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Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Wrap-up

I'm a little sad that 2010 will be over in a few more hours. It has been a great year, maybe one of the best years of my life - who knows what the future brings.

The last quarter of 2009 wrapped up with exciting changes for me - a new promotion for the new school year, and a marriage proposal from my boyfriend. So when 2010 kicked off, I was busy planing a wedding, and continuing to explore my new role with new responsibility.

Due to the wedding, and wanting to look amazing, I joined a gym. I was making regular exercise a part of my daily gym for the first time in my life. In the past I'd done a weekly yoga class, but nothing serious. When I joined the gym, since all the classes were free, I spent a good portion of January and February exploring everything the gym had to offer for classes.

May 2010 marked my five year graduation from Bradley University. It was amazing for me to realize I'd spent more years as an alum at that point, than I'd spent as a student. But it is still so near and dear to my heart, and the memories seem like they were only yesterday sometimes.

In May I also traveled to the Gulf Shores for a wedding - it was also the time that the oil was starting to hit the gulf coast. It was really upsetting to see them preparing the beach for the oil.

In July I had one of the biggest moments of my life - I married my husband. It was a lot of planning ahead of time, but in the end, there were only a few hiccups, and nothing to ruin an amazing day.

And then we went on our amazing dream trip honeymoon. Fifteen days in Greece and Turkey.

When I returned, I found out a co-worker had left, and I assumed about 80% of her job (this would continue until Dec).

In August, I also had the honor of being the Matron of Honor for my best friend's wedding.

Me and another bridesmaid

I was busy at work, but also on working on my new life with my husband. While we had lived together before we were married, we hadn't really worked together as a unit before, with a shared budget. A huge change for us was to stop eating out so much, and try to start eating at home. In order for eating at home to be appealing to us, we had to start making real food, instead of those frozen one bag = one meal entrees. Since 2010 began, I've made bread from scratch, several new soups, different meat dishes including pork loin for the first time, stollen, homemade candy, and numerous other meals and baked treats.

Also big for me in 2010, I started this blog. While it has been slow posting at times, it is something I'd wanted to do for years, and never had the courage to try. So it has been a big move for me, and I hope to be setting the foundation for something I can be really proud of in 2011. As I say good-bye to 2010 later tonight, it will surely be a fond farewell. It was a good year to me. Here's hoping it is a happy 2011 for all, happy new year to you and yours!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

FFWD Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts

This is my first French Fridays with Dorie post! I'm very excited that December was a flexible schedule, because I actually made these before Christmas, but didn't get it posted for last Friday.
These nuts were wonderful, and would be a great addition to any holiday cookie try, or just nice to have around the house to munch on. I think the recipe could be easily adjusted also, to fit different flavors.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dec 26 shopping recap

Dec. 26 is my favorite shopping day of the year. With so many things priced at 50% off or more, it is just so exciting. I think most people think day after Christmas shopping is about just getting Christmas stuff, but there is so much on sale really. When I was a teenager, my mom and I started going shopping on Dec 26, and since then we've started getting up earlier and earlier. This year, I had a bit of a cold, so we decided to meet at 7:30 am at Target. This was very late for us, but I wanted the extra sleep.

At Target we each picked up these silver tidbit trays, they'll be good year round. For baking I got some santa claus cupcake liners, some red cupcake liners (good for lots of holidays!) and some sparkling sugar. The real find was in the paper products though - we got aluminum foil and ziploc bags that have snowflakes on the box, making them 50% off. This wasn't my best Target year for two reasons 1) we were there late and 2) I think Target has stopped making as many "holiday" items. It used to be that they'd package everything in holiday boxes, and then sell it for 50% off. In the past I was able to purchase things they sell every day - like clear glass drinking glasses that we use year round - but packaged in a Christmas box. Last year I had a big score with Burt's Bees chapstick - I was able to buy a ton of it for 50% off, in fact, I'm still using those chapsticks.

After Target we went to Crate & Barrel, but they were opening later this year than in the past. We weren't going to join the crazies standing outside in the 24 degree weather - there is nothing we wanted bad enough. So we headed across the street to Hallmark. We had about 10 minutes until Hallmark opened. Despite being an avid bargain shopper, I've never been lined up at a door before a store opens before. It was a little nerve-wracking. Luckily, what my mom and I were there for, the recordable story books, weren't what everyone else was there for. While we were there, we were also able to pick up some wrapping paper and tissue paper. I also got an ornament for us. It is precious moments, and it says First Christmas Together, since this is our first married Christmas. Our biggest score happened while we were waiting in line to check out though. I looked up at the top of a display cabinet by the register, and found one of their LED angels. The Hallmark had forgot to bring it down for the clearance, and we were able to buy her for 50% off. It will be my Mom's Christmas gift from me next year (she'll forget about it between now and then) and she is so excited.

Next, we headed back to Crate & Barrel, where I was able to pick up several baking items at great discounts. For example, I got some oversized red and green sprinkles for $1.50 that had previously been marked for $5.95.

Then, we headed to Sur La Table (red dish cloths) Williams-Sonoma (pina colada mix) and a gift store called Meyers where I got my big score of the day, three canvas prints. We normally have bird canvas prints up, but now we can switch these in for the holidays.

Overall, an excellent shopping day. I have so many great things from after Christmas sales over the years. Some of them are Christmas things like our tree, and stocking holders. Others aren't, like some of our towels, and our barware. I love shopping on Dec. 26!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Daring Bakers Challenge: Stollen!

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

When I first heard that the Dec 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was going to be stollen my only thought was my Dad. He LOVES stollen. My grandma was always picking it up from the German bakery by her house, but the bakery closed about two years ago, and so my Dad's been left without stollen since then. Then, the holidays picked up, and suddenly it was Dec. 23 and I realized I needed to log into DB and go to the grocery store for the ingredients. I quickly wrote down what I needed, and headed to my local grocery. It was a madhouse. I couldn't find anyone to help me. Yikes! That was decently stressful, and I plan to stock up on my glace earlier in the year if I make this again.

At home, I started on the dough. I got to use my amazing microplane zester again, and then I squeezed the juice from the zested orange into my mixed raisins/dried fruit, since I wasn't using the rum. I do not own a stand mixer, and this made dough prep less than fun. I tried mixing the first ingredients with a hand mixer, but with the yeast included I just got a gummy mess that looked like it was going to eat my hand mixer alive. I peeled all the dough off the hand mixer, and went to work mixing the flour, yeast, and other ingredients by hand. Once everything was combined, I moved from the bowl onto my work surface, and started to try to fold the fruit in. While the DB directions said the raisins and stuff would stick to the fruit, I did not find this to be the case. Everything kept rolling off the dough as I tried to fold it in. I found myself thinking "I hope Dad doesn't like this and ask me to make it again." Awful, I know, but that's how I felt about getting the fruit evenly mixed into the dough, all while trying not to have my dough turn red from the cherries. After I felt like the fruit and dough were evenly combined, I oiled the bowl and put it in the fridge to rest overnight.

The next day I took it out of the fridge to begin the 2 hour rise. But, since it was now Dec 24, the dough had to go with me to my parent's house where I was going to make cookies all day with my mom. And it was freezing outside. And I live in a city, park on the street, and if I try to warm up my car first, and then leave it running while I run in the house to get something, well, there is a good chance the car won't be there anymore. So I had to take my dough, back out into the freezing cold while I warmed my car up. "Don't die dough!" I told it, as I wouldn't have time to start again. When I got to my parents, the dough continued its rise in the dining room, while my mom and I heated up the kitchen baking cookies. When it was time, I rolled out the dough, and noticed how nice the oil on the dough made my rolling pin look. When I felt I was "done" rolling I asked my mom "Does this look like it is 1/4 an inch thick?" she laughed, "No, I think you got about 3/4 an inch to finish rolling out." My wimpy arms went back to work as I reduced the dough to its intended size. Then, I went to work, rolling it into a log. I struggled to get the ends of the log to combine, and the were much smaller than the middle. When I was ready to move it to the pan, I wished I had a pizza sheet. The largest baking sheet I own wasn't wide enough for this ring. But it only got squished on the side where I'd attached the ends, that was the ugly part already anyway. I really enjoyed using kitchen shears to cut into the ring, it was fun to see the layers of dough that I'd rolled up.

After the rise, I moved it to the oven, very nervous about how it would bake. Forty minutes later it was the beautiful mahogany color the recipe promised! I immediately started to coat it with the butter and powdered sugar layers. What a butter hog it turned out to be! It took two sticks of butter to get three coats of butter/powdered sugar completed. In the end, it was worth it though. My Dad was so excited about the stollen, he just raved about the taste. He ended up freezing half of it to enjoy after the holiday season. Looks like I'll be mixing that fruit into the dough again next year!

Here is the info from DB:
Preparation time:
The following times are approximate. I suggest you gather and scale/weigh/measure (mise en place -
http://www.epicurious.com/tools/fooddictionary/entry/?id=3523) all your ingredients before you begin mixing.
 Approximately 1 hour first stage – then rest overnight or up to 3 days
 2 hours to warm up after refrigeration
 15 minutes shaping
 2 hours proofing
 30-45 minutes baking

Equipment required:
 Mixer with dough hook or strong arms and hands
 Mixing bowl
 Bowl to soak raisins
 Small saucepan
 Sheet of plastic or plastic wrap to cover when proofing
 Bench or pastry scraper (very handy for cutting dough and also cleaning work surface)
 Rolling pin
 Dough whisk can be handy but not necessary
 Pastry Brush
 A scale is really important to have when making bread so I strongly advise you to get one. You do not have to
have one though. (would make a good Christmas gift!)
 Sheet Pan or round Pizza pan
 Parchment Paper

Stollen Wreath
Makes one large wreath or two traditional shaped Stollen loaves. Serves 10-12 people

¼ cup (60ml) lukewarm water (110º F / 43º C)
2 packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) (22 ml) (14 grams) (1/2 oz) active dry yeast
1 cup (240 ml) milk
10 tablespoons (150 ml) (140 grams) unsalted butter (can use salted butter)
5½ cups (1320 ml) (27 ozs) (770 grams) all-purpose (plain) flour (Measure flour first - then sift- plus extra for dusting)
½ cup (120 ml) (115 gms) sugar
¾ teaspoon (3 ¾ ml) (4 ½ grams) salt (if using salted butter there is no need to alter this salt measurement)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 grams) cinnamon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (very good) vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (5 ml) lemon extract or orange extract
¾ cup (180 ml) (4 ¾ ozs) (135 grams) mixed peel (link below to make your own)
1 cup (240 ml) (6 ozs) (170 gms) firmly packed raisins
3 tablespoons (45ml) rum
12 red glacé cherries (roughly chopped) for the color and the taste. (optional)
1 cup (240 ml) (3 ½ ozs) (100 grams) flaked almonds
Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath
Confectioners’ (icing) (powdered) sugar for dusting wreath

Note: If you don’t want to use alcohol, double the lemon or orange extract or you could use the juice from the zested


Soak the raisins
In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the rum (or in the orange juice from the zested orange) and set aside. See Note under

To make the dough

Pour ¼ cup (60 ml) warm water into a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup (240 ml) milk and 10 tablespoons (150 ml) butter over medium - low heat until butter
is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes.

Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add lemon and vanilla extracts.

In a large mixing bowl (4 qt) (4 liters) (or in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment), stir together the flour,
sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests.

Then stir in (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) the yeast/water mixture, eggs and the lukewarm
milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft, but not sticky ball. When the dough comes
together, cover the bowl with either plastic or a tea cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.

Add in the mixed peel, soaked fruit and almonds and mix with your hands or on low speed to incorporate. Here is where
you can add the cherries if you would like. Be delicate with the cherries or all your dough will turn red!

Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing with the dough hook) to
distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should be soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky.
Knead for approximately 8 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The full six minutes of kneading is needed to distribute the
dried fruit and other ingredients and to make the dough have a reasonable bread-dough consistency. You can tell when
the dough is kneaded enough – a few raisins will start to fall off the dough onto the counter because at the beginning of
the kneading process the dough is very sticky and the raisins will be held into the dough but when the dough is done it is
tacky which isn't enough to bind the outside raisins onto the dough ball.
Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with
plastic wrap.
Put it in the fridge overnight. The dough becomes very firm in the fridge (since the butter goes firm) but it does rise
slowly… the raw dough can be kept in the refrigerator up to a week and then baked on the day you want.

Shaping the Dough and Baking the Wreath

1. Let the dough rest for 2 hours after taking out of the fridge in order to warm slightly.
2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
3. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 with the oven rack on the middle shelf.
4. Punch dough down, roll into a rectangle about 16 x 24 inches (40 x 61 cms) and ¼ inch (6 mm) thick.
Starting with a long side, roll up tightly, forming a long, thin cylinder.
Transfer the cylinder roll to the sheet pan. Join the ends together, trying to overlap the layers to make the seam stronger
and pinch with your fingers to make it stick, forming a large circle. You can form it around a bowl to keep the shape.
Using kitchen scissors, make cuts along outside of circle, in 2-inch (5 cm) intervals, cutting 2/3 of the way through the
Twist each segment outward, forming a wreath shape. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Proof for approximately 2 hours at room temperature, or until about 1½ times its original size.
Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes.
The bread will bake to a dark mahogany color, should register 190°F/88°C in the center of the loaf, and should sound
hollow when thumped on the bottom.

Transfer to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter while still hot.
Immediately tap a layer of powdered sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter.
Wait for 1 minute, then tap another layer over the first.
The bread should be coated generously with the powdered sugar.
Coat the stollen in butter and icing sugar three times, since this many coatings
helps keeps the stollen fresh - especially if you intend on sending it in the mail as Christmas presents!
Let cool at least an hour before serving.

When completely cool, store in a plastic bag. Or leave it out uncovered overnight to dry out slightly, German style.
The more rum and the more coatings of butter and sugar you use the longer it will store.
The following is for the recipe as written and uses the 45 mls of rum and two coatings of butter and icing sugar
1. Stollen freezes beautifully about 4 months
2. The baked stollen stores well for 2 weeks covered in foil and plastic wrap on the counter at room temperature and
3. One month in the refrigerator well covered with foil and plastic wrap.