An Angel Among Us

Today was Jdub’s third [and last] Christmas program at his preschool. This year he graduated to being an “Angel” complete with a speaking part.

We’ve been practicing these lines constantly: Christmas is God’s love for people on Earth, the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth.

My little Angel did great today along with all his schoolmates. Bless Ms. Lori’s heart … it takes a lot of work to get a group of little children all working together to put on a program.

All the sweet little 2 year olds ... it's like hearding cats.
My sweet little angel.
No Room at the Inn ... the stage is set.

After it was all over I asked Jdubs how he did and he said: “I did amazing.” What a precious moment!

Jdubs said he got to be an actor today.

Desperate Gifts

I’m always amazed at some of the “gifts”one can find at the local Walmart.

Adult-sized footed pajamas. A seriously bad idea. Tweedy Bird print or Jolly Roger in pink? Yep. Look closely. That’s a skull and crossbones design on pink fleece. That’s awesome. Does anyone ask for this?

I can totally see someone in a mad panic because they didn’t plan ahead at all, so now he/she is in Walmart at 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve reaching for this in desperation. Goes along well with the footed pajamas, maybe the same person thought these concepts up. Now if they only came in Jolly Roger pink! But really can’t you just wrap up in a blanket to achieve the same effect? Or put a bathrobe on backwards?

Are they jeans or pajamas? Can you wear them to bed then out the next morning, avoiding the whole getting dressed ritual? If so, this might be really good for a college kid. (Ball cap to hide bedhead not included.)

Less than two weeks until Christmas, Y’all. Happy shopping!

Mexican Chocolate Cookies

This is a gem of a cookie recipe. And the best part is that it’s a “light” recipe. I very first found this recipe in one of my Cooking Light magazines. Cayenne is the secret ingredient, which adds a great punch of complexity that you can’t place, but know it’s what makes it all work. I don’t know what it is, but chocolate and red pepper go so well together.

The key to making this a wonderfully scrumptious recipe is to use really good chocolate. It needs to be bittersweet with 60% cacao minimum. Good brands that are easily available are Ghirardelli, Lindt and Baker’s. Don’t forget to look in the “candy” aisle for the good chocolate.

If you can get to a luxury grocery store, like Central Market, you can find tons of good chocolate. Scharffenberger is the very best American chocolate (HSO). Valharona is overpriced and overrated (another HSO). (HSO=Hot Sports Opinion).

If chocolate is the star of the recipe, use the good stuff. Life is too short for crappy chocolate regardless. For other recipes with Scharffenberger see Chocolate Covered Strawberries.

Just remember mediocre chocolate = mediocre results.

Very respectable American Chocolate from San Francisco.
30-second intervals will keep you from scortching the chocolate.
Satin-smooth chocolate.

This is perfectly melted chocolate. Look how shiny and smooth it is.

Cayenne is the perfect complement to chocolate.

You don’t want to pinch cayenne pepper with your fingers. The oils adhere to your skin and God forgive you if you accidentally rub your eye or nose (or any other precious body part with tender skin!). This is the dandiest trick to adding just the right amount of cayenne. Stick your knife into the spice bottle and get a dab on the tip of the knife and add to the dry ingredients. If you would rather use measuring spoons, it will be equivalent to about 1/8 of a tsp.

Butter, sugar and a farm fresh egg.

It’s hard to believe this recipe only has a ¼ stick of butter in it. Just for reference, traditional chocolate chip cookies have 1 cup of butter (4x the butter in this recipe). Believe me, the two greatest flavor-adding ingredients are butter and bacon grease.

Sous chef Jean-Guilliam.

I had my favorite sous chef in the kitchen today. I love cooking with my little boy. Hopefully he will know a few recipes by the time he’s 12 or 13 and can be responsible for cooking a meal a week (totally ripped this trick off from Dr. Jen.)

We drank a keg of this and I still love it. (It took us a few weeks to drink the keg, BTW)

It is Friday night, after all. And the best way to keep from eating all the dough is to drink a beer while you work. Beer and cookie dough is a no go.

Tasting the product. Always a good sign in an aspiring chef.
Payoff. Licking the beaters.

If the dough is good the cookie will be even better.

After 10 minutes in the oven, this is the outcome!

The cookies will have a slight crackling to them. This is perfect. When you break them open, the outer shell should be crispy.

Chocolate awesomeness! Crispy on the outside and chewy, moist greatness inside..
Powdered sugar makes it pretty.

A little dusting of powdered sugar for a festive look … and vla. Chocolate cookie awesomeness.

Mexican Chocolate Cookies

5 oz. bittersweet chocolate

3.4 oz. all-purpose flour (3/4 cup)

½ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

Dash of pepper

Dash of cayenne

1 ¼ c. sugar

¼ c. butter, softened

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put chocolate in glass bowl and microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until just melted. Set aside to cool.

Weigh or measure the flour and put in a small bowl. Add cinnamon, baking powder, salt, pepper and cayenne. Give all the dry ingredients a stir.

In a separate (and larger bowl), beat the [soft] butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and continue to beat until just combined. Add the cooled chocolate. Beat for a few more seconds, then add the dry ingredients by stirring it in until just mixed. Use a tablespoon or scoop to drop uniform dollops of dough on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, until cookies are just set. When cooked, remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Makes 32ish cookies.

Enjoy, Y’all.

Random Gift Awesomeness

I’ve been shopping around our downtown and online and at Walmart in search of gift greatness. And I’ve found a few items I love.

Electric kettle – this rocks. The best $11 I spent at a hardware store. I use it every day sometimes more. I make pressed coffee in the morning and in the evenings I have a little hot cocoa or a decaf coffee. This kettle works great – heats up very quickly, faster than the microwave.

Starbucks Via is a great stocking stuffer. And it goes well with the electric kettle … It is great for that single cup.

Subscriptions to awesome magazines. I love Cook’s Illustrated. (OK Williams-Sonoma isn’t a magazine, but the stuff in it is way cool).

These are awesome little gifts for your kids’ teachers or work colleagues. They are little covers for travel packages of tissues. Boaz has them in our little town. They even gave me three little gift sacks to package all my teacher nick-knack gifts together.

Shopping Small

This is why I love to shop in my small hometown stores…

1. I can have lunch with my mom for $10 (for both of us).

2. I can pick out my own Christmas presents at the store and they will hold it for my dad, wrap it, then send him the bill.

3. I can pick out Christmas presents on my lunch break and come back later and they are wrapped and ready to go under the tree.

4. I can tell the Jewelers what my mom wants at a party and they will order it the next day and wrap it before I pick it up on Wednesday.

Christmas CATastrophe

I was doing a little Christmas shopping this afternoon and decided to get a few stocking stuffers for the family, including the pets. I found this gem for $5 and couldn’t pass it up.

I don’t think Pussums was as excited as I was.

Christmas CATastrophe

This is only the first time trying her new “dress” on … I’m sure we will need to put it on again for Christmas Eve.

Scattered Thanksgiving

Several people have asked me what we were going to make for Thanksgiving. When I say “nothing” puzzled glances follow with raised eyebrows. When your family is far-flung or out of pocket for whatever reason, it’s hard to justify cooking an 18-pound turkey for four adults and a small child.

My grandmother is recovering from the surgery she had last week. The procedure made her weak and tired. I have a family member going through a divorce and another one with a terrible bacterial infection, etc., etc.

So it was just easier and more convenient (and cheaper) for my immediate family go to Wildcatter for Thanksgiving.

A big pile of food ... Tri tip steak, ham and smoked turkey. Mac n cheese, grits, dressing, green beans, broccoli and sweet potatoes.

It was delicious! And we had a spectacular view of the North Texas Hill Country.

View off the southern bluff at Wildcatter Ranch

We had a stellar French Burgundy and when we were done, we went home. No dishes, no leftovers, no nada.

2003 Santenay was lights-out good!

I don’t think I’ll want to do it every year, but I’m thankful it’s an option. We’ll have traditional Thanksgiving feast with my husband’s family over the weekend – fried turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie.

We had a good day, (well other than that fight we had). And it was a beautiful day to be outside in the garden. I worked on long-overdue cleanup and winter planting.

The Christmas tree went up with relative ease. As I write, the Aggies and Longhorns are still battling it out. It’s been the holiday I really needed.

The Best Medicine

Today I went to visit my 82 year old grandmother. She had her gallbladder surgically removed on Tuesday. We visited her and took food to her and my 93 year old grandfather. Neither of them can hear well so they don’t have stuff on like the TV or radio. I think it’s kind a cool because it’s so quiet at their house. Noise overwhelms me and I really don’t like loud music, noisy kids, gaggles of teenagers or squawking birds or yappy dogs. The quietness of her house is soothing to me, but then again I took my 4 year old son to visit too. He’s really loud and rambunctious. But he was just what MawMaw needed.

Next week we’ll take her a plate of turkey and dressing and pie, especially since “no one can cook anymore,” she told me of the food that someone had brought her.

Jdubs and MawMaw

Sugar Squash Dumplings

I recently discovered an awesome fall squash called sweet dumpling. Like most fall squash, it’s versatile and easy to cook. And it is so sweet. And the name of the squash itself gave me the idea for making a squash filling to go into a dumpling.

Sweet dumpling squash. I was able to take a picture of this before the sun went down. Amazing what natural light will do for a photo.
You can use this same basic method to cook all fall squash.
Baked sweet dumpling squash.
Mashed sweet dumpling squash. These photos are taken inside under harsh, yet inconsistent lighting.

To make dumplings we have to bake the squash first. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash in half and hallow out the seeds with a spoon. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, give it a squirt of cooking spray and give the cut side of the squash a squirt too. Then place the squash cut-side down on the pan and put into the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes or until the flesh of the squash is fork tender. Scoop out the cooked squash, leaving the skin behind then mash the squash in a bowl.

Ingredients

3-4 C. cooked sweet dumpling squash (see above)

½ of a medium onion, finely diced

2-3 sprigs of rosemary, finely diced and divided. Half for the squash mixture and half for the butter sauce.

¼ to ½ stick of butter

½ C. Parmesan cheese

1/8 tsp ancho chili powder

1-2 tbs herbs de Provence

Wonton Wraps

Salt and pepper (not pictured)

(other equipment needed: bowl of water and a pastry brush)

While the squash is baking, finely dice the onion and sauté with butter and olive oil. Add herbs de Provence and a pinch of the rosemary. Salt and pepper to taste. Let it cook down until very soft. Then add the squash to the onion mixture and give it a good stir. Let it all simmer together, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and let cool for a few minutes, then add the Parmesan and rosemary. Add salt and pepper, if needed. But be careful, Parmesan is very salty on its own.

Add Parmesan and rosemary. Give a good stir.

Give it a good stir then add the chili powder.

A little chili goes a long way.

Put your wonton wrappers on a cutting board. You will need to work quickly because we will seal the wontons up using the water as the “glue.” But wontons are very sticky once they get wet so faster is better.

Put a dollop of squash mixture down on each wonton. It’s about 1 tablespoon of squash per square.

A dollop ...
Brush with water to seal the top and bottom of the wonton togethe.

Brush all four sides of the wonton with water, then put a second wrapper on top. Press together with your fingers. Be sure to get all the air out of the stuffed center part as possible. Then crimp the edges with a fork to seal it tightly. Place the dumplings on a flat surface until you can cook it. Get a large pot of water boiling then place the dumpling into the water to cook. You will have to do this in batches. Each batch will take about 3-4 minutes to cook.

Not the greatest photo, but hopefully you get the idea.
Out of the boiling water.

After the dumplings have cooked. Place them on a plate or cookie sheet. Don’t bunch them up into a bowl or they will clump together and tear when you try to move them.

Last step, toss the dumplings in brown butter sauce. To make the sauce, put a plug of butter into the pan, get it hot, add a little salt and pepper and a little pinch of the rosemary. When the butter is bubbly and starts to brown, add the dumplings, toss to coat with butter, add a pinch or two of rosemary. Let the dumplings toast and get a little brown.

Put on a plate and sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese on top. Yummy!

Sugar squash dumplings, y’all.