Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Samhain/Halloween Treats! - Popcorn Balls and Cookies

This is the last of the cooking over the weekend. If you remember from before, I had planned on finishing up with my great-grandpa's popcorn balls and stamped cookies. Stamped cookies. Who said they were supposed to be easy? Maybe it's just me. It probably is. Either way, they didn't work out. At all.

SO I fixed those cookies. The royal icing and all worked just fine, so I made spiderwebs instead and used some of the leftover sprinkles from the cake pops to stick on the webs.

Sorry they're covered in plastic wrap. I remembered to take the picture after I had covered them, and if the plastic wrap came off, more cookies would be consumed. They did not need consuming at that time.

Shortbread Cookies
Mix together: 1 1/2 C flour, 1/2 C powdered sugar, 1 C softened butter, 1 T vanilla. Make sure it's very smooth. Bake 13-15 minutes in the oven at 350*. Cool 5 minutes and transfer to wire racks.

Chocolate Cookies
8oz softened butter
1C powdered sugar
1C cocoa powder
1t vanilla
3/4t salt
1 1/2C flour

Preheat oven to 350*.
Mix butter til smooth, then add sugar and cream.
Add cocoa, vanilla and salt. 
Mix til the consistency of thick frosting.
Add flour and mix until just combined.
Make a ball and knead slightly.
Flatten to 1/2" thick or so.
Cover and freeze 15 minutes.
Roll out to 1/8" thick or so.
Bake 10 minutes.

Royal Icing
I used Sweet Sugar Belle's recipe for royal icing. Then I colored and prepared it like she said. Then I stored the remains like she said. Sweet Sugar Belle, you're awesome. I also did the trick with the plastic wrap in the frosting bags. It was amazing. ThankYouThankYouThankYou.

I made a half batch of what her recipe calls for. Even with all of my messed up cookies and stuff and making webs on them, I could have used only 1/4 of the batch. I dropped off the rest with my grandparents. They'll figure something out to do with it. If not, they can throw it away. 

Pa's Popcorn Balls
They're cuter when my dad does them. And they were cuter when Pa did them when I was younger. But I have smaller hands that aren't quite as calloused, so no amount of butter will make me excited about sticking my hands in stuff that's taking it's time cooling off from 303* F. Nope. Calloused hands are a virtue in this recipe.

5-6 quarts popcorn (from an air popper)
1 cup syrup (I used Mrs. Butterworths Original because that's what we had.)
1 cup brown sugar (dark is preferable, light will work)
1 pat butter
shot of vanilla
pinch of salt

Place popcorn in a large, heavy, buttered pot.
Bring other ingredients to a hard crack stage (I went to 303* because that's what Dad told me to do.)
Drizzle slowly over popcorn while mixing with a buttered wooden spoon - 2 people works best.
Shape with HEAVILY buttered hands and let cool on wax paper.
Wrap in plastic wrap.

These are still one of my favorite things in the world, just because Pa and Granny used to make them. The same goes for oyster gumbo. And duck. It was a Pa and Granny thing, so it's kind of homage to them to make this for Halloween.

Happy Samhain/Halloween, guys.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Samhain/Halloween Treats - Cake Pops and Balls

Part 2 of the baking done on my lovely 3 day weekend. I made cake pops and cake balls for Halloween night. Since the UL wind ensemble has a brass sectional on Halloween night, I will be attending in costume and bringing food. In this case, White Russian cake pops.
Last year, my brother's birthday fell on a night when we had orchestra rehearsal. I asked him what kind of cupcakes he wanted me to bring, and his smart posterior responded, "Oh, White Russian cupcakes would be wonderful." The smart alec didn't think I'd find a recipe. Proved him wrong. Doctored cake mix, here we go.

White Russian Cake
- 1 box of vanilla cake mix (or white if you can't find vanilla, just add a bit of vanilla extract in that instance)
- 1/4 cup vodka
- 1/4 cup Kahlua
- 1 small box vanilla pudding mix (if your cake has pudding in it, skip this)
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 4 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla

Other ingredients
- small cookie/ice cream scoop (optional)
- some kind of coating (chocolate, almond bark, candy melts)
- Crisco (for coating)
- things for decorating (chocolate for drizzling, sprinkles, etc)
- about 50 lollipop sticks
- something to stand them on (Styrofoam covered in plastic wrap and/or strainers on crab boiling trays)

- Mix it all cake ingredients up, then bake at 350* for about 40 minutes. When a toothpick comes out clean, it's done.
- Let it cool completely.
- Crumble the cake up and add enough vanilla frosting to make it stick together in balls - I didn't need much at all.
- Put it in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
- Take your handy dandy mini ice cream scoop and make balls of cake stuff. Smooth them in your hands and put them on a cookie sheet back in the fridge. No ice cream scoop? Use spoons or your hands.
- While that's chilling, melt whatever coating you're planning to use. I used white almond bark and Crisco, adding Crisco to the melted bark until it was smooth enough to pour kind of like body wash.

There are many easy to melt chocolate or candy coating or whatnot. 
The best thing I've found is my mini crock pot. 
Put the coating and Crisco (if using) in there on low for about 20-30 minutes.
If you do this, when your bark is ready, your cake balls will be chilled enough.

- Take the cake balls out of the fridge.
- Dip about 3/4" of a stick's tip in the bark and stick it in the ball.
- Place it on the tray and make cute rows, like little soldiers with bayonets.
- After they're all done, toss them back in the fridge. While they chill again, get your decorations together. Melt more bark if necessary.

There are many ways to let your cake pops dry.
If you want them with flat bottoms, just place them on a greased pan or something after they're dipped.
If you want them to be round all over, you'll need to stick them in something.
I used 2 Styrofoam blocks covered in plastic wrap until they had dried enough not to drip if turned sideways.
After that, I put them in the holes in strainers turned upside down on crab trays. 
This put them at an angle, but they were dry enough it didn't matter.

- Take your pops out 2 or 3 at a time. Dip in melted coating. Do not turn like candy apples. If you don't believe me, give a few turns to one you're working on and watch it fall into a mess. (I did this, not thinking, naturally.)
- Let them dry a bit, to where you can still put sprinkles or something on, but where your coating isn't making a huge mess and falling off everywhere.
- Decorate!

I used sprinkles and melted chocolate.
The ones I drizzled with chocolate sat out over night with no drizzles because I didn't feel like melting it at 10pm.
There were no ill effects.
The sprinkle ones were cute.
Note to self - black sprinkles taste like black icing - bitter.

-When the time comes to cover them (for me it was the next day) you can stick them in an airtight container or individually wrap them.
- Treat bags specifically for that purpose from a fancy craft store would work. I used Dollar Tree sandwich bags. Just cut them at an angle to get rid of the excess plastic, pop it over the pop and tie with curling ribbon. Then curl said ribbon.

Cake Balls

Since I had so much fun with the pops, I made cake balls for Mom and Dad to bring to Grammy and Poppy's (grandparents) on Halloween night.

I used a plain vanilla cake and subbed in unsweetened pear sauce I had canned a few years ago (you can use apple sauce) for the oil.

I wanted to make these cute brains. Sadly, after the first ice cube tray, I realized that my particular silicone trays were too small and angular and intricate and all kinds of other stuff. So Mom and Dad got cake balls with chocolate, pecans and coconut.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Samhain/Halloween Treats! - Caramel Apples

A very long weekend of cooking/baking is over! Ah, but it was fun. Caramel apples, White Russian cake pops, vanilla cake balls, spiderweb cookies (stamping didn't work grr) and popcorn balls. On to the pictures/recipes/disgruntled remarks about cookies. :) They'll be done in multiple posts because of pictures and stuff and longness.

Caramel Apples
Why make 40 caramel apples, do you ask? I made these for the girls in the music fraternity I'm in (Sigma Alpha Iota) and for the guys in the music fraternity my brother is in (Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia). I can't bake for the sisters unless I bake for the brothers - they pout. Enter 40 caramel apples. One each for me, 2 parents, 3 cousins (little boys need lots of sugar) and 2 grandparents and the other 32 are for the music frats. They get theirs tonight at the SAI and PMA meetings.

Due to the large number of things to do this weekend and only 3 days (Friday my only class was cancelled, hello being home Thursday night!) to get them done in, I used the easy way, ie bagged caramels.

The first 3 bags were of the Kraft bits. I did those apples Thursday night, but it wasn't enough - so off to Rouses for more caramel bits Saturday morning. Sadly, all they had were the Brachs caramels. So you get to hear how both kinds worked out.

1. Clean wax off apples. Dip apples in boiling water for 10 seconds each, then dry thoroughly. (To clean the pot after just boil water in it above the wax line. It'll come out after that.)

Waxy apples.

Un-waxy apples.

2. Stick popsicle sticks in your apples then stick them in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

3. Melt your caramel in 30-45 second bursts in the microwave.
- Due to my inability to buy enough of something the first time, I used both the Kraft bits and the Brachs Milk Maid caramels. The Kraft ones were an 11oz bag, and I think the Brachs were either 14 or 16oz. I added 2T of whole milk to each bag when I melted them in my coffee cup in the microwave. 2T was great for each of the 11oz Kraft bags. It was probably too much for the Brachs 14/16oz bag. Those apples were goopy-er afterwards. They didn't solidify quite as much as the Kraft ones.

4. Coat the apples. Chef Paul Prudhomme is the man for this. Everybody else wants to overcomplicate it. He shows how easy it is to do. After coated, I placed them on a buttered cookie sheet.

5. Refrigerate and get decorating stuff together.
- I stuck mine in the fridge overnight to let them harden and put all my toppings on via melted chocolate the next day.

My assembly line - roasted pecans, Reeses pieces, M&Ms, toasted coconut, and a crab boiling tray to work over.

I melted my chocolate in the microwave, then stuck it in these bottles. I put water in my little crock pot on low and kept it in there to keep the chocolate from getting hard again.

6. Decorate!
- I drizzled chocolate and put the fixins from the assembly line on. The pecans and coconut were kind of dumped on, but the M&Ms and Reeses pieces had to be kind of stuck on by hand.

It's a heart! Kind of. Sort of. Ah well.

To store them, I put a piece of plastic wrap on the very bottom of each apple after an hour or two. Then I put them each in a muffin cup. Then I put them in Dollar Tree jack-o-lantern bags. They'll last up to a week like this if the other people on the internet are right.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Harvest Season

Pecans are ripening...citrus is ripening...okra is still going strong...I love autumn.


I love pecans. We currently have 7 pecan trees I think. We used to have 10 or 11, but with hurricanes over the years we've lost some.

My parents went to Oklahoma on Saturday morning, so we've been picking pecans up for a few weeks so my mom has something to do in the truck. The pecans below in the bags (made from old t-shirts, mostly) are cracked. She cleaned them most of the 15 hour drive up. The rest (in the box) are for my dad to crack up there so she can work on those on the way home.

Since we have so many different types of pecans, and they come in a diversity of shapes/sizes, we learned years ago that the best thing to do is separate them out by tree. Then the ones that fit together can be cracked at the same time without altering the cracker. It helps and makes the whole task go much quicker.

We usually end up with a freezer full and enough left over to give to my grandparents and aunt/uncle. It makes life a whole lot more convenient in the cooking world.

I don't know what I'll do when I move up to Oklahoma. I won't have a million pecan trees. What to do? They have black walnut trees growing on the side of the road near our place. Will I just have to get used to walnuts until we can get pecan trees going? Ah well.


Lemons. Satsumas. Oranges. Grapefruits. Kumquats. Tangerines. We have them all.

I've been doing a lot of canning of lemon juice, due to the poor lemon tree falling over. I was up to 22 quarts before, iirc. On Saturday, I did another 14. Lotsa lemon juice. Lotsa lotsa lotsa lemon juice. Mom and Dad brought a few bags to Oklahoma to make lemonade and give to anybody up there who wants some. And the tree still has fruit on it.

Anybody got suggestions on things to do with lemons? :P

The two pictures on the right are satsumas. Nathan (brother mine) cut half a bushel this past Friday night for Mom and Dad to bring with them. He found a bunch that fit together like grapes, which was really cool.

They've just now started turning full out orange, but they've been ripe for about two or three weeks now. They're not the biggest in the world, but they are tasty.

The grapefruits are getting ripe as well. I don't eat them, but everybody else does in the house. Mom and Dad said they weren't quite ripe, Nathan didn't care, he still ate the one he peeled.

Once everybody's eaten their fill of grapefruits and oranges, I'll juice and can the remains. My great-grandpa used to can satsuma juice to drink like orange juice. If we have those left over this year I might try that. Has anybody else done this, or something similar with tangerines or other citrus?

Also, does anybody have suggestions on what to do with kumquats aside from marmalade, fruit salad or just plain eating them? It's another that I don't eat, but everybody else in the house loves them. Suggestions on uses would be appreciated.


"The corn is as high as an elephant's eye..." Sorry, no corn. Okra, yes. And I couldn't reach the top of a lot of the plants to pick it. A lot is too big to use, just because my parents have been to busy to pick it a lot. There's plenty of small stuff still coming out though, so I went out Saturday morning at about 7 and picked. Nice and cool, I felt like I was in a rain forest. The plants towered above me, the dew hung on spiderwebs and caught the light. It was beautiful.

Fall in south Louisiana equals gumbo season. My dad isn't the soup-in-hot-weather kind of guy, so we don't do gumbo til it cools off. We usually boil, smother, dehydrate or give okra to my grandparents as we pick it. Since I was planning on running the dehydrator over the weekend anyway, I fixed up a few sheets of okra and stuck them in. My grandpa eats the dried okra just to munch on, the rest of us have never acquired that taste though. We put it in chicken and sausage gumbo or rehydrate it to smother. In the gumbo, it holds shape and texture more than fresh okra does. It behaves like most other dehydrated veggies versus their fresh/frozen counterparts.

While the dehydrator was running, and since Mom and Dad left them in the fridge, I stuck some tomatoes in there as well. Slice them up and stick them in there like any other veggie (~145* for as long as it takes to dry up).

I put them in the jars of soup mix I have on the shelf, along with corn, snap beans, carrots, peas and a few bay leaves. This makes soup-making a rather quick and painless task for Mom. :) And it means I get to eat tasty soup. Tasty food is always a good thing after eating UL Lafayette Sodexo cafeteria food for a few days...

This coming weekend will include the making of Pa (great-grandpa)'s Popcorn Balls, White Russian Cake Pops, shortbread cookies with Royal Icing stamped with Halloweeny things and Caramel Apples.

I made the dough for the cookies last weekend, along with the icing. I got all the ingredients for the rest except for the apples, frosting (cake pops), vodka (cake pops), and white almond bark (cake pops again) last weekend at the store, or just compiled what I had lying around the house.

This coming weekend will be a long one, but it'll be worth it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Crocheted Plarn Tote with Lining

I had posted a partially completed tote I was working on over the summer, and I finally finished it just before school started again. Can you tell I've been busy and not posting on here? :P

The pattern I used came from Interweave Crochet magazine and was for regular yarn, IIRC. Being the ever broke college student, I bypassed the monetary expenditure and used plarn. When it was done I decided it would be my school bag this year, but I was afraid of stretching issues. To avoid that, I lined it with part of an old blue (black, really) jean shirt.

Here's the original.

And here's mine. I did the big bag, if you can't tell.

The white bags are the fully white portions of WalMart, ThankYouThankYouThankYou bags, and Raising Cane's bags for the most part. There are a few others in there probably, but that's where most of the all white comes from.

The brown bags are from Home Depot, Piggly Wiggly, Albertsons, brown ThankYouThankYouThankYou bags, Super 1 and a few other places that I can't remember right now. UPDATE! I remembered some others: Toys R Us, old Rouses bags and Ace hardware.

I really like the tweed kind of look the brown has with all the little snippets of other colors. The plain white balances that out.

Very slowly, I'm working on making my mom her own like this. She wants grey and pink with maybe some black or white on it too. The pink comes from Body Shop, and the grey is Lowes, Auto Zone and sometimes Dollar Tree. Hers will probably be lined with an old button up shirt I have that's a nice heavy black material.

Lemons and Hurricanes and Mrs. Fields Cookies

So...that lovely hurricane Isaac we had come through about a month ago took down some pecan branches...took down a plum tree that never made too many plums...and took down our lemon tree. :( The lemon tree was loaded with fruit this year. The mean old storm pushed it halfway over onto our fence in the dog pen.


So last weekend was my first "free" weekend home from school. I canned 11 quarts of juice then and didn't even make a dent on the tree. This weekend I did I did 9 more quarts. Yesterday, I picked and juiced them and stuck it in the fridge, as I had cookies to bake. :) 20 quarts of juice = 40 gallons of lemonade.

As I type this, I'm waiting for the lemon juice to come to a boil so I can jar and process it. Canning lemon juice is easy, and the recipe works for all citrus juices.

Canning Lemon (citrus) Juice
Juice your lemons.
Bring the juice to a low boil.
Once it's there, put it in your jars with 1/4" head space.
BWB pints and quarts 5 minutes.

It's that simple. There's lots of ways to juice lemons, but I'm partial to my mom's electric juicer thing. You put the lemon half on it, push down and the thing turns and juices the lemon. I've tried the peel-cook-down-in-a-pot thing, and it just didn't work as well for me.

This is our juicer. He's old, but I love him.

2 cups lemon juice
2 cups sugar (or up to 1 3/4 cups Splenda and 1/4 cup sugar)
Add water to make 1 gallon of lemonade.
Add more juice if you like it tarter or more sugar if you like it sweeter.

Mrs. Fields Cookies
2 C softened butter
2 C white sugar
2 C packed brown sugar
4 eggs
2 T vanilla extract
5 C rolled oats (measure, then pulverize)
2 C all purpose flour
1 t salt
2 t baking powder
2 t baking soda
8 oz Hershey milk chocolate bar, grated
24 oz semisweet chocolate chips
3 C chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375*.
Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
Cream butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla until very smooth and fluffy.
Add grated Hershey bar and mix well.
In separate, very large bowl, mix flour, ground oatmeal, salt, baking powder, baking soda.
Stir butter mixture into flour mixture. Blend well.
Add chocolate chips and pecans.
Stir until blended. Hands may work better than spatula/spoon.
Shape into golf-ball sized cookies and place 2" apart on greased sheets.
Bake 6-8 minutes. You do not want to over bake these.

This makes a large batch. Like, very, very large. I made a half batch yesterday (slightly smaller than golf ball sized) and had about 130 cookies.