Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pulla and Another Year Gone...

I make Christmas Pulla not because I want to be more Finnish (although that would be cool if possible) nor because I think I can match my mother-in-law in the kitchen (because we all know I can't) but because it is a little reminder to my boys that although their mother moved to Finland two years ago (maybe longer) we can bake a small reminder of her. Christmas was never really Christmas unless Leena had delicious pulla, warm from the oven, to dip in coffee that was constantly brewing in her coffee pot. We all knew it was Christmas the moment we walked through the door because the smell of pulla baking is one of my favorite smells of all time. It makes me think of home, of being loved, and of a very close family.

2009 has slowly crept by, although at times it seemed to fly, and so many good moments were had. I'm sure there were not so good moments, but I try to focus on the positive. Yes, the prison I worked at closed, but a door of opportunity was opened for me in Central Office. Yes, we were furloughed on several occasions (let's hope 2010 does not bring any more furlough days...) but at least that was time I got to spend with my family. Many of those we love have passed but to me they have gone on to bigger and better places.

I hope that this year brings more wonders and more hopes and even more friendships and I truly hope everyone has a wonderful New Years Eve and Day....

Christmas Saffron Pulla (my Mother-In-Law, Leena's Recipe)

1/2 liter milk (conversions can be found online :) )
1 envelope dry yeast
2 eggs
2 dl sugar (2/10 liter)
1 Tbsp cardemom
1 Tsp salt
1 kg flour (about 2 pounds, 15-16 dl)
200 grams butter (3 1/2 sticks)
1 gram saffron (1/2 tsp)

-make sure all ingredients are at room temperature
-warm the milk to about 100 F in the microwave
-melt butter, cool to room temperature
-mix yeast in the warm milk until dissolved
-mix in sugar, salt, eggs, and spices
-add the flour, first mixing with a wooden fork, then when the batter gets thick, knead with your hand.
-add the melted butter and keep kneading until the batter is springy and comes off your hand and the edges of the bowl - your hands may stay messy :)
-cover the bowl with a cloth and let stand in a warm, draftless place until it rises to about twice the original size (you should be using a big bowl)
-after it has risen, carefully dump the dough on a well-floured table and knead just enough to get the big air bubbles out, about seven turns.
-let the dough sit covered on the table about five minutes, then make into different shapes (use flour, it will keep it off the the table and your hands)
-let the pullas rise on the cookie sheets covered in a warm place, then brush with egg whites and sprinkle with sugar (if you can find the chunky sugar, use that, otherwise regular sugar works fine)
-bake at 425 F for about ten minutes (if not brownish in color, bake a bit longer)
-cool, covered with a cloth, and enjoy!!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cake Balls! A Hit and a New Tradition!

I'd like to thank my friend Kim, who not only gave me the idea for such wonderful treats, but pointed me in the right direction on how to made these delicacies.... This was not my recipe, nor my idea, but I made these little treats my own by doing what I know how to do while making candies (which I LOVE doing....but which requires much time, a commodity I do not have much of these days) So I hope you enjoy this little treat.....especially since they're rather simple and you can be so creative whilst making these little bites of heaven!

Cake Balls:

- 1 Cake Mix (any flavor - I used Dark Chocolate)
- 1 Tub of Frosting (any flavor - I used Caramel frosting)
- 30 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (the original recipe called for those melting chocolate thingies...I don't like those, so I used real chocolate chips.....hint: when melting these, add a little vegetable shorting to make smoother)

1. Bake the cake according to the box
2. Wait for cake to cool, then crumble into small pieces...
3. Add the tub of frosting to the crumbled cake (you're going to need a large bowl for this )
4. Combine the frosting and cake until completely combined and smooth, you should not be able to see the frosting separate from the takes a while and using 2 forks really helps with this step.
5. Roll into balls and place on a baking sheet (I used aluminum foil on the cookie sheets...made it easier to peel them off - I would have used wax paper if I had any) - hint: use an icecream scoop to get the same size balls... (mine are medium-sized....these can be made into large balls or small :) )
6. Once placed on the baking sheet, place in the freezer for at least an hour to harden (I kept mine in the freezer for a few hours due to being at Thomas' shop...which did not harm no, if they stay longer in the freezer it won't damage them.)
7. My double boiler equals a sauce pan w/ water set to boiling (once boiling and chocolate begins to melt, add the shortening and combine, and turn the heat down to med-high or medium) with my kitchen aid bowl from the mixer sitting on top :)
8. Melt chocolate, once melted take a skewer or anything else pointy and pick up each ball and dip into the chocolate until coated....
8. Once coated and before the chocolate cools add any topping you like....I used coffee grounds, coconut shavings, and chopped pecans.....
9. Once you have finished dipping them, place them back on the cookie sheet and back in the freezer to set them.....this only takes minutes......then TADA! You are finished...and they look delicious!!!


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Decade of Life (Definitely the Sweetness of Mine)

I still can not believe that the fruit of my loins is going to be ten years old in two weeks. He is almost a decade! Wow! My once powerless, mouldable child is quickly growing into an independent, self-sufficient (er, at least he likes to think so), free-thinking child. A decade ago I wasn't even fully grown and now this living being that grew inside my womb and emerged into the world the size of a moose (yes, this is what they called him at the hospital) is getting ever closer the size of an actual moose, at least in height.

I know, I know, the teenage years are just around the corner and this is when I get to find out just how much I've pissed off God (ha! only kidding), but for now I'd like to focus on the present. I'd like to focus on the fact that my child is one of the most interesting people I've ever been lucky enough to meet and I'm sure if you've ever met you you totally understand what I mean. My child reaching the decade mark is enough of an amazement for me.

My child was born at the end of the millenium, December 15, 1999 to be exact and I figure he prefered to be the last in a millenium, rather than the first. How amazing is it going to be when he's 80 years old (yes, that will make me ancient, but I plan on living at least until I'm 115) and he gets to tell people he was born at the closing of such an awesome period of time? I mean, I still remember being amazed at the old people who were born at the end of the 1800s and that they were still alive...and maybe it was just me, but I was definitely awed by the amount of life they were able to live.

This year we may not 'party like it's 1999' but we will party like it's 2009 and celebrate my son's first decade on this planet. He has requested fried chicken, mashed potatos, and green beans and of course there will be cake!!! What is a birthday party without a cake? And what is this blog without something sweet being posted....(and yes, I will be posting the recipe because more than likely it will be one made from keep your eyes open..) Not only will I be celebrating my son's birthday, but I will be celebrating my own growth during that decade and how I went from a very immature, naive, selfish person to what I have become today. I'm not saying I'm not immature, or naive, or selfish, but I like to think that at least those aspects of my character have mellowed out some and that I've become a better person because of my son.

So yes, I am the proud mama of an almost ten-year old boy who will one day grow up and take over the world!!!! (and if you've ever met him you probably think he is capable of such a feat!)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Blueberry Muffins - One For the Road

You can't go wrong with blueberry muffins. They are breakfast, they are a dessert. These are oh so tasty and so very easy to make....

This recipe uses blueberries, but any/every fruit works perfectly...believe me, I've used all kinds of fruits w/ this recipe..

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 cup blueberries (or other fruit)

1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter; cubed
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamin
-grease muffin cups
-combine flour, sugar, salt, baking powder
-place oil in 1 cup measuring cup, add egg and enough milk to fill cup - mix with flour mix
-fold in blueberries
-fill muffin cups to top, sprinkle with topping
-combine all topping ingredients together w/ fork, put on top of muffins

Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, makes a dozen muffins

With Great Power Comes Great Paranoia

All news outlets are currently awash with the tale of the Presidential Crashers, those two who were able to slip past the Secret Service and not only claim to be guests of his but who also got to touch his hand. Is this as newsworthy as it seems? No. Are these two a bit crazy? Yes. The only thing it seems to me is that our Secret Service is not as protective as we thought they were. Continually airing this loophole in protection only gives hope to those who want to truly wreak havoc.

It seems to me that we have more important, noteworthy events going on that should take more precedence over a couple of attention-craved people. What would bring more attention than having people believe that you are best buds with the big guy in charge? These two are getting everything they ever craved; mass media attention.

Last time I checked we have two wars going on overseas, an extremely controversial healthcare reform bill that is floating around the DC area, and an economy that is being compared to the Great Depression. Is the narcissistic behavior of a couple of people more newsworthy than all else that is going on? It takes me back to the time of Bill Clinton and his extramarital affairs taking on more news outlets than our involvment with Kosovo and China.

But what seems most important in this matter is the fact that the moment one takes the Presidential Oath of Office the paranoia begins. I feel the President should worry about being in harm's way because there are plenty of wackos out there, but I have a feeling that this crazy pair are more interested in the facade of being the President's dearest rather than being the takers of his life. These two do not deserve the moment in the spotlight they've received. They are getting exactly what they wanted, to be on television, in the news and so, despite the momentary inadequacy of the Secret Service, they will always be known as the pair who somehow were smart enough to get past the President's guards.

How about the media focus on true current events rather than the paranoia brought on by a couple of loony, attention-seekers. If you televise it, they will come.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Apple-Caramel Cheesecake - A SUCCESS!

So, for 7 years I was in charge of making my pumpkin cheesecake because it was so delicious, but I felt like I was in a rut dessert-wise and wanted to venture on to other, even though I did not venture too far, I think my choice was a success and from now on I will be making a different cheesecake for each Thanksgiving....making desserts should be fun and exciting and not a burden.....making desserts should make me happy and this year I made an Apple-Caramel Cheesecake and it was definitely a hit! So if you are a cheesecake lover this recipe is sure to make you and yours so very happy!

Apple-Caramel Cheesecake

1 - 21oz can Apple Pie filling
1 - graham cracker crust (i used store-bought this year)
2 - 8 oz. packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. almond extract (if you don't have this, just do a full 1/4 tsp. vanilla)
2 - eggs
1/4 cup caramel topping
chopped pecans

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Remove 3/4 cup Apple Pie filling and set aside
- Put the remaining filling in a food processor and pulse a few times to chop up the apples a bit
- Spoon the apple filling into the bottom of the crust
- Beat together the cream cheese (I microwave it a bit to soften it even more), sugar, and extracts until smooth.
- Add the eggs and mix until very creamy
- Pour over the filling in the crust
- Bake for 35-40 minutes (may need to be adjusted due to oven differences) or until the center of the cheesecake is set.
- Cool to room temperature

- Place the remaining apple pie filling and caramel topping into a saucepan and heat for about one minute making the topping soft enough to spread.
- Spoon over the top of the cheesecake.
- Sprinkle the pecan pieces over the top and refridgerate until ready to serve.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did this will be hard to abandon this recipe for a new one next I might just have to make it on a regular basis at home...I'm sure my boys will have no complaints.....Enjoy!

Food & Family

I firmly believe that wars could be ended with desserts....pies, cakes, cheesecakes....and maybe this is the problem with the world today, nobody cares to stop and pop that cake in the oven.....they lack the patience it takes for the center to set and the icing to be spread. They only see that each step takes time and effort instead of the bigger picture which involves a huge slice of ooey-gooey chocolate frosting-covered cake that will be partnered with milk and a stomach that is empty, even though a huge nine-course meal is slowly beginning to digest.

Yesterday, people all over this country swept negative emotions and their underlying disgust with their families under the rug to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday together. Food is one of the glues that keeps us families, irregardless of their levels of dysfuntion, together, if even only by a very thin string. Who can resist a roasted turkey leg? Who can turn down a table full of food prepared to give thanks to you and to all you have? Whether we give thanks for our families or for our situations in life or for possessions we have, we gather around the table and enjoy a meal that hopefully most of us helped to prepare. We engage in conversation, whether forced or not, and we commune. We become one, at least for this one day as a family. All other 364 days of the year we may be apart, but for this one day we can enjoy great food, family, and discussion.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and I truly hope that this is not the only day you give thanks to your family and friends. Have a great holiday season!