Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Advent Project

Wow, it has been busy around here lately with birthdays, appointments, kids work schedules and getting ready for the holidays!  Some days I feel like I have so much to do that I will never keep up, but I love this time of year and wouldn't trade the memories we are making for anything!

Part of getting ready for the holidays for us, is starting to prepare all of our ideas for our Advent Project.  Thanksgiving is a perfect time to start planning.  As your family is reflecting on all the things they are thankful for, you can talk about how you can share those things with others around you!

The Advent Project was written for a friend after a conversation we had about Christmas and how easy it is to get caught up in all the hustle and bustle and “I want” attitude of Christmas. It started as just some ideas to celebrate Jesus’ birth, giving to others and building memories and traditions as a family. As I was sharing some of my ideas, I realized how eager others were for the very same thing! I decided to put it all together in one place and share it with everyone–my Christmas gift to you!

The idea of the Advent Project is simple, everyday there is a Bible verse (part of the Christmas story in Luke) and then there are family activities, books and movies. You can do an activity every day, once a week, whatever works for your family. Some activities will require some pre-planning and are designed for a wide variety of ages, so you choose what is most appropriate.

It is not supposed to be a complete list, but a jumping off place--ideas to get you started.  Every family has different traditions, commitments and resources.  My hope is that you are inspired to make the holiday season more meaningful for your family, to teach and encourage giving not just gifts, but your time and thoughtfulness and love.  

Every year our planning is a little different.  As our kids have gotten older, we have let them pick and plan a lot of the activities that they want to do.  It is so heartwarming to watch your kids pack shoeboxes of gifts for other children or pick a name from an Angel Tree and use their own money to buy special gifts for a foster child.  Baking and decorating sugar cookies has always been a special time for our family and we have had as many as 20 guests sitting around our table laden with frosting and sprinkles, sipping hot cocoa, listening to Christmas carols and laughing as we shared a memory and some time together.  The goal is to create meaningful memories, not necessarily centered around gifts, but around being together and celebrating the greatest gift of Christmas!

Download your FREE copy here:

 The Advent Project 1
 Feel free to print and share as many copies as you like.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Movie Night Caramel Corn

Movie Night is always an event in our house, especially now that the kids are older and it is harder to find a night when we are all home.  One of the most requested snacks on movie night is always the homemade caramel corn.  I have been using this same recipe since I was a girl and found it in a children's cookbook (a long time ago!).
Umm....no drooling on the screen please.

Movie Night Caramel Corn
8 C. popped popcorn
3/4 C. packed brown sugar
6 Tbsp. butter or margarine
3 Tbsp. Corn syrup (or corn syrup substitute)
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. vanilla

Place popcorn in a large casserole dish, set aside.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Preparing for a double batch
In a med. saucepan combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt.  Bring to a boil over med. heat.  When mixture starts to boil, stop stirring and boil 5 minutes (without stirring).
No stirring my caramelly goodness
Remove mixture from heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla, mixture will become light and fluffy.
Ready for some popcorn
Pour mixture over popcorn and stir to coat.  Bake for 20-25 minutes stirring every 7-8 minutes, until mixture starts to harden.
Just keep stirring, just keep stirring...

Remove from oven and cool, stirring to break up pieces and keep from sticking to pan.  Caramel corn becomes crunchy as it cools.


~I almost always make a double batch, otherwise it disappears before I can set the bowl down. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Gingerbread Mix

Another mix recipe for your collection!  I found this recipe years ago in an old cookbook and it has been a favorite ever since!

Gingerbread Mix
8 C. flour
2 C. sugar
1/4 C. baking powder
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cloves
1 Tbsp. ginger
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
2 C. shortening (I use all natural palm oil)

In a large bowl mix together dry ingredients (I like a whisk for this job).  Using a pastry blender, cut in the shortening until mixture resembles cornmeal. Store in an airtight container.

~This mix makes a great gift packaged in a cellophane bag.

~To use this for gingerbread house: use the Easy Ginger Cookie recipe below adding 1 C. flour (you will have to use a mixer or your hands to get it mixed). Roll 1/8"-1/4" thick and cut as desired.  Bake about 7 minutes, until edges are browned.  Cool on wire racks overnight.  This makes a very durable gingerbread house!
Easy Ginger Cookies

Easy Ginger Cookies

3 C. gingerbread mix
1/3 C. molasses
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all ingredients in a bowl, dough will be fairly stiff!  Roll dough into 1 inch balls, roll in sugar (or cinnamon/sugar mixture) and place on cookie sheets.  Flatten cookies with the bottom of a glass.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until edges are browned.

~I like to pre-portion this mix in ziploc bags, that way I can have cookies ready for the oven in a matter of minutes--perfect for last minute company, to tuck in a gift bag or just to enjoy with your afternoon tea.

~To make rolled gingerbread cookies: add 1/4 C. flour to the Easy Gingerbread Cookie recipe. Roll out on lightly floured surface and cut with desired cutters.  Bake 10-12 minutes until edges are browned.

~This mix also makes a yummy gingerbread that I will be sharing in the future along with a lemon sauce recipe!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Homemade Egg Noodles

 Homemade Egg Noodles
1 1/2 C. flour
1 tsp. salt
3 egg yolks
6 Tbsp. water

Combine flour in salt in bowl of food processor with S blade attached.  Pulse once or twice to combine.

In a small bowl, mix together egg yolks and water.  With food processor running, add the egg yolk mixture through the feed tube.
Dough should form a solid ball.  If dough is still to crumbly, add water a tablespoon at a time till dough comes together.  This will be a fairly stiff dough.

Coat dough with flour and let rest covered with a towel for about 5 minutes.  This makes the dough easier to roll out.
Roll dough out on floured surface, being sure it doesn't stick.
Using a noodle cutter, knife, or pizza cutter, cut dough into desired length and width of noodles.
Assorted cutting devices 
If you don't have a noodle cutter, you can also flour the dough, roll it into a log and cut it with a knife.
Separate noodles and hang on pasta rack to dry.  If you don't have a pasta rack you can use a cooling rack set on cans, the back of a chair or even a piece of string that has been tied across an opening.
Noodles drying on rack
To store noodles:  Dry overnight and then package in airtight containers.  Use in your favorite recipes.

To Make Bavarian style noodles:

Boil noodles in chicken broth until tender (3-5 minutes, depending on thickness).
Drain noodles and place in bowl.  Top with 1-2 Tbsp. butter.  Let melt and toss to coat noodles.
Top noodles with 1 C. of bread crumbs that has been toasted in 1 tbsp. butter.
Sprinkle with some fresh or dried parsley.  Serve warm or cold.
Bavarian Style Noodles

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pumpkin Roll

This is one of my favorite fall desserts. It is quick and easy to prepare, freezes beautifully and is loved by almost everyone!
Pumpkin Roll
3 eggs
1 C. sugar
2/3 C. pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
3/4 C. flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 1/2 sheet cake pan or jelly roll pan. 
Cream eggs and sugar in bowl.  Add pumpkin.
In separate bowl combine dry ingredients.  Slowly add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture.
Spread batter in prepared pan.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.
Prepare a tea towel or piece of smooth fabric by covering it liberally with powdered sugar.

When cake is baked, Carefully flip the cake out onto the towel.  I find the best way to do this is to be sure the cake is loosed from the edges of the pan, set it almost upright on a long edge and very quickly flip the pan onto the towel.  Lift one edge of the pan to be sure cake has released from pan.  Use a spatula to ease the cake out, if it is stuck.
My cake stuck a little, but it's ok!
Starting on a long edge, roll the towel and cake up into a log.  Cool completely.
To make filling beat butter and cream cheese together.  Carefully add the powdered sugar and vanilla. 

When cake is cool, unroll cake and spread with filling.

Carefully re-roll the cake, using the towel to help you get it started.  Sprinkle the top with a little more powdered sugar, if desired and serve.

~I like to freeze the individual slices on a cookie sheet and then keep in an airtight container for last minute company.  Remove from the freezer and it is thawed and ready to eat by the time the coffee is brewed!

~I usually make 3 or 4 of these and keep them in the freezer. They make great hostess gifts!  And we have even been known to indulge occasionally for breakfast.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Spiced Rum Cake

Another birthday cake request!
Spiced Rum Cake

Spiced Rum Cake
1 yellow cake mix (plus ingredients to make)
1 box vanilla pudding mix
1/2 C. Spiced Dark Rum
1/4 C. chopped pecans

For Glaze:
4 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1/4 C. Spiced Rum
1/2 C. sugar
2 Tbsp. water

Prepare bundt pan by greasing and flouring.  Place chopped pecans in the bottom of pan.
Prepare cake mix according to package directions, adding pudding mix and replacing 1/2 C. of water with the rum.
Put cake mix in prepared pan.  Bake according to box directions for bundt pan (usually 45-50 minutes at 350 degrees).  Remove cake from pan and cool on wire rack.
 While cake is baking, prepare glaze.  Place all of the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan.  Bring to a slow boil over med. heat.  Simmer for 2-3 minutes until glaze starts to thicken.

Place still warm cake on serving platter and slowly drizzle the glaze over the cake allowing it to absorb into cake.

Cool cake completely.  Serve with whipped cream (if desired).

Friday, November 4, 2011

Black Forest Coffee

I decided that one chocolate and cherry recipe just isn't enough--so here is another favorite!

Black Forest Coffee

Black Forest Coffee
8 oz. brewed coffee
2 Tbsp. half & half (or favorite creamer)
1 Tbsp. chocolate syrup
1 Tbsp. maraschino cherry juice
whipped cream

Brew your favorite coffee.  Add cream, chocolate syrup and cherry juice to coffee and stir.  Top with whipped cream.

~This is as good as any fancy drink at a coffee shop and cost pennies to make at home! 

Chocolate and Cherries, Oh My!

Sorry it took me so long to post today, I spent my morning at the DMV and we now have another licensed driver in the family.  In five (very short) months our youngest will be able to drive with a parent or guardian and we will have three teenage drivers in the house.  I am learning so much about trusting the sovereignty of God when my kids walk out the door, keys in hand!

Now onto the fun stuff! I promised you a recipe to use the  chocolate syrup recipe from yesterday.  This is my favorite hot chocolate recipe full of chocolate and cherry goodness and there is even a dairy free version!
Hot Chocolate Cherry Cordial

Hot Chocolate Cherry Cordial
2 1/2 Cups milk
3/4 Cup half & half or cream
3/4 Cup chocolate syrup
1/4 Cup maraschino cherry juice
Whipped cream
Shaved Chocolate
Maraschino Cherries

Place milk, half & half, chocolate syrup and maraschino cherry juice in a saucepan.  Whisk over med-low heat until hot, but not boiling.  Spoon into mugs and top with whipped cream, shaved chocolate and maraschino cherries or marshmallows.

*This recipe doubles or triples nicely and can go into a crock-pot on low heat for parties.  When I make it for parties I put the cherries and the juice into the mix.

*We served this at an open house last winter and it was the first thing to disappear (along with homemade marshmallows for topping.

For a dairy free version:
Use Almond milk, coconut creamer (or your favorite cream substitute) and Healthy Top by MimiCreme for whipped cream.  Some have thought the dairy free version wasn't quite sweet enough, so you can add a little extra chocolate sauce or a bit of sugar to the milk.

*For a grown-up version, add a splash of cherry brandy or vodka to the mugs before filling.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Snowtober and a Chocolate Syrup Recipe (corn syrup free!)

It is being called "Snowtober" by the local news.  A wild early winter storm that left it's mark here in New England.  We were without power for 100 hours and there are many around us who are still waiting for the power to come back on.  This is just a glimpse of some of the damage in our yard.

We are still working on cleaning up the mess.  We were very fortunate that the property damage was minimal, the worse part was losing all the food in our freezers and refrigerator, it will take a while for us to be able to restock and the budget to recover (it wasn't covered by our insurance, in fact we are now looking into a new insurance company after the run around that we are getting).

All the snow (almost a foot!) put us in the mood for some hot chocolate.  While I love the powdered mix (a recipe I will be sharing soon), my favorite hot chocolate is made with milk and chocolate syrup.  One of the things I dislike about store bought chocolate syrup is they are mostly made with corn syrup, something we try to avoid in our house.  Here is a quick and easy recipe with just a few ingredients!
2/3 C. cocoa powder
1 C. sugar
2/3 C. water
pinch salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Place cocoa powder, sugar, salt and water in med. saucepan. Whisk together to combine. Bring to a boil over med. heat,  boil for 3 minutes*, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Stir in vanilla.  Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

*if a thicker syrup is desired, boil for 5 minutes.

To make a thick fudge sauce, after 5 minutes of boiling, turn the heat to low.  Add 6 Tbsp. of butter or margarine and cook until thick, shiny and smooth.  Add 1-2 tsp. vanilla, to taste.

Tomorrow I will share one of my favorite recipes using the homemade chocolate syrup--think chocolate syrup, cherries and whipped cream!!!