.  Ugh!
     Other than that, things are going along pretty well, but wedding stuff is starting to take over.  I'm considering adding onto the house for it all. :D  Last night, Ri and I went through everything we had so far for the wedding, reception, and shower, which will be given by her maid of honor (Lys), but will be held at our house, because Lys lives too far away from most of the guests. We catalogued everything, boxed it up, and listed the items on the outside of each box. We didn't buy one of those fancy wedding planners, but early on, after seeing Ri fumble around with things she had written on different scraps of paper, Kay went to the school room, commandeered a spiral bound notebook, found some self stick, write on tabs, and made her get it all organized.  It's worked out great.   
     We have the places for the ceremony, reception, and a private family dinner (per the couple's request, and later in the evening) all booked and ready to go.  We have decided the menu for the private dinner, and will be working on food selections for the reception and shower within the next few weeks. 
     Ri and the maid of honor's dresses will be in by the middle of Feb., and Lys will be up at the end of Feb. to start the fittings.  As of this week, we've acquired everything else Ri will need that day, from her shoes to her decorative hair comb - she doesn't want a veil.  We've also talked to our stylist, lined her up for the wedding day, and requested a "trial run" day for the hair styles she'll be responsibe for at the wedding. 
     Superman has already picked out his suit and had it tailored, and the best man and ushers also have their suits.  We just have to help them pick out the right color shirts and get dark green ties for hubby and the best man. 
     T.Lynn's flower girl dress is in and we got her hair decor as well; she wanted a tiara.  We'll wait to pick out shoes closer to the date since she's growing pretty quickly right now. 
     We came across a lovely blouse just the other day to go with the skirt I'm making for Beenie, which just leaves Kay, Bree, and me to dress. 
     We have the favor boxes for the wedding, and for the bridal shower, but I'll have to show you later what we plan on doing to the ones for the shower - it's too cute. 
     I have the cake stand we want for the cake - yes, I am making it - no, I'm not crazy.  Not yet anyway.  Hey, I made my own wedding cake, and this one will be much easier. 
     We have several other small decorations, and a few other small details to think about with regard to decor, but the biggest decor item, flowers, we haven't really worked on at all.  Ri and I have to go visit a couple of florists soon to get that taken care of.  Thankfully, we do have a general idea of what we want, so it shouldn't be too hard.
     We are having acustic guitar for the music, and do have the muscian lined up; Beenie's guitar tutor. We just need to go over some of the selections with him.
     We're working on the wedding invitations.  We already ordered one so we could see what it would look like, but have decided on a few changes to make, so we'll do that and order another trial invite.
     Lys told me about seeded paper, and after looking around, I found a company that makes some that is seeded with miniature sunflower seeds.  How cool is that?  It's yellow too.  I ordered it and we'll use it to make her bridal shower inviatations.  I've also picked up most of the stamping supplies we'll need to make those.
     Let's there anything else?  I can't think of anything right now.  There probably is, but it's packed in a box. :D  So I'll leave you with this:

This is T.Lynn's basket - and the monkey (ok - oraguntan) she insists on carrying.
Ri doesn't much care for traditional flower girl baskets, and I can't say as I blame her.  I found this cute little wire basket at Hobby Lobby and couldn't resist.  I told Ri if she didn't want to use it for T., I could certainly find a use for it somewhere in the house, but alas, she loved it. 
The rustic look will go so well with the sunflower theme.

Got any great wedding ideas or tips?  I'd love to hear them.
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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tutorial: Do-it-yourself lined envelopes.

Between the holidays and wedding plans, we have been hopping.  Since some of Superman's family will be coming from out of state, and will need to make travel arrangements, we decided to send out Save the Date cards.  Ri designed them using Shutterfly.  I kind of wish I posted head shots because they are very cute.

But I digress.  This post is about adding a personal touch to cards, invitations, etc., by linging them with pretty paper.  I saw this idea in a magazine I was looking through recently, and Ri and I decided to try it for her Save the Date cards.  It turned out so well, we might do it for her invitations too, which she also designed through Shutterfly, using a picture she took of one of our sunflowers last summer.  BTW - sunflowers are her favorite flower, and will be the primary flower in her wedding.

All you need is your envelope, a glue stick, scissors, and some pretty paper.
We designed our own paper using some of the gimp brushes Ri has downloaded to our computer for blog designing, but you could copy any pretty pattern.  I've even photocopied fabric to get a design I liked on paper.  A couple of things to keep in mind:  One - I don't know about all copiers, but mine doesn't always copy true to color, so when that happens, we scan it into the computer and then print directly from the image in the computer - for some reason, that works better. And two - you need to use regular paper.  Most scrapbook paper, while pretty, is too thick.  One standard sheet of paper made two envelope liners for our 5 1/4" square cards. 
You have to lose one of the envelopes, so I hope you have extra.
Carefully take it apart along the seams.
There you go. 
Fold it out flat, and then call for one of your kids to bring the scissors you forgot.
Cut across the bottom, just inside the fold.  You are cutting off what was the back of the envelope.
Oh, and when you make that call for the kids, make sure you tell them to bring you a grown up pair of scissors.  The only criteria I gave was for a pair that was for cutting paper (you know, as opposed to my sewing scissors), and I definately could have used a bigger pair since I have rather large hands.
Now cut up the sides, again, just inside the fold.
This will allow for the pattern to be just a bit smaller than the envelope, making it easy to insert the lining later.
Finally, cut off the glue strip at the top.
Now you have a pattern you can use to cut your lining paper.
As you can see, I dispensed with the scissors and used one of my rotary cutters and some acrylic rulers for this part.  Don't worry, this cutter is specifically for paper and never touches fabric.
Cut out all your lining papers.
There you go - now you just have to slide one in the envelope,
and line it up with the bottom of the glue strip.
Fold back the paper and apply the glue.
Then press your lining into place.
After giving it a few minutes for the glue to start drying, go ahead and fold down the flap, pressing well along the edge to crease the lining paper.
And there you go.  From plain to pretty.
We choose the black on white because, as you can just catch a glimpse of, her Save the Dates are black with white, including the photos, and there are a few scrolls thrown in here and there.
  I love it when things coordinate.

Just for good measure, we decided to allow these to dry completely overnight before putting in the cards and addressing the envelopes.
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