The Hottest Gingerbread Boy

D.J.’s favorite Christmas cookie is gingerbread, and I thought that we could have a little holiday fun with it. Can you guess who’s is who’s?

Beth and DJ as Gingerbread People

I baked out a couple of giant gingerbread cookies using Wilton’s Grandma’s Gingerbread Cookies recipe.

Nudie Gingerbread Peeps

The regular-sized gingerbread boy is there for size reference, and as a snack to bolster our energy and merriment during the decorating process. They were made from the same gingerbread dough, which rolls out like a dream and has a great blend of spicy flavor with a strong molasses background.

I pulled out my aresnal of icings, gels, and chocolate, and we got busy. Sprinkles were spilled. Tongues stained blue.  For a few minutes, we got to be kids, except for the bourbon that was mixed into my eggnog. We laughed a lot, and it was fun.

Check out that sparkly grill!

D.J. nailed it, don’t you think? The resemblance is uncanny, right down to the rainbow-starred shirt and unfortunate sixth toe. Ok, maybe the extra toes are not true-to-life, but they are good for a chuckle. Either way, that is the hottest gingerbread boy I’ve ever seen.

Twin Blondes!

Wishing you and yours a joyous Christmas with lots of opportunities to reconnect with your inner child!

 

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Perks of Working in a Test Kitchen – Part 1

Sometimes the homemade pates de fruits you make for your boyfriend turn out more like dark, amorphous sugar-coated blobs than the gem-toned, sparkling squares of gummy perfection they were meant to be. Shit. Valentine’s Day is ruined!

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Slouchy. Super slouchy.

It’s times like these (and lots of other times, really) that I am thankful for my job. In the Wilton Test Kitchen, there’s always extra cake batter or cookie dough. In just a few minutes, I can go from candy failure to cookie savior and still bring something sweet to my sweetie on Valentine’s Day.

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Never too old for sprinkles. Ever.

I love, love, love Wilton’s Roll Out Cookie recipe, and I’m not just saying that because I work there. It doesn’t have to be chilled before rolling, which is a huge time saver, but if they are rolled, cut, and chilled for just a few minutes, the cookies hold on to their shape really well. It’s flavored with vanilla and almond extracts and a healthy pinch of salt. The cookies are crisp at the edges, and as a crunchy cookie person, I can appreciate that.

Thank you Test Kitchen job, for saving Valentine’s Day!

I’ll be back for those pathetic pates de fruits soon.

Snow Day In Chicago

Digging out his parking space in the back of the gingerbread condo.

This is what Chicago looks like, but with more sludge and yellow snow.

I’ve shoveled twice today, but other than that, I’ve been hunkered down in the house for over 24 hours, giving me ample time to clean both bathrooms, watch too many episodes of Dexter on Netflix, and mess with the tiny gingerbread houses that went untouched on Christmas day. No candy. No decoration. Just snow, and lots of it.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be digging out my car to get to the test kitchen, just like the poor guy in the photos. The holidays are officially over, and it’s back to work we go!

And speaking of holidays, and work, and gingerbread, I played with some Gingerbread Houses on ABC7 in Chicago just before Christmas. They were much prettier than this one, so you should check it out! Stay warm and dry!

Making A Gingerbread House.

Homemade Caramel Corn for Christmas

  I don't know what the deal is, but I am really, really, inexplicably into the holidays this year.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been working on holiday stuff at work for months.

Perhaps it’s because I’m in love.

Perhaps it’s because this is the first time in my life that I live in a place large enough to host my entire family for Christmas dinner, 17 large, including Grandma.

It’s probably a combination of all of these things, but at this point, I’m so damn Christmas-y that I’m beginning to annoy the people around me. I’m even annoying myself. Since when do I think it’s a good idea to listen to the Glee Holiday Station on Pandora, anyway? I’ve never even seen an episode of Glee! And I made a wreath for my front door out of twigs that I gathered from the park across the street, and then SPRAY PAINTED WHITE. I freaking crafted!?

Since this is my first time hosting Christmas for my family, I want to make it special. I’ve borrowed the appropriate amount of folding tables and chairs. I’ve purchased 21 pounds of short ribs and all of the trimmings for the big meal.  I’ve wrapped the gifts.  And this afternoon, I did what I can only hope will be my final cutesy activity of the season. I cooked up a delicious batch of homemade caramel corn with peanuts.

Homemade Caramel Corn with Peanuts

Nothing cutesy about that, right? Just delicious, buttery, sweet, crunchy goodness.

And then I maybe I blacked out, because somehow the caramel corn ended up packaged in theselittle bags that look like Santa’s fat stomach. 

What is happening to me???

Seriously, somebody take my temperature. Maybe I have a fever that’s making me hallucinate or something. I’ve been surrounded by this kind of thing for the past 4+ years at my job in the Wilton Test Kitchen, but somehow managed to remain uncrafty, until this holiday season. And now, I just can’t seem to help myself. I just want to make stuff!

So now, please excuse me. I have to go build some teeny-tiny gingerbread houses for my nieces. Probably gonna jam to the smooth vocal stylings of Michael Buble while I’m at it. Ugh.

Caramel Corn with Peanuts

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
3/4 cup salted peanuts
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat your oven to 250°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large pot with a lid, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Drop one popcorn kernel into the oil. When the kernel pops, the oil is hot and ready. Add the rest of the popcorn kernels. Cover the pot and give it a gentle shake to coat the kernels in oil. You’ll hear kernels beginning to pop shortly. When the popping sounds slow down, remove the pot from the heat and transfer to the popcorn to a large bowl. Dump in the peanuts.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, sugars, honey, and salt together, stirring occassionally until the sugars are dissolved. Cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. The color will deepen slightly, and the mixture will bubble up. If you like your caramel flavor lighter, take the pan off of the heat at 3 minutes. If you prefer a stronger, more burnt flavor, continue cooking the caramel to a darker color, but removing it from the heat before it begins to smoke. Off the heat, carefully add the vanilla extract and baking soda. The caramel will bubble up angrily when these ingredients hit. Let the mixture settle a few seconds, and stir to combine well.

Pour the hot caramel over the popcorn and toss it together to coat. Divide the popcorn evenly between the two baking sheets, and spread it into a single layer. Bake the popcorn to dry out the caramel for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring the popcorn to break up the pieces every 5 to 6 minutes.

Cool the popcorn completely before storing.

Makes about 4 quarts.

Easy Holiday Cupcake Ideas

Last Saturday was National Cupcake Day, and I spent a few minutes at NBC showing some fun and easy cupcake decorating tricks. There are a few holiday ideas, including a two-tiered Christmas tree cupcake topped with a sparkling star cookie and some gorgeous poinsettia cupcakes that you’ll never believe were made with store-bought red gumdrops. Happy baking and happy holidays!

National Cupcake Day on NBC

Candy Mustaches and Other Fun Kids Projects

It’s been a few years, and I am still delighted/terrified that Wilton lets me go on television to demonstrate their products.

Hours and hours of preparation and anxiety all boil down to a few minutes of  show-and-tell. If all goes well, I make it through the segment without the use of expletives, and people watching see how easy it is to make awesome treats at home.

This segment is all about getting kids involved in baking and decorating. You might be inspired to try one of these projects with your own kids. Candy mustaches, anyone?

Mostly I’m posting this for my mother, who complains fairly regularly that she’s unable to see any of the segments I tape. I’ve been all over the country, but to date haven’t had an opportunity with a Chicago station. That changes on July 4. I’ll be on ABC during the 11:00 news with more summertime cooking and baking ideas for the kiddies. Tune in, if you’re not out on a jet ski or getting your burgers on the grill.