Friday, December 19, 2008

The Cookie Exchange Nut Cups!

One of the new items I had at this cookie exchange was my nut cup holders (That sounds so wrong on so many levels).
I saw this on someone's blog and for the life of me I cannot find it again. If you are reading this and know the other blog you saw this on - please let me know - I'm all about giving credit where credit is due!

I saw this - and knew it would be the perfect way to showcase my Grandma Kortright's Candied Nuts. One call to my dad in FL - he was all over it. He even took my verbal description one step further - He made them stacking for storing purposes. Dad's ROCK!

I went to our local craft store and purchased a Christmas "Mat Stack" - found in the scrapbooking aisle. This was a book of paper already cut in a 5 by 8 size. I just rolled each cone and stapled the seams. Since the nuts are slightly greasy, I also purchased disposable icing bags and put them into each cone as a liner.

I only used 2 tiers at the party - but it is nice to know that I have the third tier should I ever entertain a larger crowd!

This is my dad and some of his favorite little ladies! Thanks dad! You make me feel like I'm still your favorite - (Even though I know better!) I love you!

Can you think of anything else I can use these neat holders for?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Cookie Exchange 2008!

This was the final result of weeks of prep, days of cooking and hours of sweating! Looking at it now - it was all worth it, but during the frenzy - one had to wonder!
Our menu was split between 2 tables: The savory table and the sweet table!
The above picture was our savory table. It consisted of:
Mini crab cakes on a roll
Mini Rueben's
Baked, peppered shrimp
Cream cheese carmelized onion tartlets
Spinach and feta tartlets
Tiny Brie Bites (Thanks to Big Red Kitchen)
Hearts of Palms salad with pomegranates on Endive
Green pepper jelly over cream cheese and crackers
Crab Rangoon

Note to self: Too many hot things. Not enough oven space to bake it all before guests came. We got it done - but we were literally shoving pans in my garage as we were opening the door for the first guest!

This was our sweet table. The back of the table has the candy "cups" - I'll talk more about those in another blog.
Our desserts were as follows:
Homemade peanut butter and chocolate pudding cups
Pastel Mint Refrigerator dessert in tiny cups
Variety of cookies from the exchange
German chocolate tartlets
Dark chocolate covered almonds
assorted chocolate truffles

This assortment worked great since it all could be done ahead of time!

This was my dining room the night of the exchange. One idea we had this year that worked perfectly was the charger plates. Last year, after our exchange, I was left to return 30 different platters. Since everyone leaves the party at different times - everyone just left their plate and told me they would get it later. This year we did a preemptive strike! With each invitation we delivered a gold charger plate. We asked each invitee to bring their cookies on this platter for the party. After the party I was left with 30 plates - but I just had to walk them to my basement (Not carry them in my car for over a month)!

My sweet little friends - Sarah (who hosted the party with me), Jennifer and Melody!

L to R - Michelle, Cary, Andrea, and Denise!

Big Red Kitchen's Robin, Myself, and Sabrina from Bristikibar!

More to come about the night - check back Friday for some recipes!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Coming Clean for the Cookie Exchange!

Every year my friend Sarah and I (you might remember her from "Calico Bean Pot Baked Beans") host a cookie exchange at my home. I love planning this get together. I love picking out the menu, printing the invititations and ushering in the Christmas season with this festive party. The one downer, and it's a big one, is the clean up that has to take place before the big event.

This is the entry way into my home. The only place that does not have enough shelf space for me to place random items that I seem not to be able to put away. I love this spot. When the occasional neighbor looks in the front door window - it looks as though I run a tidy ship! That's right - I'm a closet clutter-er!

My kitchen - pre party! If there is a piece of counter - there is a piece of clutter on it!
My next blog will show the transformation my home has to go through to host this party. This is no small feat my friend!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bobi's Bites: Esther's Orange Marmalade Cake!

This is the cake you bake if you want to hear oohs and ahhs. It is worth the time and the nine eggs. Two years ago my Mom read “Esther’s Gift" by Jan Karon, which had the recipe for Orange Marmalade cake. Since that time she has wanted to bake this cake. Esther made these for all her friends in Mitford at Christmas time. However, last year she purchased Jan Karon’s “Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader” which also had Esther’s recipe for Orange Marmalade cake but the ingredients were not the same.

This was the year she was determined to bake it and had to make the choice of which recipe she would use. The recipe calling for three large eggs was definitely tempting, compared to the one with nine eggs. There was another discrepancy – baking soda or baking powder.
She did decide on the one with nine eggs thinking that might be “showier” an expression used by Esther when describing her three layer cake as compared to her two layer cake.

The fresh squeezed orange juice didn’t even sway her opinion as she and my Dad have an orange tree with access to oranges (note picture above of Jensen in Florida on Thanksgiving break).

Because of copyright laws stated in each book she feels she can only direct you
to purchase:
"Esther's Gift, A Mitford Christmas Story" by Jan Karon or
"Jan Karon’s Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader".

You will love both books and they are a fun read.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Cards: An Extreme Sport!

I have no one to blame but myself. I understand this and have come to terms with the predicament I am now in. Let me explain.
When my daughter Logan was born I, like any new mother, wanted to share the precious moments I had with my daughter with family and friends. I came up with the little booklet you see above. I ran off nine little pictures on my computer, cut them up and compiled them into a little book. What you see in the above picture is 8 years worth of booklets. Everyone loves them and can't wait until the next edition. Every new year I am excited as well. Back then, I only had my little Logan, plenty of time on my hands and lots of pictures to share. Well as you can well imagine, my life now is far different! I'm happy when I get a day where I can do two consecutive loads of laundry. And although my time is limited the expectations have grown.

How to do Christmas cards - the extreme way!
1) Buy in bulk on Dec 26th - with 150 cards to send out - we need the price break!
2) Get your mind in the game before Thanksgiving break. We send our cards out the day after Thanksgiving. Get those addresses ready before Thanksgiving comes around.
3) Buy Christmas stamps at Post Office prior to Thanksgiving. Once you sit down to do them - you want all supplies on hand!
4) Run off 150 copies of "Booklet"
5) Buy Ribbon for Booklet assembly - make sure you check what color you did last year - you don't want to repeat!
6) Cut and assemble 25 "Booklets" a day during Thanksgiving Break.
7) Write, address, and stamp 25 cards a day during Thanksgiving Break.
8) When complete, compile list so you know who you sent a card to. There is nothing worse then getting a card in the mail and not remembering if you sent one to them! Always have a list to check! Comes in handy next year when doing step number 2.
9) Put in mailbox the day after Thanksgiving!

10) GIVE THANKS - Your cards are done! You may now get on with the 1003 other things you have to do this Holiday Season!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Best Hostess Gifts of the Season: Part 6

It has been so much fun sharing my "Best Hostess Gift of the Season". I thought I could get them all done in 5 days but this one is definitely worth mentioning. I love to do the "Bag-0-Wine-Switch-A-Rooni". Let me explain. There are so many cute wine gift bags on the market I thought it was a shame to only use them for just one purpose. I am always on the look out for "Wine-ish" type gifts to fit these bags. It is so fun to see the host open the bag and be startled by the unexpected gesture. One suggestion is to put a "Gourmet" bottle of Olive Oil in the bag along with some exceptional noodles. Another great idea I "borrowed" from Robin over at Big Red Kitchen. Notice the bottle of coffee syrup in her blog header. She has given away many bottles of the stuff with her favorite coffees! I found these cute little bags at The Container Store for only 49 cents. I filled it with my favorite coffee and Ta Da - the perfect Hostess gift!

Can you think of anything else that would fit nicely in the "Bag-O-Wine"?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Best Hostess Gifts of the Season: Part 5

Sometimes, when we are invited over to a close family friend's house, I opt to take a "Hostess Gift" to the children of the home. Let's face it - the kids have probably spent a good part of their day preparing for company. If it is anything like my house - they have just come through WWIII with a verbal death threat hanging over their heads to "Play Nice" the rest of the night with kids they don't necessarily get along with. All's fair in love and war - right? My mom is responsible for this hostess gift. She called me a couple of weeks ago and told me a neighbor had just given her the recipe for "Cake in a Cup". She knew she had to make it with her grand babies while we were down visiting - and I thought - what a great hostess gift this would make!
The children's apron's came from Kohl's and the Christmas cups came from Michael's. My mom and I put all the dry ingredients in pastry bags we also found at Michael's. Just attach a card to the bag of dry ingredients along with the recipe stating what wet ingredients will need to be added. Ta da - you have the Best Hostess Gift of the Season!

These are the ingredients you will need to make your own "Cake in a Cup"!

Gumma's not included!

Cake in a Cup
4 Tablespoons cake flour
4 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons baking cocoa
Add one beaten egg
3 Tablespoons milk
3 Tablespoons oil
Splash of Vanilla
3 Tablespoons Chocolate Chips

Bake 3 minutes in microwave on high power.

My girls think cracking the egg is the best part.

They loved watching it "Grow" in the "Micro"!

A quick swirl around the mug with a knife - and Presto....

A perfect little cake for one (actually it fed 4 of us)!

Looks impressive - Doesn't it! Tastes great too! Check back Monday for one last Hostess gift - just couldn't fit it all in in a week!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Best Hostess Gifts of the Season: Part 4

Hands down - this is my favorite food gift of the season! In fact, I just took a little bag to my friend Denise and she made me promise not to tell her family I have given them this year's stash - since she was going to devour them all by herself!
I quadruple the batch every time I make it and I usually end up making 2 batches that size before the holidays are over. I love the combination of salty and sweet, and I think I am partial to a candied nut without any other spices on them. Oh, cinnamon is fine - but give me the choice of this deliciously simple, sweet nut - and I'll pick it every time! I hope you love these as much as I do!

Grandma Kortright's Candied Nuts
2 pounds mixed nuts - NO PEANUTS
2 cups sugar
Dash of salt
4 egg whites
1/2 cup butter

Fold sugar and salt into beaten egg whites. Beat until stiff. Fold nuts into meringue. Melt butter in cookie sheet pan. Spread nut mixture over melted butter. Bake at 325 for 45 min. Stir every 10 minutes.

Folding nuts into meringue.

Turning nuts after the first 10 minutes.

Turning nuts after the second 10 minutes.

Turning nuts after the third 10 minutes.

This is a picture of what the nuts will look like when they are done! Even though you have to "Babysit" this recipe while it bakes - it is so worth it. When they are ready to be moved off the cookie sheet I spread some parchment or aluminum foil down on the counter and spread them out to cool. They need to cool for about 3 hours before you put them in a storage container. They appear soft when first out of the oven, but as the nuts cool they become crisp again.

Tune in tomorrow for the last installment of the Best Hostess Gifts of the Season!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Best Hostess Gifts of the Season: Part 3

I opened my Bon Appetit magazine this month (December 2008) and had to chuckle as I read "Dear BA Foodist". This is a column written by Andrew Knowlton, a well known restaurant editor. This particular column was written about hostess gifts. He said he used to be a Bottle-o-wine type of guy until he watched time after time his "gift" being drunk by the guests of the party and the host never even saw he brought it. He decided then and there that he would start giving away a homemade food gift. His choice was his grandmothers liver pate. My gift of choice is my Aunt Marion's Green Pepper Jelly or Grandma Kortright's Candied Nuts. Both are such a treat to me. So much so, I even have trouble looking at the pictures in this blog - because I ate, and ate, and ate way too much pepper jelly in the making. I hope you try this lovely, festive treat and tune in tomorrow for my Grandma's Candied nuts!

Aunt Marion's Green Pepper Jelly
6 large green peppers, cut in squares
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
6 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
One bottle pectin

Place half the green pepper pieces in an electric blender container with half the vinegar. Cover and process until liquified. Pour into saucepan. Repeat with remaining pepper and vinegar and add to saucepan.
Stir in the red pepper, sugar and salt and heat to boiling. Stir in liquid pectin and boil until somewhat thickened. Add a few drops of green food coloring and pour into sterilized jars and seal. Good with fish and meats. To die for over a log of cream cheese!

See you tomorrow for Grandma Kortright's Candied Nuts!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Best Hostess Gifts of the Season: Part 2

By far, my family's favorite game is Bananagrams! We have a contest every time we get together - and when we are not together we are honing our skills in anticipation of the next encounter!
This little cloth banana is filled with 144 tiles. It can be played with as little as 2 people or up to 8. You place all the tiles face down on a table. Depending on the number of people in the game you take tiles accordingly. The object of the game is to make all your tiles into words. The first one to do this is the winner. My girls are now 8 and 10 and I am continually impressed with the words they come up with to use their tiles. One of these days - they're going to beat me (but not if I can help it).

I have given this game MANY times as a hostess gift. I usually make a card on my computer that says "Thanks a Bunch", and put a picture of a monkey on the card. Another cute idea as shown in the picture above it to (first buy yourself the game) spell out "Thank you" or "Merry Christmas" or maybe even incorporate their names. Take a picture and attach it to the bag.

This is a gift that should be on everyone's list this holiday season - and won't you be the hero when you give it!

Tune in tomorrow for the third installment of the "Best Hostess Gifts of the Season"!

Best Hostess Gifts of the Season: Part 1

It's that time of year when the Holiday Party invitations start arriving in the mail. You may start thinking about what cookies your going to make for that cookie exchange you're going to, or what new side dish you're going to try when the in-laws come for Christmas dinner, or what on earth your going to get your kids for Christmas when they already own everything! I think of these things too, but I also wonder what hostess gift I'm going to take to my wonderful friends? Usually I try to do one type of gift a year and alter it just a little depending on the person hosting the party. Each day this week I will be posting one of my five favorite hostess gifts. Forget the wine this year - Think outside the box!

My first hostess gift idea is Popcorn and a movie. My favorite movie of all time is "The Magic of Ordinary Days" (Pictured first above). If I find a girlfriend who hasn't seen it - you can be sure they will be getting it for a hostess gift from me!
It is a sweet little romance set in the 1940's she is sure to love. Another great romance is "The Valley of Light". Set in a similar time period, this is a romance and also a to-die-for tear jerker.

Another movie I have loved is "The Love Letter". This is set in modern day but the romance takes place in the 1800's! You end up cheering for two people to fall in love who are in two different centuries - Strange but great!

And for that really great friend who is worth the three video hostess gift I recommend the "Sarah, Plain and Tall" series.
This series is sure to be loved by anyone who gets it. This would even make a lovely gift for the grandparent in your life who is trying to get rid of things and doesn't need one more "knick knack"!

With this hostess gift you can write a little note: When the party is over - RELAX and take it easy with popcorn and a movie.
Thanks for giving us such a special night - I hope this movie will give you a special night as well.

Tune in tomorrow for: Best Hostess Gifts of the Season: Part 2!