Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tips to Making Fantastic Cookies

My little man "baking." His accuracy is not so good.

My boss at UK always told me that he wouldn't hire a lab tech who couldn't cook. I remember being like. "What?" Of course it made perfect sense,,,, cooking is simply following instructions. A recipe is like a protocol. It's all about measuring, temperature, timing, and doing things in a certain order. Maybe that's why I like to cook so much now. It reminds me of all the lab work I used to do. Ha ha. No really, while I don't miss my job, I did really enjoy the lab experiments. There was something about going through all those steps and then finding out an answer to a question at the end. Of course there were also the times that I would follow about 500 steps for an analysis that would take 2 days to complete and it wouldn't work. Now that was maddening. But my lab has become a kitchen and my experiments have become cookies.

Really dang good cookies.

 I wouldn't say that my cookies are perfect but I've worked pretty hard over the past couple of years at making them pretty close to perfect. I've always been told that baking cookies is hard. I wouldn't say it's hard. Cookies can be a bit...well...kooky, but you just have to know how to work with them. I've compiled my tips to making your cookies be the best cookies they can be.

- Start with the best ingredients. It doesn't have the be the most expensive, but if you don't like the way store brand chocolate chips taste alone, nothing magical is going to happen in the oven to make them taste better. I personally have no problem with store brand chips, but I like the more expensive brands better and will use them if I'm making cookies for some sort of special occasion. Crappy ingredients in = crappy cookies out.

- Kind of along the same lines...invest in some good vanilla extract. I like Spice Islands.

- Get your ingredients to room temperature before beginning. Everything mixes better and your dough will be better.

-I can't say this enough when it comes to anything baked....measure, measure, measure. Don't just willy nilly scoop ingredients out and throw them in the bowl. Crappy measuring = crappy cookies. Use a knife to level off dry ingredients. If the recipe calls for packed brown sugar, be sure to pack it down into that measuring cup.

- Cream the heck out of the butter and sugar. It could take 5 minutes or more. You will get better results if your butter is room temperature. This is when it's handy to have a stand mixer. I usually get it creaming and then start mixing my dry ingredients.

- Even if the recipe doesn't state for you to do so, mix your dry ingredients separately. This would be your flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt. etc. I use a whisk to stir it. This both combines the ingredients and sifts at the same time.

- Don't overbeat your dough once the dry ingredients are added.

- OK, this one is a biggie. Get some parchment paper. I won't bake a cookie without it. Using parchment has made the most improvement in my cookies.

- Invest in a cookie scoop. It allows you to make uniform cookies and it also cuts down the time and mess.

- I always bake my cookies on the middle rack of the oven.

- Unless you are really familiar with a cookie recipe, do no walk away from the oven and leave the cookies at the mercy of a timer. Check cookies often...starting a couple of minutes before the recipe recommends. Once they look a little brown around the edges take them out. Leave them on the hot pan for a few minutes to cool and then put them on a wire rack. If the cookies are already brown all over, go ahead and get them off the pan to a rack. You will want to put some cooking spray on a metal spatula to do this.

I hope this helps ya'll make some awesome cookies. Now, you know I would rather eat the dough, but there is something so nice about a soft, thick cookie.

I have about 500 cookie recipes to post coming up. And I'm picking the worst time to get them ready.....after Christmas no one will be wanting any cookies. We will all be sick of them!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Little Man is a Natural

I have a born equestrian on my hands. I know the picture is kinda crappy. We made lots of trips around the arena last night. He even did a few by himself with me leading and Michael on "balance" duty. But he hardly needed any help staying up there. Spice has a very animated walk so that's saying something. He already has the riding bug. Spice keeps trying to remind me that she is not a "kid horse" and would appreciate it if we would get him a pony ASAP.

I hope you all are ready for Christmas!! I am enjoying being pretty much done with everything. I made some oreo truffles today and Joseph and I spent the afternoon playing with play doh. This was the first he has shown any interest in it. I was so excited. It's been a good day.

Oh, I have a friend who has started a new blog showcasing failed pinterest projects. I think it's going to be pretty great. Check it out at Your Pin Broke.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What a week!!!

And it isn't even over yet!! But I have made it to Tennessee so I expect things to get immensely easier. We will be celebrating Christmas with my mom's family Saturday and then we will celebrate with my parents Sunday night before we head back to Frankfort on Monday. Getting here was no easy task. As you well know, I did mostly crafty gifts this year..and I got most of them done well in advance. That didn't mean they were wrapped in advance. So add that to the to do list for this week along with baking 5 different kinds of cookies...I don't even want to think about the amount of butter I've gone through. Luckily I did get a pretty strenuous workout in this week to offset some of that cookie dough.

Man, I love cookie dough....

Luckily, Joseph, who has been rather clingy and moody lately, decided to be a big boy and entertain himself (at the expense of Smokey) most of the time. He did help do some stirring, and his new thing is putting salt in stuff. He's really gotten interested in cooking...which is good. So, although baking took way longer than usual, it got done without a crying child and/or..well, let's just be real....a crying me. I started making dough on Monday which helped a lot and then baked everything on Wednesday. If you are wondering why, it's that I am giving away cookie baskets. Surprise to those of you reading this that will be in Savannah! Hope you like cookies!!

So, cookies are are made and wrapped..I'm good, right? WRONG. I completely forgot about one person...and they are not the kind of person you can craft Joseph and I were off to shop. Oh and did I mention that Joseph and I had been out running errands both morning and evening for the past few days since Michael has been out of town...what? I didn't mention that I was all alone? I don't see how single moms do it. Those of you with toddlers know that running errands takes about 2 to 3 times as long when you have the kid in tow.

Shelby was out of dog food on Tuesday so we went to get it. He eats special food for dogs with allergies, but I didn't want to go to Petco to get it because then we would be there for a long time while Joseph was hanging with all his animal friends. Luckily, I found some at Tractor Supply. SCORE! I had needed to get Spice a mineral block and some treats anyway.

I finally get home and realize that I don't feed Shelby that kind of dog food anymore (I swear, baby brain never goes away)...I switched him to IAMS....which they don't have at Tractor Supply. So, off to Petco we went right at bedtime (and this was our 3rd trip out in one day). We were there for probably a good half hour, but Joseph was pretty good about telling all the animals "bye" one at a time and then leaving with no fuss. I don't guess I've mentioned how good Joseph has been during all this running around.

So last night at about midnight, I gave up and went to bed. The house was not as clean as I had wanted it to be and I wasn't as packed as I would have liked to have been, but I was walking death at that point. I don't think I had sat down for more than 10 minutes in the past 3 days (except to sleep of course).

This morning, I realized we had no kitty litter. UGH. Do you know how many places I've been in the past week that sell kitty litter?! So I got the house pretty well tidied up, the car loaded (so glad Michael was meeting me at my parents bc there was no room in the car), threw J in the back...didn't even buckle him in...I kid I kid...of course, he was strapped in...and headed to buy some kitty litter...and some blueberries (not related, Joseph just wanted them and then proceeded to eat the entire pint!!). We got home, I threw the litter in the litter box, threw the dogs in the car and said sionara to chaos!!!!

What am I talking about? I am traveling with a toddler...and that toddler is Joseph...chaos is a part of my life now. But he's a pretty cool chaos...and he bought himself a lot of lenience this week since he was so good while I was being a single mom this week. Now I'm just happy to be with family and excited to see even more family and friends during this whirl wind trip.

I hope you are all having a nice calm holiday season...although I know you aren't. I'm going to have one starting now....and if I haven't bought you a gift by now, you aren't getting one...because I am DONE! :)

Oh and get ready for a lot of cookie posts....I'm going to be doing a cookie week hopefully starting Monday!!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bacon Cheddar Ranch Pull Bread

This is a horrible picture, I know. The bread was much prettier before it was mostly eaten. I made it for MOPS this week and it was a least from what the ladies at my table said and from the looks of what I brought home. It's super easy and would be great to take as an appetizer to a holiday party. I found it on Pinterest (imagine that) and you can find the recipe here.

Also, if you want to follow me on Pinterest, feel free. I don't mind. I would also love to have more people to follow back. If you aren't on Pinterest yet, don't go is a true time suck. No really, it's pretty awesome and there are some great ideas floating around out there, but will suck you in and you will be pinning for hours upon hours...or minutes upon minutes depending on how busy you usually are.

After feeling pretty crappy the past couple of days, today has been pretty great. I took Joseph and the dogs out to the barn this morning to hang out with Spice. The dogs (and Joseph) came home incredibly muddy and went straight to the bath (one at a time otherwise it would be a very full bathtub!). Joseph even put himself to sleep for his nap which he has not done since he moved to a toddler bed. I've had to rock him to sleep which is much like wrestling a 20 lb bag of snakes for 20 minutes. I've tried to get him to go to sleep on his own but he just sits in there and plays and parties and I end up going back in after a while and rocking him. Today I put him in his bed and told him it was time for a nap and left. He played for a few minutes but he's asleep the glider, not the bed, but whatever. So I have 2 clean sleeping dogs and 1 clean sleeping child. And I'm making another pair of glitter shoes. My productivity is way up from yesterday!!!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

 Here are the little monsters all finished!
 They have been Daysie inspected and approved.
 Cute little cross stitches
 This one is for one of my friends who is due the end of the month..if you are reading this, consider this a preview bc i's much cuter in person. Hope to get it out early next week.
 I have been doing these little bear cross stitches for probably 15 years now. These are some of my earliest ones. I put together one for Joseph before he was born and hung it in his room. It has little boy bears. This one is going to my best friend's little girl.
 Joseph "helped" me make cookie dough truffles yesterday.
 He actually did "roll" out a couple...they were fairly oblong...
As photos please!

I've been a bit under the weather today...and I've had a horrible crick in my neck for a couple of days. Those just about debilitate me. I was actually about to go to the gym and work off some of those holiday calories when my neck just kinda went out. Don't have a clue what I did. 

Yesterday I begged Joseph to just take 24 hours off from trying to destroy the house. He declined my request. Today he has been good, though. He has still done a fair amount of destruction, but not as bad as usual and he's pretty much entertained himself. I am thankful for that. As Michael informed me earlier...this is a horrible time of year to get sick. Thanks for reminding me. We will be having Christmas with my family and my mom's family next weekend so I will be crazy busy next week. I better get over this crap by then. 

I hope you all are having a great holiday season!! I know I haven't done a recipe post in a while. I promise I am no abandoning just may be January before I pick back up with the blogging thing. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

 I made a feeble attempt at taking some pictures of Joseph to put on our Christmas cards yesterday. I bought him a new Christmas outfit and everything. As usual, it was extremely difficult...the one above is about as good as it got...even with a paint sponge and my pant leg in the picture. It has a striking similarity to last years' picture:

I'm gonna try again soon. I might just use a non-Christmas picture. I just don't do so well taking pictures inside. I hate the way a flash makes the picture look. My camera does ok without a flash but the target and the camera need to be pretty still....and my child is never still.

We went to Michael's work Christmas party this weekend. It was 20s themed this year. They encourage you to wear attire that goes with the theme, but I have never done that. I thought the 20s would be fun though. I had originally planned to use one of my black dresses and put fringe on the bottom and stuff to transform it into a flapper dress. Then I decided I didn't want to do that and that I would make my own dress. Well, I had trouble finding a pattern that suited me and the fabric I wanted was $10 and up a yard. Luckily the trim was 1/2 off when I went to buy it! I ended up deciding to use 2 tshirts to make the dress. The top was a large tshirt with the collar cut out and sleeves cut off. I kept putting it on a tweaking the neckline and arm holes. I ended up putting a couple of darts in the bust area. Then I used an XL tshirt (I've got sizeable hips and didn't want the dress to cling) cut just below the armpits straight across to make the bottom of the dress. I sewed the top to the bottom and used some sequined elastic to make a "belt" to cover the seam. I sewed fringe to the bottom and some pretty sequin embelishment to the the neckline. Add in a 20s style necklace, head band, and boa and here you go:

Well, tonight Michael and I are going to go to Lexington and draw a name off of the Angel Tree and shop for the kid that we draw. I'm pretty excited. I've wanted to do this for a long time. I don't have an excuse on why I never did. We actually drew another family off the Angel Tree at church yesterday. I went to do a little shopping for them while I was out this morning but Joseph was in a heck of a mood and kinda dampened the spirit. We will just shop for them tonight too. Michael and I just feel like we've been so blessed this year especially and hope to make the Angel Tree shopping trip a yearly tradition and get Joseph in on it in a couple of years when he understands what it means a little more.

I hope you are all having a great December so far! I know I haven't posted much lately and I doubt it will get any better until after the New Year! Hang in there with me!

Monday, November 28, 2011

 One of the things I love about using natural cleaning products...Joseph can help! We were spot cleaning the carpet.

I hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving! We went to my parents' and as usual had a blast.
 Joseph feeding the chickens.

 It doesn't get any more "farm fresh" than that egg!
 He was actually a good boy and didn't break it!

 A set of twin calves

 Joseph got to play with his friend Gabi. Sadly this is the only picture I got.

And his favorite thing....hanging with Paw Paw!

We got the pleasure of coming home to a house that stunk of cats. So, I spent the day today doing "Operation De-Stink The House." I have to say that the carpet powder I made with baking soda and lavender oil worked wonders. I spent most of my day cleaning and mopping and doing laundry....but it no longer stinks in here. YAY! I had planned on doing my Christmas decorating and while I did bring in a box or two, I couldn't think about Christmas until the smell was gone. I'm pooped or I would put the tree up tonight. It will have to wait until tomorrow. 

I'm really behind on my recipe posts. I'm really hoping to get caught up soon...before the Christmas baking begins and I get REALLY behind! 

Oh, we had an interesting development this past week. Joseph started climbing out of his crib. The first time he did it, I stuck him back in his crib, but he fell the second time. So he's now in a toddler bed. I'm not taking it very well. I don't know that it is so much that he's growing up...I think it's more that naptime and bedtime had gotten so easy and now he can just run around his room and play and put off going to sleep. So far it's gone ok...not great, but ok. He woke us up knocking on his door this morning at 4 AM. I hope that was a fluke. Where does the time go?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What Have I Not Been Working On?

 I laid out almost all of the things I've been working on since my last "what I've been working on" post. I looked at it and was tired and proud, but very tired. And amazed at how much felt I've cut! Yes, some of you are looking straight at your Christmas gifts. But you don't know which you are getting so I don't care! I did leave on project out of the photos because I want it to be a true surprise.

 I've made 20 all colors.
The superheros. The Marvel set is finished. Superman and I have been fighting over his symbol and Batman and I have had issues with his eyes. Once we make peace, they will be done. I also made pouches for them out of felt. This was my first attempt at blanket stitching.

 The Marvel guys: Spiderman, Wolverine, Iron Man, and Captain America. I will definitely be making a set of these for Joseph later....
The fabric basket I showed half done last week

 This one didn't have enough twine for a bowl so it's going to be a hot pad.

 Headbands and bracelets made out of tshirt scraps.

A scarf and pin set. The pin is a felt flower and the scarf is made from t-shirts.

 Felt flower pins

 A basket made out of old Chirstmas cards.

Christy, remember that shoebox card?

 I made boxes out of some other cards.

Tonight, I will be sewing these guys. They are monster dolls for Joseph, my friend Ellen's little girl, and my friend Christy's little boy. I'm pretty excited about them since they will be my first stuffed doll sewing experience!

In other news, I made my own hand soap this week. It was actually super easy. Just grate a bar of soap (8 oz). Add a gallon of water and 1 Tbsp glycerin and heat on the stove until the soap is dissolved. Then let it cool for 10-12 hours. The original tutorial is here. I used the same soap she did and it smells heavenly.

I also made my own "green" cleaner. I've been wanting to go green with my cleaners for a while, but I didn't want to waste what I already had so I waited until I used it up. The recipe for the one I made is as follows (and I love it):
Gorgeously Green All-Purpose Cleaner
2 c water
1/2 c white vinegar
3/4 c hydrogen peroxide
1 tsp liquid soap
20 drops lavender oil
20 drops tea tree oil
 The original recipe is here and there are also lots of other great cleaners on this list.

Today I made some tangerine marmalade during J's nap. It turned out pretty well. It was my first attempt at making my own fruit jam-type stuff without mom's supervision.

I know it sounds like a lot...and it is. But for those of you who wonder how I have the time and energy....this is what I have to say: crafting is fun. I love it and enjoy making these things. I know a day will come when I think..UGH, I don't want to make stuff. That is why I am working like the dickens to get stuff done now. Also, Joseph takes consistent 2-3 hour naps for the most part and that gives me the uninterrupted time to get all this done. But really, I just enjoy it..and when you enjoy something, it just doesn't seem like work. :)

I know I didn't do a menu for this week. It was really a pretty boring menu...spaghetti and such. This coming week, I will only be cooking 2 days at home since we will be leaving Wednesday for my parents' house for Thanksgiving. YAY!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's been a busy week here. After posting every day in October, it feels really weird to go back to only posting a couple of times a week....if that. I'm glad I decided to do the blogging every day in October instead of November.

The little man eating chili.

I have been crafting away. I will have lots to show in my "What I'm Working On" post. I'm not making any promises that it will come tomorrow. Joseph starting getting sick yesterday. It's nothing big...just congestion and snotty nose. He started running a low fever this evening. He's very clingy when he's sick and only I will do, so I don't get a whole lot done. We've been watching lots of movies. Yesterday he had a lot of trouble taking his nap and I ended up having to hold him while he's been a long time since I've had to do that.

In other news, I am almost done with my Christmas shopping. I am no where near done with the crafting but I'm almost done buying the non-crafted stuff. Woo Hoo! I am done with Joseph's gifts, but he is the easiest to shop for.

I have been trying some of the recipes that I've pinned on Pinterest. I have found some healthy versions of things like cookie dough and ice cream that I just had to try...I didn't believe they would be all that, but I just had to see. The first I tried was Reese's Cookie Batter Oatmeal. It was just ok. I mean, it's better than plain oatmeal but it needed some butter or something. :) I will be eating it again, though. Joseph turned up his nose, but what else is new?

The next one I tried was for Banana "Ice Cream"...I put ice cream in quotations because there is no milk or cream or anything in it. It's just frozen bananas whipped to a frenzy in a food processor and then you can add peanut butter and cocoa if you want...I did. No added sugar....and it was pretty stinkin delicious. Joseph liked it too. This one's a keeper.

The one I tried today was Healthy Cookie Dough Dip. Now, this has chick peas in it. I didn't think there was any way in heck that this would be edible. I was intrigued enough to make it though. You see, I will sometimes go in the kitchen and make cookie dough...just to eat it. I love it and I crave it. If I could find something to satisfy those cravings at reduced calories, I would be in heaven. You's actually pretty good. It's no regular cookie dough. Butter is awesome, what can I say? But it is a good substitute. While it's not calorie free and you really shouldn't eat the whole batch, if you were going to eat cookie dough anyway, why not eat something that has some actual nutritional value?

I don't know about ya'll, but starting next week and going through New Years, I kind of eat like a..well...pig. It's nice to have some healthier things to throw in there that seem more decadent than they actually are. :)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What I'm Working a crazy person

 Little wooden superheros. I'm doing 2 sets...a DC one and a Marvel one. They are going to my cousins' little boys. I think they are turning out super cute so far. I've actually started a few more since this pic was taken.

 I've been crazy busy. Every spare minute I have has been spent crafting or perusing Pinterest for ideas for more crafts. My goal is for 75% of our Christmas gifts to be handmade. Don't worry if you are on my won't get a crap handmade'll get a freakin awesome handmade gift.

This is something new I've been trying:
 It's a bowl made of paper twine and fabric scraps. I brought home this big basket of paper twine from my parents' house recently. I had it left over from a project from back in high school...and I had a lot of it. I also had a lot of random fabric scraps. I saw an idea on Pinterest and thought...hey I can use paper twine for this. It's a bit cantankerous, though. I'm actually surprised that I spelled "cantankerous" right the first time without spell check....either that or spell check gave up on me. Anyway...I've actually finished the above bowl and have started another one. They are pretty cute.

 Made these necklaces for my cousin's little girls. I really hope the darker blue one is big enough...if not, I guess we could make it into a bracelet.
 Got the idea here....of course..Pinterest strikes again.
Headband and headbands in the works...made from tshirts. Very cool stuff.

Well, I would love to stay and chat, but I have little superheros calling my name to be finished...well, they would be if I had painted their mouths yet! :)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday Menu

So last week's menu went really well. We found some new staples (The Swiss Penne Casserole thing was awesome!) and none of the new recipes were duds. I had meant to post this week's menu earlier today, but I spent too much of Joseph's nap doing ironing and trying to figure out how to do this 5 strand braid to make a headband out of a t-shirt.....yep...something I saw on Pinterest. :)

So, here's what we are eating the rest of the week:

Tuesday: 15 Minute Bean Soup, cornbread (We were actually supposed to have this tonight but some things came up and J & I ended up having McDonalds while on my way to deliver a meal to a woman in my MOPS group who had just come home with her new baby).
Wednesday: Vinegar Glossed Chicken, Roasted Potatoes, Broccoli
Thursday: Cowboy Casserole
Friday: The Other White Meat Pizza
Saturday: Chili (From the Shaw Family Favorites...will be blogged later!)
Sunday: Leftovers

As I said above, I took a meal to a lady from my MOPS group tonight. We always try to bless the families of new babies with hot meals. I signed up for tonight. She lives in Simpsonville which is about 30 minutes away, but Spice's barn is on the way, so I was planning on going to ride after I dropped the meal off. Well, Michael wasn't going to get home until after 6, so I ended up loading the Munchkin up and we took off on our food delivery mission. I had decided that even though I wouldn't get to ride, I would still go by the barn on the way home. Then lo and behold, Michael came out and watched Joseph so that I could ride. The J man even rode with me some. He is so funny. He grabs a brush as soon as we get there and brushes her belly. Then he grabs the treats. He's learning how to give her a treat, but mostly he just eats them. It was, as usual, a great way to spend an evening. Hope ya'll had a good one as well!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

What I've Been Working On

 I've been pretty crafty this week. I finished the cross stitch that I was doing for a gift...sorry, can't show it until she receives it...but I should be mailing it out soon. It's not really a Christmas gift. So, I've covered some Styrofoam cones I had with yarn and then decided that the little wreath ornaments would be cute covered in yarn also. Don't know how I'm going to decorate them yet.

 I made these little felt mice. I got the idea here. They will hold a candy cane which will look like their tail. So easy!

I made more pipe cleaner wreaths....I have run out of pipe cleaners. I think they are turning out really cute.

I actually got out my scrapbooking stuff last night..and...*gasp* completed a few pages!!! Usually I get it out, realize how far behind I am, feel massively overwhelmed, and consequently put it all back up without so much as gluing a picture. I felt pretty good. Hopefully I can keep that up a couple of nights a week and get caught back next year. :)

I had a very busy day today. When Joseph went down for his nap, I headed to the gym to workout. Then I went to the barn and enjoyed a beautiful trail ride. It was a gorgeous day today!! Spice was a dream to ride and even crossed a big creek full of standing water without even balking at all! It usually takes 2 or 3 tries. After my ride, I changed back in to my work out clothes and went for a run. I have done a 5K on those roads around the barn and I knew it would be challenging. The roads around Bagdad have the weird ability to always be uphill....never downhill. Even when you turn around and go back the way you came....still uphill. It's a very strange phenomenon indeed!

By the time I got home...exhausted....I decided that we would have leftovers for supper instead of the carmelized cajun porkchops. We'll have those tomorrow. I think they are going to be way yummy.

And for the people following for the Shaw recipes...don't worry...I haven't given up. I'm going to be going hot and heavy on them come holiday season. This is the calm before the storm. I do have a couple to post though.

I hope you are all having a great weekend. I am not looking forward to this time change. I hate when it gets dark so early.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


First of all, I have officially made it to 5000 page views today!!!! I started this blog on November 6, 2009 and it has really taken off in the past year. I appreciate each of those 5000 views.....even though probably 1000 were me. :) No, probably not that many. :)

We had a good Halloween. Joseph was the cutest little chicken ever. We only trick or treated at a few houses, but he carried his pail and knocked on the doors and everything. I just thought that I would share a few pictures!! Hope you all have a great day!!