I've been in the kitchen for most of the day today. As I mentioned in my previous post, I love to bake and had so many ideas for the cookie swap, that I had to just keep baking knowing I still had people I wanted to gift some home baked goodies to and also have places to bring my goodies to this weekend for Christmas! I started with a dough that needed to chill so it could sit in the fridge for a few hours while I worked on other goods...the Linzer Tart. My husband claims his mom made this cookie when he was young and I asked my mother in law for her recipe, unfortunately it is one of those recipes that comes without any measurements. I decided I will wait for her to come over and watch her make them so I can create a recipe to work from. For this batch, I found a recipe on the internet that seemed tasty and followed that. I did however use the "infamous" grape jam my husband grew up with in place of raspberry the folks at Epicurious suggested. I will caution you, this dough is very delicate, but if you have experience with rolled/cut cookies, you should be good.
linzer dough rolled out & cut
making the "sandwiches"!
finishing touches...sprinkle with confectioners sugar
The next two cookies I made were from the 2010 Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies Special Issue. I love these special issues and never throw them away. They always have so many good ideas! The first one is an Italian cookie called Ciambelle (Lemon Wreaths). They actually look like little doughnuts! You have to roll the dough out and shape them into wreaths. It was just like rolling coils in ceramics, very cool. The best part was dipping them in the lemon glaze and sprinkling on the nonpareils...a very fun cookie to make. If you have kids they would love to help with this part.
wreaths baked & waiting to be glazed
glazed & drying...mini doughnut anyone?
The next one is bar cookie and was a bit of a challenge at first, but surprisingly easy. My husband loves eggnog, so when I saw the Eggnog Cheesecake Bars, I thought they would be perfect. It wasn't until I read I had to bake them in a hot water bath that I got very nervous. I usually shy away from cheesecake or any recipe that has a "bath" process...but honestly, it was very easy and they came out perfect (I haven't cut them yet, they are still chilling, but they do look perfect!)
bars in water bath ready to go in oven...I used my turkey roasting pan!
While the bars were baking I was onto a special cookie for my dad. My grandmother (his mother) used to make a soft raisin cookie, similar to a soft chocolate chip cookie (with raisins instead), but no one in the family has the recipe. My mother did find a dog-eared recipe card that is "thought" to be the recipe, so I decided to give it a try. I think they look pretty darn close, however I will have to wait until Sunday for the taste tester to give them a try!
Dad's raisin cookies cooling
One last item on deck, not really a cookie, but something I remember my other grandmother making and sending my way, Festive Chocolate Pretzels. I recently thought about these pretzels since M&M introduced the chocolate covered pretzels, of which I can not be left alone with a bag of! These festive pretzels are so easy to make I even enlisted the help of my husband and we were done in no time. This is another one kids could easily have a ball with! I couldn't find the exact recipe I wanted, but with the one I used, I substituted the Hershey's Hugs or Kisses for the Candy Melts you can buy to make your own candies out of. They are those colored disks they sell many times at stores like Michael's Arts & Crafts. I bought red ones and then used the holiday red and green M&M's in the center. I love sweet and salty together so these festive pretzel treats are just perfect. I plan to make up little cello bags for everyone, and of course keep a few for myself!
Tom placing M&Ms in the melted chocolates
cooled & set...don't forget to save a few for Santa!
I still plan to make a banana pudding for dessert Christmas Eve and bread pudding for Christmas Day!
I love to bake. So when we were invited to my bff's this past weekend for a holiday party and was asked to bring some festive cookies for a "cookie swap", I was super excited to partake. I was however overwhelmed with choices of what to bake! There are always so many recipes to choose from, and during the holidays especially, so many fun, festive, and delicious ones! After a few sifts through my recipe "pile" (I have yet to find the best way to organize my recipes...some are in a folder, others in a binder, some are on my computer, and the others are scattered throughout the internet, friends and family)...I decided to make 2 of my favorites. I made one of the more challenging "cookies" that I only attempt every few years when I really have the time and patience, petit fours (I used this basic recipe but filled mine with raspberry jam, tinted my frosting green and decorated with red hearts, red flowers and sugar gingermen). After working at Martha Stewart TV for so many years, I really learned the tricks of these by watching John Barricelli, one of the master chefs in the prep kitchen there, (really I would eat the "scrap bowl" while he was making the beautiful creations!) They are definitely labor intensive and I have to be honest, I did lose about 1/2 of them in the making...but the 1/2 I "lost", were just not as "pretty" for the swap and they stayed home for my husband and I to enjoy. The other "cookie" I chose to make was not really a cookie either. It is one of my favorite recipes from a good friend I used to work with at Martha, the worlds best Gingerbread Cake from Gramercy Tavern! If you love gingerbread the way I do, I really recommend trying this recipe. The original one is made in a bundt pan, however I decided to make individual cakes (reducing the baking time accordingly) and package them in cello bags with a cute tag. Again, this way I could contribute to the swap with a smaller, take away portion. With so many cookies, I felt the cakes were a great addition at the end of the night for the guests to bring home and eat the next morning, perhaps with their coffee, or share with other family members. Another great thing about this gingerbread cake recipe is that it just gets better after a day or two! Making these individual cakes also reminded me of the small loaves of zucchini and banana bread my mom, husband and I made as part of our wedding favors. We made the breads to go along with jars of currant jam my mom made from the berries my dad grew in his garden. Small home baked gifts of breads, cakes and cookies are always loved by just about anyone and what better way to spread the love and give thanks to someone during the holidays? Maybe you have someone on your list you too can bake for.....the dog walker, babysitter, postman, kid's teachers, house keeper, doorman? Kids love to bake too! Really, who doesn't love homemade AND home baked? What is your favorite holiday cookie recipe?
individual gingerbreads baked, cooling and waiting for packaging
this years petit fours!
my cookie swap box to come home!
note the festive gingerbread owl peering out made by my bff (and the host) Sweet Dani B!
Since we adopted/rescued Mel, we are not sure of his exact age or birthday, so we decided to make the day we brought him home his official "I Gotcha Birthday".
Last Thanksgiving weekend we visited the Yonkers Animal Shelter in Yonkers, NY. They have over 100 dogs (and some cats too) and after speaking with an adoption coordinator and trainer, they introduced us to several dogs. Once we met Mel however...the rest was history.
For his birthday I made Mel tuna cupcakes! He LOVED them. I adapted the recipe from several I found on the internet. For those of you who have picky eaters like me, I suggest giving them a try.
Mel's Tuna Cuppies
1 Can Tuna (I used the kind packed in water, drained)
1 C Flour (I used white, but whole wheat would be great too)
Mix together in a bowl
Pour into 3 ramekins - I used Pam to make sure they came out
Put in microwave on high for about 3-5 minutes
- They will expand like a souffle!
Let cook on wire rack, you can remove from ramekins after a few minutes
One of the best things, besides inviting 16 of my loving family members to Thanksgiving dinner this year, was to create a craft paper table runner on my tables. In my previous post I wrote about how my husband Tom and I used 2 tables placed end to end to create one long table for enough seating for this years feast. I then covered them both with brown table coverings and made craft paper runners to create one unified look. I placed crayons on the table for the enjoyment of not only the children, but also the adults. I am fortunate to have several artists in the family, and as you can see, really everyone just loves to draw and doodle from time to time. I highly suggest this for your next holiday meal or dinner party with friends!
My niece Casidy was working for quite some time on her masterpiece!
My nephew Garrett created a "placemat" around his dessert plate.
My sister...thinking about decorating the tree (already?!)
My husband Tom...entertaining my niece!
My Uncle Bill left a "thank you" drawing!
He and my Aunt Dawn joined us this year from Rhode Island.
There was even some math problem solving going on!
My niece Lilah wasn't left out in her high chair...
she joined in with her own personal box of crayons.
My father (a retired art teacher) gave my niece Casidy a mini art lesson on how to draw a deer!
I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving and had a chance to enjoy the long weekend with
If you are like me, you may be prepping for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. I am excited to have 16 family members join us at our home, the most we have ever had since my husband and I "took over" the holiday a few years back. To make things easier on myself, I assigned my guests, (they are family after all), some of the menu items. This way everyone will have a part in contributing to the holiday meal. A quick time saver I have been practicing for years is using post-its on my serving dishes. What a simple way to know exactly what item goes in which dish or plate! It is also especially helpful when you have helpers in the kitchen on Thanksgiving day. I guess my years of styling at Martha Stewart has influenced me here. We use post-its on the mise en place bowls for the chefs in the prep kitchen as we prep each cooking segment. Tried and true! So when you pull out your serving dishes tonight, give it a try!
Since we are having 16 people tomorrow, seating arrangements became a challenge, but not for long! We, (my husband Tom and I), came up with a clever way to "attach" 2 tables together. We placed 2 tables end to end, covered them with dark brown tablecloths, and then I created a craft paper runner down the center. Even though the tables are not the exact same sizes, they still feel unified in how they are "dressed". Complete with crayons for guests to creatively adorn once seated.
Also note the cute place card in the plate's center. My sister and niece are making and bringing "apple turkeys" tomorrow for the name cards to attach to. My bff Sweet Dani B designed this card for a "Friends Thanksgiving" I had this past weekend and has now made it a downloadable template on her website!
my dog Mel with his cookie made by Sweet Dani B from our "Friends Thanksgiving"
So if you too need a place card for your table tomorrow, it's not too late! Check her blog post from today and just print & cut.
We sort of skipped Halloween this year at my house. Quite a few people did actually in my area. This past Saturday, October 29, we were hit with an early, rare snowstorm on the East Coast. Since our trees have not finished shedding their leaves, many of them were pushed to their limit when the heavy, wet snow fell fast and furious. They bent, broke and snapped in all too many places, taking many power lines (among other things) with them. Our town is just now coming out of a "state of emergency" and the schools are finally opening tomorrow. Power is still not restored to everyone, my house is running on "borrowed" electricity after being out for five days and we are still waiting for a permanent fix. As a result, my town, and many towns and neighboring cities, did advise against trick-or-treating on Halloween as it was deemed very unsafe to be roaming around in the pitch black with wires and trees just about everywhere one could look. Although I was homebound on the actual day of Halloween this year, I did do a little pre-Halloween celebrating a few months earlier when I worked on Martha Stewart's Haunted House, the newest Martha Stewart Halloween Special. It is always so exciting to work with the Art Department team to help create these very creative television specials. This one started out as an empty garage which was transformed into a terrifying haunted house. Guest artisans were invited to show their crafts and a final party area was set up with food, drinks, games and of course....candy! The special aired a week before Halloween and again on Halloween day. If you missed it, check out the online clips here. I wanted to share some of my behind the scenes photos with you all this weekend, but the storm got in my way. I think it is always fun to see all that really goes into making television "happen"...so I am still going to post some of my favorites from the shoot. I hope you enjoy, better late than never!
We started with an empty garage once we arrived at Martha's guest house. Most of the walls we constructed were freestanding and movable to provide room for us to tape the different segments. This is one of the "Shanty" walls.
Here Anduin and Javier Avila, Set Decorator, are shooting a segment showing how to make a wall out of spandex!
This was one of my most relaxing moments on this shoot! Paul Moreno, Set Decorator, and I were helping hollow out pumpkins carved by guest Michael Natiello, Creative Director of The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze. Of course we saved the pumpkin insides for Martha's chickens to eat later!
The entrance to Martha's Haunted House. Aaron designed (and showed on camera) how you too can make a creepy monster mouth entrance. Keep that in mind for next year!
We created two main rooms in the haunted house. The first one was a Voodoo Shanty. Martha Stewart TV Crafter Kristin St. Clair was an incredible Voodoo Woman! She invited the guests in and helped guide them around the room. The boxes on the table in front of her are "touch bins" filled with all sorts of fun and creepy finds.
Details of the Shanty include walls made of cardboard, dirty jars filled with dried goods, and a handcrafted Voodoo doll in which we projected a spooky face...BOO!
The second room was a Mad Scientist's Lab. Martha Stewart TV Crafter Jim "Figgy" Noonan played the wacky Professor Figgy! When the children entered the lab they were able to join the Professor for some explosive experiments!
It definitely looks like something exploded in here! Poor Mr. Bones.
To escape the house, we built a series of tunnels. A plastic tunnel filled with body parts and blood spatter...don't worry, they weren't real :), a wooden pallet tunnel (you may have seen a few bones in there), and the final escape was through a black cave - lit only with black lights - thank goodness for the glow in the dark bugs, spiders and snakes that dropped by!
Outside, Martha, dressed as "Motha" and her guest Justin Long, dressed as "Teen Wolf", decide to give the children a tour of the outdoor decorations. Of course a quick stop by the cemetery. Every Halloween party needs a cemetery!
Oh, and we had a zombie buried in ours. One of the guests on the special, Leonard Pickel is a "Haunt Expert" and is a great sport. He not only gave our viewers some tips for the "perfect haunt" in his plain clothes, but he then made an amazing transformation into a Zombie (with some help from the talented make-up artist Kristofer Buckle) and agreed to be buried to spook the children. He breathed through a specially designed breathing tube while he was underground.
Artist Tim Murton came all the way from Canada to show Martha and our viewers how to make these brilliant creatures.
No Halloween party would be complete without a "treat". A food table and candy station awaited the guests out back...when or should I say if? they made it out of the Haunted House.
Even Francesca likes a sweet treat.
Michael Natiello carved these Jack O'Lanterns and we used hollowed out logs from Martha's farm to display them. These Martha Stewart Crafts window silhouettes are an easy and simple way to create festive window coverings!
Michael also created these spook-tacular pumpkin creatures for the lawn. I loved how they changed from daylight to dusk to dark.
Aaron, James, John, Kelli and Paul....Final load out almost always includes a very big truck...and lots and lots of energy! Our team rocked!
Way back in August I started working on a very exciting project...Martha Stewart's Haunted House...the newest Martha Stewart Halloween Special which premiers this Monday, October 24th, at 8pm on the Hallmark Channel. I worked along side many creative and talented individuals to help create a very inventive, fun, and of course, spooky show. This week, Martha posted a few "behind the scenes" photos on her blog. Be sure to check them out and get the insiders view to all that goes on when we work on these amazing productions. I too documented some of our work along the way and will post my photos later in the week after you watch tomorrow night! So remember, set your tivos and dvrs, or just settle in on the couch with a warm cup of cider to take your own personal tour of Martha's Haunted House. You will be sure to get some new ideas. Remember, Halloween is only 1 week away!