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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Genealogy Paper Chain

I’ll bet you didn’t know that my husband and I teach 1st and 2nd graders on Sunday mornings.

Yep.  Last year we taught along with another friend, but he moved up to another class and this year, we’re on our own.  Which has been a little challenging to say the least as our average class size has doubled since last year.  We went from averaging about 8 each Sunday morning last year to averaging about 16 each Sunday morning this year.  To the elementary school teachers out there, 16 may seem like a cake walk… but we’re not talking about school.  Sunday School is a whole different animal and, admittedly, I am not a teacher by training, vocation or gifting.  So to us, 16-18 each week is HUGE. 

But I digress.

One of the things we enjoy doing with our class is a “Genealogy of Christ Paper Chain.”  We find it to be a really good teaching tool to talk about Messianic prophesy on a level that 1st and 2nd graders can comprehend and the links of the chain act as a visual to link together the old and new testaments of the Bible.

I thought my husband was very creative with the lesson portion of the morning.  He started out by talking about the Old Testament and the New Testament and the difference being that the Old was before Jesus lived on earth and the New was during and after Jesus.  Then he began reading some scriptures and asked the kids if they knew whether it came from the OT or NT and began to work in some scriptures of Messianic prophesy.  He quoted Micah 5:2 which talks about Bethlehem among others which refer to Christ to try to trip them up a little and make them think he was reading from the New Testament so that it would be a surprise that it came from the Old.  Once we were able to establish with the kids that the Bible talks about Jesus in the OT, we were able to talk about how the promise of the Messiah was made all the way back in Genesis and we began to read prophesies about the family that the Messiah would come from all the way back to Abraham.

We know that the details of our lesson probably did not all stick.  But we don’t expect them to.  If those 16 kids walked away from our class knowing that the Bible talks about Jesus in the Old Testament all the way back to Genesis, then we’ve accomplished our goal, in my opinion.

So, back to the genealogy chain… in pictures, here’s what we did:

For our class, I pre-printed all the names from the Matthew 1 genealogy of Christ on colored strips of paper.  Older kids could write them down themselves.  And the Luke 3 genealogy from Adam to Jesus could be used as well.

Genealogy Paper Chain Genealogy Paper Chain

Because I have to have things very organized for our group of 1st & 2nd graders, I put all the names in order with Jesus on bottom and Abraham on top.  I put them in sandwich baggies as shown below so that after starting with Abraham, each child could just take the next strip of paper with the next name on it out of the bag and the rest would remain in the bag and in order.  The links of the chain may be fastened with staplers or with tape.

Genealogy Paper Chain

Now, when you have 16 1st and 2nd graders working on such a project, there is absolutely no time whatsoever for pictures to be taken.  But with two kids working on it at home, it was a fairly peaceful affair.

And when they’re done…




I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for a fun way to bring my family and especially my kids back to what we are truly celebrating at Christmas time… the birth of Christ.  I hope that this is an idea that might help some of you in your endeavors to do the same thing. 

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Sugar Cookies

In preparation for a little Christmas shin-dig I’m having at my house this week, I decided to make and decorate some Christmas cookies.  Lots of Christmas sugar cookies.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

It is no easy task to find the time to undertake such an endeavor with a job outside of my home, two active kids in grade school with homework and projects galore and everything else that a mom has to do.  So rather than try to do it all in one single block of time, I did it in stages.

In a spare 20 minutes I had one day, I made the cookie dough.  And since it needs to refrigerate anyways, I just put it in the refrigerator until I had time to bake the cookies the next day.  After baking the cookies the next day and allowing them to cool completely, I bagged them in zipper plastic bags and froze them until I was ready to decorate them, nearly a week later.

I made all of the icing one morning when I had a spare 15 minutes and then covered it and set it aside until later that evening when I could get around to it again.  That evening, I colored all the icing and decorated one batch and finished up the other two batches the next day. 

Taking it in little chunks like that really helped me to not feel overwhelmed by the task I had put before myself.

I saw an idea recently that intrigued me, so I decided to monkey with my tried and true sugar cookie recipe.  I removed 4 ounces of butter and replaced it with 4 ounces of cream cheese.  The outcome…. delicious!!  The cream cheese adds just a little zip to the flavor that I felt gave the sugar cookies a whole new dimension.  My updated Cream Cheese Sugar Cookie recipe is posted over on the recipe blog.  Just click on the link.

>>>Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

In the midst of all the baking, freezing and decorating, I set some of the cookies that would eventually become ornaments on racks on our kitchen table to thaw so that I could decorate them while sitting down in a chair.  I was in the other room when I heard my husband yell, “NO SULLY!  BAD DOG!”

I came back into the kitchen and saw that something was missing.


He was really sorry.  Sorry that he got caught, at least.


Lesson learned.  Sully is now big enough to get his front paws on TOP of the table and reach food that is sitting there.  A far cry from where he started

I made Christmas trees, ornaments and stars all using techniques that were new to me that I learned from the brilliant Bridget over at Bake at 350.  While mine are not as good as hers, I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out for the most part.

Star Sugar Cookie

Ornament Sugar Cookie

Christmas Tree Sugar Cookie

Merry Christmas, y’all !!

Monday, December 12, 2011

A new adventure with Tomatillo Jalapeño Jam

I got the most wonderful gift from a dear friend when we hosted a fall gathering of friends at our home right before Halloween. She brought me a paper lunch sack loaded with jalapeños from her garden.


As I stood there and stared at these beautiful gems I wondered what on earth I would do with them all.  Then it struck me that I could make jalapeño jelly.  So then the search began for a recipe.  The search was pretty short.  I scanned the internet and then realized I had a cookbook in my possession that may have just what I was looking for.  And it did.  More on that in a moment.

I also had to wrap my mind around the idea of canning.  It was a thing that struck fear into my heart.  I don’t know why as I have watched my mother successfully can everything from peach preserves to pear halves my whole life.  Even still, it always seemed to be this mystical magical thing that only women who survived the depression and the dust bowl should know how to successfully accomplish.

I mean, what if I don’t do it right and everyone gets food poisoning?

But, I decided to put on my big girl panties and give it a try.

The recipe I found came from Lisa Fain’s new The Homesick Texan cookbook.  I have followed Lisa on Twitter for quite some time and have always enjoyed her blog.  So when I found out she was coming to the Le Creuset store in Dallas to sign her new cookbook, I absolutely had to take the opportunity to go and meet her in person.  (Missing a World Series game in the process, y’all.)

IMG_1030And I’ll tell y’all, she is just as precious in person as she seems in her book and on her blog.  And her grandma, the one she talks about in the book and whose hands are pictured in it… she was there.  I spent several minutes talking to her and she reminded me ever so much of my Nana. 

All that to say that if you have a cook in your life, her cookbook, The Homesick Texan, is a perfect gift.  Or a Le Creuset dutch oven would work nicely also. (Especially since I scored one for 40% off that night and handed it to my hubby and said, “Merry Christmas to me!”  He may or may not have rolled his eyes.)

In her book is a recipe for Tomatillo Jalapeño Jam.  I really liked the idea of using tomatillos and the addition of some additional spices like clove and allspice to this jam really got my attention.

Since I was trying to make enough for some Christmas gifts, I multiplied the recipe a couple of times and learned a very valuable lesson in the process.  You CAN multiply a jam recipe too many times.  I think I had too much liquid and therefore it initially did not set up properly.  But I cooked it just a tad bit more the next day and added just a little bit of unflavored gelatin and that did the trick. 

And you know what?  The canning part of the whole thing was not a huge deal.  In fact, it was kind of fun to boil the jars, remove them from the water and wait to hear the pop of the lid sealing.  I don’t know how it happens, but it does, and it’s as cool as all get out to tap the top of that jar and hear it go, “PING.” 


So now I have some awfully good tasting gifts to give for Christmas.  I think two jars will go to the kids’ teachers and the others to my cousins. 

So, if you’re still reading this and are interested, here is the recipe (used with Lisa’s permission):

Tomatillo Jalapeño Jam
copyright 2011 The Homesick Texan Cookbook, page 36

Yield: 1 pint

1/2 pound tomatillos, husks removed, chopped
2 jalapeño chiles, seeds and stems removed, finely diced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup lime juice
2 teaspoons lime zest

Special Equipment:
1 pint-size jar or 2 half-pint-size jars
(I recommend the latter)

1.  Sterilize the jars and lids in either a pot of boiling water or dishwasher.

2.  In a pot, add the tomatillos, jalapeño, vinegar, sugar, ground cloves, ground allspice, ground cinnamon, lime juice, lime zest and 1/2 cup of water.  Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to a low simmer, stirring often, for 45 minutes or until it’s thick and syrupy.

3.  Pour the jam into the jars, then cover with the lids and fasten with the ring.  Let it cool and then refrigerate.  The jam will become more solid after a few hours in the refrigerator and will last for a month, refrigerated.


{Side note: For those of you who are like myself and love to use a thermometer for things like this, I did some research in my On Food and Cooking book and found that the temperature should reach 217°-221° F “which indicates that the sugar concentration has reached 65%”.  The author, Harold McGee, also suggests that “a fresher flavor results when this cooking is done at a gentle simmer in a wide pot with a large surface area for evaporation.” Page 297.}


Monday, November 21, 2011

Homemade Butter. Just like the Pilgrims?

Well, maybe not *just* like the pilgrims did it, but homemade butter nonetheless.

Our school has a tradition in each grade.  My son is in 1st grade this year and the big tradition for them is the Thanksgiving celebration and feast.  During the party portion of the day, also known as the whole first half of the day, the kids are split into small groups and they rotate from station to station.  These stations include teepee stories, snacks, bracelet making, necklace making (of the macaroni variety), bows and arrows (as we pray against any impalements) and finally butter making.

Which is where I come in.  Because, you know, I’m an expert on making butter.

Or not.

Regardless, it was certainly fun.  And exhausting.

But more about that later.

You may be wondering how on earth one might make homemade butter.  Well guess what… we’re just going to subtitle this post here today as “Butter Making 101” and I’ll try to give you a lesson.

Start with clean baby food jars.  I know that the lids aren’t on these, but you need the lids.


Fill them about half way up with heavy cream.



You may add a little salt if desired.  Then tightly screw on the lid.

When you are doing 46 of these for your son’s entire first grade at school, it will look something like this:


And finally, begin to shake.

Your child will start out very excited to be on this journey of making his or her own butter.  They will smile and giggle as they shake. 


Your child might even break out into song.  Like:

“Shake – Shake - Shake!

Shake – Shake - Shake!

Shake your butter!

Shake your butter!” 


“You know you make me want to shake! 

Kick my heels up and shake!

Throw my hands up and shake!

Throw my head back and shake!”


Things will be all nice and rosy until about two minutes later and the children all of the sudden wilt into little moaning whining puddles that used to resemble happy children as they complain and ask, “Is it done YET?”

That’s where your big strapping arms come in. 

Yeah, I know.

So as you shake, at first you clearly hear the liquid sloshing around.  Keep shaking.  Then you hear less and less and the jar is completely white and you can’t see a thing in there. Keep shaking. Then all of the sudden, you will clearly be able to see in the jar and it will look like a single mushy mass. Keep shaking just a little more. Then that single mushy mass will separate and become a butter ball and buttermilk.


Now before I began this project today, someone told me to keep the cream cold and that it would work better if the cream was cold.  These kids and the adults helping to chaperone them (okay, more the adults than the kids if I’m honest) shook these little jars for 10-13 minutes.

A different someone during the day said that they thought it would work better if the cream were more at room temperature.  So that got me to wondering.  And I did a very scientific experiment. 

I left a jar out on our countertop for a little while (that’s a very specific and scientific measurement of time, right there).  Then set the timer as my daughter shook it up.  It took her 3 minutes flat.

I think I’d be going with closer to room temperature if I ever did this again.  Because after two and a half hours of shaking cream into butter for a bunch of soft 1st graders who couldn’t shake their jars more than 1 1/2 minutes, my arms were killing me.  I mean, who needs a Shake Weight when there’s baby food jar butter to be made?

I left the school, went home, immediately took some Advil, put huge ice packs on my arms and began looking into cryotherapy

(As of this writing, it is in the evening of the same day and I have warned my husband that I do not intend to lift a single thing tomorrow.)

Let me give you just a little piece of advice.  If your son’s first grade teacher asks you to be in charge of the butter making station for the Thanksgiving celebration, just politely say no.  Your arms will thank you for it later.

In all seriousness, it was a blast and I really enjoyed getting to impart a little bit of food science to them as I tried to describe the butter making process on a 1st grade level.

If you have some cream and a small jar around, I suggest trying this with your child some time.  They might just appreciate that butter that they use on their toast or corn on the cob just a little more if they know how it’s made.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Dining Room Facelift

If you haven’t heard, we recently remodeled our kitchen.   In doing so, it also meant that the eating area/dining room got a face-lift as well. 

This is what it looked like before:


100_9125That design on the wall? It’s not wallpaper.  That’s stenciled and painted on.  Nice, huh?

Along with the kitchen, it: got new tile, lost the wainscot, lost the “popcorn” ceiling texture (thank you, Jesus), received new texture on the walls and ceiling and got a fresh coat of paint on everything. 

Once once all of that was done, it was time to add some decorative touches.  I created a computer desk and school work nook for the kids and added some wall decoration.  But there was still something terribly missing.  The windows were naked. 

Knowing that I would never find anything suitable that I could just purchase and hang, because I never do, I began to look for fabric and a pattern to make some kind of a valance.  For the fabric, I knew I wanted something with a good amount of black to echo the black in the cabinets around the new range.  It also needed to have colors that would blend with both the cobalt blue that I have as an accent in my kitchen but also with the curtains in the living room.  As for a pattern, I knew I wanted something fairly simple because I’m just not into a bunch of fussy valance kind of stuff. 

Surprisingly, I found the fabric and pattern that I wanted pretty easily.  Now I just needed a good long weekend and some money.  I came into both around the time of my birthday. So, after my mom helped me figure out how much fabric I needed, I locked myself in the craft room and got to work.


The whole thing probably took longer than it should have because there was so much good October baseball to watch on TV while I was trying to work.

Now, the valance is done and everything is where it should be, for the most part, our dinning room is much more pleasant to look at.

The walls are nice and clean without a busy pattern. 


The kids have a computer desk and their own magnetic wipe boards that is positioned in the corner beside the refrigerator.  Out of the way, but still in view of everyone for our own peace of mind.


The wall decorations are hung and so is the valance.




The only thing that I still want to do is to have the table and chairs sanded down and re-stained black. I think it would look really nice against the light colored floor and would really help tie the kitchen and dining spaces together nicely.

Overall, I am really pleased with how it all turned out and it looks so much better in person.  My lighting for these pictures was horrible.  Hey… maybe you should come over some time and see for yourself.

I’ll put some coffee on and some cookies in the oven. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Showing my Texas Rangers Spirit

Let’s go Rangers! Clap  –  Clap  –  Clap-Clap-Clap!



Thursday, October 6, 2011

BBA Challenge #30 – Basic Sourdough Bread

I finally made it.  Sourdough.

I have actually made this formula before.  Several years ago, in fact.  But that was not “in order” and part of the challenge is to do all the formulas in the book “in order.” 

Now, I have a fairly tried and tested method for sourdough bread.  This one is different and while I haven’t taste tested them side by side, I don’t know that there is much difference.  And I don’t know that I have a whole lot of preference for one method over the other either.  It’s just two different ways to the same end.

Mr. Reinhart’s method begins with taking some of your barm (sourdough starter) and making what he refers to as a firm starter; basically a relatively stiff dough without any salt. 


One kind of nice thing about sourdough, and most other breads for that matter, is that you don’t have to babysit it.  It’s not nearly as fussy as you might think.  In fact, I made my two loaves over several days as I had the time.

Do a step, stick it in the fridge.  Come back the next day when I have time and do a step, then stick it in the fridge again.  It may seem like a long process, but it’s liberating to me to be able to set it aside and work on it as I have the time.  And as a side bonus, this tends to develop more flavor.

I started out taking my starter out of the fridge and feeling guilty that I had neglected it for so long.  However, I was also kind of proud that it was still alive.  I began  feeding it a couple of days prior to starting the bread.  I fed it twice over a several day period to get it to wake up a bit. 

Then I finally made my firm starter on a Saturday when I had some time, let it ferment for several hours and then put it in the fridge.  I came back the next day (a Sunday morning) and made my dough and let it do it’s initial fermentation while we were at church.  We got home and boy had it fermented.  Over fermented to be more exact.  But moving on, I formed my loaves.  Knowing that I would not get around to baking them that day, I put each in a bowl in the refrigerator immediately and we went out of town. 

I came back the next day to bake one of the loaves and low and behold, I found this:

IMG_0117A huge air bubble on top of my dough.  And it was on both dough balls.  My guess is that the over fermentation of the first rise somehow caused this because I have never had that happen before. 

I took the dough and reshaped it and let it proof and baked it.

The result was a beautiful loaf.




And this is one of my favorite ways to eat sourdough bread.  Sliced with a thin layer of Nutella spread on top. 


I recently introduced my kids to the wonder of the Nutella topped bread.  It was a hit and now a favorite treat for a snack.

Like I said, I don’t know that I have a particular preference between Mr. Reinhart’s method of firm starter versus just starting with the barm.  Either way leads to sourdough goodness.  And it’s alright with me.

To see my other Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge blog posts and to read about the challenge, go here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

BBA Challenge #29 - Pugliese

I had a hard time finding the pictures of when I made this bread.  And once I found them,  I could see why.  They were totally forgettable as far as pictures were concerned.



I made this bread while I had a break in the action before we really got going on our kitchen remodel and while I had a break from work during the Thanksgiving holiday. 

I honestly don’t remember anything memorable about this bread.  I totally know that many of these artisan  breads are so totally different, but if I’m honest, I feel sometimes like the Andi character in “The Devil Wears Prada” when she says that the two belts being held up during a run-through look exactly the same.  It seems like once you make all these different types of artisanal breads, they all kind of run together and seem very much the same other than their shape. 

Does anyone else feel the same way?  Or are you all just going to give me a lecture about how completely different each of the breads is?

To see my other Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge blog posts and to read about the challenge, go here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever? Maybe.

For my birthday this year, I received, among other things, a cookbook from my daughter. A slow cooker cookbook to be exact.

Now, I had requested the new Slow Cooker Revolution by America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated from my husband. However, he’s a guy and doesn’t remember details like that and gets to the store and asks himself, “Now, which book did she ask for?” And finally gives up and just picks one.

slow cooker cookbook The one I received was Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever by Diane Phillips. And I have to admit that after being a little wary and disappointed by not getting the specific one I had requested, I have actually been pretty impressed.

The is not a “throw in a can of this and a can of that” kind of a slow cooker recipe book. These recipes are the real deal. The author seems to have a very good understanding and does a very good job of layering flavors to give the finished project deep and complex flavors after hours in a slow cooker.

So far I have tried three recipes out of this cookbook. I usually withhold all judgments until I have tried at least that many. This one has passed the test.

A couple of things I will say about it. A) You cannot be afraid of bacon. Out of the three recipes I tested, all three included bacon. 2) You cannot be afraid to cook with alcohol. Otherwise be ready to look for substitute ingredients. Two of the three recipes I tried called for either wine or beer. And 3) You need a good place from which to purchase “soppin’ bread” because these are some good sauces.

And I have to admit, using my slow cooker has been nice. I am able to cook a meal mostly while I am at work and most of these recipes make enough for plenty of leftovers for one of our busier nights when my husband can just heat something up and not have to cook.

The first recipe I tried was called Bistro Chicken Thighs and is made up of chicken thighs in a tomato and wine sauce. It was so good that this is the only picture I could come up with.


One of the other recipes that I just tried this week is Hungarian Smoked Beef Braise. It’s like a gorgeous cross between a hearty beef stew and a pot roast with root vegetables.


Since we are headed into the fall and winter months, and my daughter said of this recipe, “The would be great on a cold winter evening,” I’m going to share this recipe with you.

Hungarian Smoked Beef Braise

Serves 8


6 medium Yukon gold or red potatoes, quartered
4 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 strips thick-cut bacon, cut into ½ - inch pieces
3 medium onions, cut into half rounds*
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 ½ - 4 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons (plus some extra) canola or vegetable oil
One 14-15 ounce can chopped tomatoes, with juice
Once 12 ounce bottle Guinness or dark ale**

* For the onions, I saw this “cut into half rounds” description a couple of times in the book. As near as I can tell, this means to cut the onion in half lengthwise and then slice (so that the layers of the onion make a rainbow type pattern when sliced).

** We don’t normally have Guinness beer in our house. But, being a good Texan, I do quite often have Shiner Bock. The Shiner Bock worked great in this recipe.

You will also need:

Large skillet
1 gallon sized zip top baggie
5-7 quart slow cooker


Arrange the potatoes, carrots, 1 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper in the insert of the slow cooker and stir to combine. Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp.

Transfer the bacon to the slow-cooker insert and remove all but 3 tablespoons of fat from the pan. Heat the remaining fat in the pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions, paprika, chiles, and garlic and sauté until the onions begin to soften ( 4-5 minutes).

Transfer the mixture to the slow-cooker insert. Put the flour and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt in the zip top baggie. Put the meat in the flour, toss to coat and shake off any excess flour.

Heat the canola oil in the same skillet over high heat. Add the meat a few pieces at a time and brown on all sides. Transfer the browned meat to the slow-cooker insert. Deglaze the pan with the tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Transfer the tomatoes to the slow-cooker insert. Add the Guinness (SHINER) and stir to combine. Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for 4-5 hours until the meat and vegetables are tender.

Skim off any fat from the top of the stew and serve the meat and vegetables from the slow cooker.

Friday, September 23, 2011

BBA challenge #28 – Potato Rosemary Bread

Rosemary is an herb that I normally have in abundance. 100_8912 I have a huge amount of respect for rosemary as a plant. It is one of the few plants that can survive and even thrive in the hard Texas soil and harsh summer climate. I planted a very small one at our old house and within a few years, it had taken over most of that flower bed.

When we moved into this house, there were two huge rosemary plants with trunks several inches thick at the base. We figured they must have been close to as old as the house (which was build in 1979-1980). Not long after we moved in, however, one of them died followed by the other one the next year. I have since planted a new one and look forward to it taking off.

But on to the bread. Here are just some pictures since I made this long enough ago (ahem, the pictures say July 2009) that I don’t remember a thing.









I made this bread in between when I thought we might be moving out of this house and when we started really remodeling the kitchen. So if my memory serves me correctly, I really rather enjoyed it and I would totally make it again.

To see my other Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge blog posts and to read about the challenge, go here.