Monday, December 27, 2010

Holiday Swaps

This year I decided to try a couple holiday swaps.  It's so much fun to create for others and to see what such talented people create and send you!

I must say on Christmas morning Tracy made me feel a bit inadequate.  Here are the lovely items she sent me (the rules of the swap were something chocolate, some fabric bits, something heartfelt/homemade and something unexpected):

I loved everything but this little planner/calendar book was my absolute favorite!  It is beautiful!  I could never be this creative with paper (so I appreciate all the more).

I have already started using it as a little planner to keep me organized this coming year!

Here were some other handmade items.  The fabric basket is so cute and a new charm pack is always loved and cherished here.

Look - my makeup bag even came well stocked!

Then these pretty dishes (and handmade card) - what can I say?  Other than how does Tracy know I have an obsession for pretty dish ware?

Some pretty blank cards.

A cute little friend book.

And candy wrapped so prettily and a holiday planner for next year!

All I can say is THANK YOU so very much Tracy!  The gifts were lovely, beautiful, awesome.  My new 2011 planner keeps getting looked at repeatedly (hopefully I don't fawn over it too much).  I hope to use it as a very special planner this coming year but will share with you all what that may be later in January.

This is what I sent to Tracy:

A little homemade pocketbook full of Burt's Bees mini's. (Tutorial found at Noodlhead)

This little lamb - hope he found a good home!  He was a Little House Needlework ornament.

Some yummy chocolate - Chocolaterie Stam is a big deal in this part of the state.  They make amazing chocolates (they also sponsor a candy division in the Food Department at the Iowa State Fair).

And some fabric tidbits.  Some vintage and some Christmas (modern and more traditional).  I really hope my swap partner liked her gifts - she really went above and beyond with such sweet, lovely little gifts.

Also - I participated in the HoHo Holiday Swap by GenX (&Y) Quilters.

Here is the ornament I sent my partner:

And my little ornament that was waiting in my mailbox when I returned from New York:

Clark has confiscated it for his tree.

Hope you all had some nice little surprises as well!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

From our Family to Yours --

Blessed Christmas

And as Clark would say - Happy Birthday Jesus!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Test Kitchen Thursday - Stollen

As promised here is my Christmas Stollen recipe.
Sorry - it's been a busy week around here (leaving for NYC tomorrow)!  Technically it is still Thursday (although not for much longer).

Andrea's Christmas Stollen

1 C mixed candied fruit
1 C dried cranberries (or craisins)
3 T dark rum

1 pkg active dry yeast
1/4 C warm water (about 110 degrees)
2/3 C milk
1 t honey
1 C unbleached all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur)

1/3 C honey
1 large egg, beaten
1 t pure vanilla extract
1 t pure almond extract
1/4 t Fiori Di Sicilia (optional - available from King Arthur flour, if you use this reduce vanilla to 1/2 t)
1/2 C unsalted butter, softened
1/2 T finely grated lemon zest
1/2 T finely grated orange zest
1 t salt
1/2 t ground mace (if you can't find mace you can substitute nutmeg)
1/2 C slivered almonds, toasted
3 - 4 C unbleached all-purpose flour

2 T unsalted butter, melted
2 t ground cinnamon
3 T granulated sugar

2 T butter, softened
1/2 C powdered sugar
Red and Green candied cherries for garnish (optional)

Prepare the fruit:  Combine the mixed fruit, raisins, and rum.  Cover, shake and set aside.  Shake or stir the mixture every so often to coat the fruit with the rum.  I sometimes do this the night before and let it soak all night.

Make sure you have a container with a good sealing lid - especially if you let the little ones help shake!

I toast the almonds right away too and then let them sit.  Don't skip the toasting step for nuts.

Prepare the sponge.  In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast in the water to soften.  Heat the milk to 110 degrees F and add it to the yeast along with the honey and 1 C flour.  Cover the sponge with plastic wrap and let rise until light and full of bubbles (about 30 minutes).

I like to make sure my liquid temperatures are just right.  To avoid guessing I stick a thermometer in to check.

Clark likes adding ingredients.

Here's what the sponge looks like right away:

And the after (when it's ready):

Meanwhile prep the rest of the ingredients:

And have them all ready to go when the sponge is ready:

 If you have followed my bread recipes you know I like to use my bread machine whenever possible - here are directions for machine:

Scrape sponge into bowl (you could just make the sponge in the bowl of the machine).  Add the fruit mixture (don't add this at the add in timer - it won't be able to handle the liquid amount that late in the mixing - trust me on this) - treat fruit mixture as a liquid.  Add honey, egg, butter, zests, salt, mace, almonds and 3 cups of the flour.  Allow machine to do it's thing - after about 7 minutes add additional flour as needed.

As requested by my sister - the mixer method:  In the mixer bowl, add the fruit mixture to sponge, honey, egg, butter, zests, salt, mace, almonds and 2 cups of the flour to the sponge.  Using the paddle, beat the mixture on medium low speed for 2 minutes.  Gradually add the remaining flour 1/3 cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl.  Knead 4 to 5 minutes on medium-low.  First rise: Put the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil.  Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise until doubled - about 1 hour.  Don't worry if it's not completely doubled - this is a heavy bread; however, it should pass the poke test (poke finger in if finger mark stays it's ready).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface.  Makes two loaves.  Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a 7 x 9 inch oval.  Brush the melted butter over th top of the ovals.

Combine the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over one lengthwise half of the ovals.  Fold the dough in half lengthwise and carefully lift the breads onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  

Press lightly on the folded side to help the loaf keep its shape during rising and baking.  Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise for 45 minutes.  One thing I use to help bread rise when my kitchen isn't very warm is a seedling warming mat (found at most nursery/garden centers).  Set pans/bowls on top and it's just the right amount of heat.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Bake for 25 minutes or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190 degrees F.  I really believe in the temperature method to check bread for doneness.  Since the stollen top will be covered later I don't mind the probe in the top.

Immediately remove from the baking sheet and place on a rack to cool.  Brush loaves with softened butter).

Sprinkle heavily with powdered sugar once loaves are cool.  You can also decorate with left over candied fruit.

At our house we eat one once it is cool.  The second is still covered in powder sugar and wrapped tightly in aluminum foil.  This second loaf is stored in a cool, dark place to wait for Christmas.  Traditionally, stollen is made 2 - 6 weeks in advance.  Trust me - letting it sit even for a few days will help add to the flavor.  We eat the stollen on Christmas Eve and have cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Winter Blooms

Our Christmas cactus is in bloom - hurray!  I wasn't sure it would want to one year later but it decided to put out buds (that should be open by Christmas).  Awesome - in all my years of house plant care I've never had a Christmas cactus actually decide to open for Christmas (usually they like Easter better).  When all is white and put to bed outside lovely indoor flowers are a special treat!  My violets are in bloom too and when the amaryllis bulbs go on deep sale I'll pick up a couple for next to nothing and have some Valentine blooms.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Froehliche Wiehnachten!

Merry Christmas (auf Deutsch - in German)!

Decided to get in touch with my German heritage this weekend.  Yesterday during the Iowa blizzard I decided to make stollen (not to be undertaken lightly as it takes a large part of the day).  Stollen = a fabulous German Christmas bread.  Women in my family (and some men) have been  making stollen for a very long time.  Unfortunately, many American recipes end up dry which gives it a bad name - but not my recipe (which will be the Thursday recipe feature).

Making stollen made me reminiscent.  My junior year of high school I spent as a foreign exchange student in Germany (June 1991 - June 1992).  My host family lived in Heppenheim Ober-Hambach (near the Black Forest region).  It was through the National FFA/Congress Bundestag exchange program.  This meant it was more of work study rather than your typical exchange.  I actually attended an Agricultural Career Based school (Berufschule) once per week and interned with my host father (a Master Farmer) the rest of the week.

Below is my host mom rolling hundreds of little rum balls.  I was busy helping too but took time for a photo.  And yes, I was only 16 but I was taught to make lots of items utilizing alcohol.  Which is why for many of the traditional bread and cake recipes baked during Christmas and Easter involves finding the dusty bottle of rum or Cherry liquor in the basement. 

The next two photos show the room where all of the Christmas cookies were stored.

Cookies weren't really common except for Christmas time.  I should add the vast quantities made were because my farm family had a stand at the local Farmer's Market and the Weihnacht's Markt was one that everyone helped with.

Below my host sister and mother are making fresh Advent wreaths for the market.  Note the radio - I listened to loads of Polka music!  My host mom always had the radio on and almost always set to polka.

The next photo is the cellar between the house and the barn where all of breads, wreaths, eggs, etc were stored.  Don't get my mom started on the food safety issues!

Closer look at the advent wreaths.  I was allowed to choose one and it stayed in my room all advent season. It really made it feel more like home to light my candles.

My host mom and sister even made me my very own advent calendar.  I still have it.  I think I still have many of the little gifts that were tucked inside too (other than the chocolate of course).

Here is my host father - he would mix the large tubs of dough for the various breads we would make for market.  Each week I helped my host family make over 100 different baked goods (mainly breads and cheesecakes) for the weekly market.  That was in addition to helping milk and care for the cattle.

Here is the German Stollen ready for the Weihnacht's market.

I didn't get to go to very many of the markets (I was usually left at home with my host brother, Heinz, to care for the livestock and do the milking) but I did get to go the Weihnacht's market.  Below is the stand set up during the day.

Another specialty for the Christmas market was Gluhwein (I think that's right).  Basically spiced red wine served warm.  This was my host sister's responsibility.  Note all the little jars of jam - I helped make most of those.  My main job usually for each market though was to make the various liquors that were sold.  Yes, homemade liquors.  The two I remember most were Eier liquor (egg liquor - yes, main ingredient raw eggs) and Schokoladen liquor (Chocolate Cream liquor - yes, I can still make this one)

Here was the Christmas Market at night.  So beautiful.

Hope you had fun going back in time with me! 
May your Christmas season wherever it is spent be a merry one!