Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mixed Nut Brittle

Need a last minute gift, or do you just want to use up those left over nuts? 

This is your lucky day.

Better yet?  Everything you need is probably already in your pantry. 

I don't know about you, but when I am baking, I always have nuts left over. I never have enough of one nut to make that recipe again. Well, look no further because I have a recipe for all those leftover nuts. 

Nut Brittle. 

I am sure you have all heard of peanut brittle-but why should peanuts have all the fun? In this recipe, you can use any nuts.  This particular time, I used peanuts, cashews, almonds, pecans and hazelnuts. This brittle is great as a snack, or as a last minute gift idea. Package it up and bring as a hostess gift or serve it in a pretty dish at your next party.  Your family and friends will love it and no one will guess how easy this recipe is! 

The best part? If you are so lucky and have some of this nut brittle left over, break it up in even smaller pieces and sprinkle on ice cream.

Mixed Nut Brittle
1/2 cup of water
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup of corn syrup
2 cups of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
12 oz of salted mixed nuts
sea salt for finishing(optional)

In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, water, butter and corn syrup and vanilla and bring to a boil. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until it is light brown and registers 300 on a candy thermometer or about 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the baking soda. Be careful the baking soda makes the mixture bubble. Quickly stir in the nuts, them immediately pour on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Using an offset spatula or  the back of a spoon, spread the brittle in a thin layer. You can sprinkle with salt at this point. Let the brittle cool completely and break into pieces. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Holiday Appetizers: Mini Stuffed Peppers

As I have said in probably a million posts, I love appetizers! I could eat them for every meal if given the option (thank goodness that option has never been presented!). I love finding new, creative ones to make and swaying away from the normal "chip and dip" type appetizers. I was attending a holiday party the other night where everyone was bringing an appetizer or dessert, and I felt like making something with a little more substance. I wanted something that people could eat and feel more like they were having dinner along with the appetizer spread. Mini stuffed peppers were exactly that! Tender cooked peppers, filled with a seasoned ground beef mixture sprinkled with flavorful romano cheese and baked.

Honestly, this is one tasty appetizer!

Mini Stuffed Peppers

1 24 oz bag of multicolored mini sweet peppers
2 lbs. of lean ground beef
3  8 oz cans tomato sauce
1 cup italian seasoned breadcrumbs
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup romano cheese, grated + more for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil on the stove. While water is coming to a boil, wash peppers, and slice them in half, removing all seeds. When water is boiling, gently drop peppers in and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and arrange peppers on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil. In a large bowl, mix together ground beef, tomato sauce, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and onion. Stir until combined. Add romano cheese and stir just until combined. Fill peppers generously with meat mixture. Cover pan with foil. Bake covered for 25 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle generously with romano cheese and bake uncovered for 20 more minutes. Remove from oven and serve immediately. If pre making, let cool and refrigerate. When reheating, heat in a 400 degree oven for 7-9 minutes.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Holiday Gifts: Homemade Vanilla Extract

I love giving gifts. I really do fit in that category of those who love to give more than receive. I mean, I obviously love getting gifts as well-let's not get crazy here-but I truly love selecting gifts and making them special for the person that I am shopping for.

Sometimes though, a homemade gift is even more fun. Usually a homemade gift for me is something that I the kitchen. I will leave the crafts to Abby and Becca on this blog, and I am nice and cozy just staying in the kitchen. Homemade gifts from the kitchen are so fun, and usually, very well received.

This holiday season, I decided to give something a try that I have been wanting to try for a long time. Homemade Vanilla Extract! Why? Because it's fun! Also, I love making stuff in my own kitchen so I know exactly what is going into it. Did you know some vanilla extracts have preservatives? Sugar? Corn Syrup? Cr-aazy! This recipe has vanilla beans and vodka. How can you go wrong with that?

It would be very hard to go wrong with that.

Here is the very simple recipe-perfect for gift giving and so pretty to look at!

Homemade Vanilla Extract

You will need:
Decorative bottles or jars
Vanilla Beans*
Vodka (You can also use bourbon, brandy or rum for a more unique vanilla extract flavor)

Make sure bottles or jars are cleaned thoroughly and let dry. Place vanilla beans inside of jar or bottle. The amount depends on how big your container is. A good rule of thumb is for every cup of vodka-3-5 vanilla beans. Fill jar with vanilla beans with vodka. Seal tightly. Let stand for 3-5 weeks in a cool, dark place. As it is sitting, liquid will turn a beautiful amber color. It is late in the game to have fully matured vanilla extract by Christmas, but you can get it started and give out as a gift-just tell the recipient to be patient and give it another two weeks to let the alcohol extract the flavor from the beans before using.  The flavor will become more complex over time, so be patient! 

*I buy my vanilla beans from Beanilla and love them! They come fresh and fragrant and I think they make the best vanilla extract, as well as french toast, homemade vanilla ice cream, custard...I can go on and on...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Homemade Holiday Gifts: Cinnamon Caramel Popcorn

I happen to be a popcorn-aholic.  Seriously, I don't go most days without popcorn and have had a popcorn cake for my birthday since I was 3!  I love it!

When my sister (and fellow blogger!) Becca introduced me to this recipe 5 years ago, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

It is that good.

 It's really great to make for just munching, but also, you can dress it up, as I've done above. This makes it perfect to give as a gift in a cute holiday tin or bag.  Great for teacher gifts!

Once you've tried it, I know you will be dying to thank me, so I'll just say ahead of time...

You're welcome.

Cinnamon Caramel Popcorn

12 cups of Popped Popcorn-(roughly 1/2 cup of kernels)
1 cup nuts (optional)-cashews, almonds, peanuts, pecans
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup karo syrup
1/8 tsp salt
1 stick or cube of real butter (salted)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
vanilla candy melts, semi-sweet choc chips, almond bark- pick one or two for drizzling over popcorn
Sprinkles (optional)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place popcorn and nuts (if desired), in a large bowl and set aside.  In a microwave safe bowl, add brown sugar and salt and mix together.  Chop butter into chunks and place on top of brown sugar.  Pour Karo syrup over the top of everything.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds and then stir to combine.  Return to microwave and heat 2 minutes more.  Remove and stir and then return to microwave for 2 minutes more, until hot and bubbling. The butter should be combined by this point.

Remove from the microwave and add vanilla, cinnamon and baking soda.  Stir to combine.  The mixture will foam and rise.  Pour caramel over the popcorn and stir very well, until everything is well covered.

Spread popcorn over a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes (will be chewy).  If you want in with a little more crunch Bake for 20 minutes, stirring every five minutes.  I like mine at around 15 minutes.  Play with it and see what you think.

Melt your vanilla candy melts, chips, or bark and drizzle over the popcorn.  Add any sprinkles (optional) and then let cool until the chocolate has set.  Break into chunks and store it in an air tight container...that is, if there is any left!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Popsicle Stick Snowflakes

CHRISTMAS is a magical time of year.

Isn't it the best time to be with family and friends?

This week I wanted to do a fun, but simple craft with Ry and two of his buddies (practically members of the family). I chose something that they would love, but that would also involve things I already had in my "crafting supply".

Paint, glitter, craft sticks...let's make SNOWFLAKES!

This easy craft is not only perfect for the Christmas and winter season, but also perfect with the movie FROZEN since that is such a big hit in our house (and I'm sure in many!).

Here's what you'll need:

-Popsicle sticks/craft sticks, for a large snowflake (say wreath size) you could use paint stirring sticks

-Hot glue and glue gun

-Paint and paint brushes (I chose acrylic craft paint)


-Mod Podge


And yes...I did cover the table in wrapping paper. Number one, because it looks cute, and number two, it protects the table from the paint. Win win.

Step 1: Assemble the snowflakes with hot glue. For the kids they simply told me how many sticks they wanted to use and how they wanted them arranged. (I suggested three and they were all on board). We used three for each of theirs with just a little dab of glue between each stick. I used hot glue because it dries quickly. For my big snowflake I used six large sticks and then cut up another five or so to make the little details on each stick. You can be super creative here and use however many you want.

Step 2: Paint. After gluing the snowflakes I handed over the paint and paint brushes and let the kiddos go to town.We also painted both sides.

Step 3: Add some SPARKLE! They each chose a different glitter and since the kids were pretty heavy handed in the painting department we really didn't need the Mod Podge that much at all. The kids sprinkled on the glitter and then we let them dry.

Step 4: Add ribbon. I let them each pick their color of ribbon and then cut and glued a looped piece to the back of their flakes. I added their names along with the year. I love adding the year to things that we create because I love to remember when we made them. I have crafts all over my house that have a year date on them and its always fun to turn them over and check on the back to see how long I've had them and to remember what stage of my life I was at during that time.

Look at these cute little crafters go! Since I used craft paint/acrylic paint, the boys had to take off their shirts to avoid unnecessary laundry for the mommies.

Obviously you can tell this was a great hit by the smiles and wonderment on their faces. The snowflakes came together quickly, were super easy, and brought a little more JOY to our house this week. I hope you get a chance to do a little crafting with your kiddos this holiday season! Let us know if you make them and where they ended up in your house. Ours ended up on the tree.