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Foodie Friday: Glazed Apricot Bars

These bars were a bona fide hit over the holidays.  Sweet, but not too sweet. Moist, but firm.  Easy to make a large pan of them….and they freeze well.  They’re not really a Christmas cookie, but they were special enough to add to my holiday plate of cookies and sweets:

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The original recipe was in metric measurements, but don’t worry – I’ve converted it for those of us who don’t measure our butter or flour in grams or our temperature in Centigrade (and if you want to try the original recipe, note that 180C is 350 F, not 250!).  I also doubled the recipe to make a full jelly roll size pan.  And finally, I opted for a family favorite apricot glaze instead of the plain glaze it called for. Love.

Glazed Apricot Bars

Ingredients:
1 1 /2 cups butter, slightly softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
2 cup flour
1 1/2 cup dried flaked coconut
16 ounces dried apricots, diced

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350.  Spray jelly roll (12×17 or 11×18) pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper; spray again.  In large bowl, cream butter and sugar at low speed until well-blended. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Add all remaining ingredients until combined. Pour into pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Once cooled, frost with a glaze.

Apricot Glaze

Ingredients:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup apricot preserves
2 tablespoons softened butter

Directions:
Combine in mixing bowl and beat until well-blended. Spread over bars.  It will become tacky, but never completely harden.

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Auld lang syne.  Days gone by.

It’s that time…when we look ahead to a new year with anticipation, and look back on the last year, wondering where the time went and why it goes so fast.  As we begin the traditional countdown of the final hours and minutes of 2012, here’s a quick peek back at the holiday season my family and I enjoyed here in middle Tennessee.

We took advantage of one of the last warm days of 2012 to put up our outdoor lights.  It’s kind of weird to put up Christmas lights when it’s close to 70 degrees outside, but that’s life in the south.IMG_2907

As the sun began to set, the lights glowed, creating a pretty look from inside the porch…and from the yard, too.

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Peeking inside, I decorated the dining room in a cool gray/white/blue scheme thanks to decorations from IKEA that I think blended nicely with plates and decorations I already had on hand.  Even better, once the Christmas trees are tucked away, the rest of the decorations can hold their own until winter loosens its hold…which could be in a few days, or a few months.

Holiday Dining Room

The Christmas village grew by one house this year…one from “It’s a Wonderful Life”  It’s behind the arbor and picket fence.  Fortunately, I think this collection is limited by the size of this hutch.  Unless I ever decide to tuck away the dishes and use the shelves for additional display space. Nooooooooo…….

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The mantel this year was similar to last year’s, but I changed it up a little with a different garland and a woodsy theme.  They’re hard to see in this picture, but a trio of beaded birch candles from Pottery Barn inspired a woodsy, rustic “Father Christmas” feel.  I snagged the candles at a PB outlet last October, but if I had seen this DIY tutorial, I probably would have tried making my own for even cheaper.

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On to the rest of the den.  Kindly ignore the cords.  (WHERE did they come from, anyway???  And how do I manage to overlook them every time I sit and watch TV?  Corralling them is a sure-fire to-do for 2013.)

Instead, focus on the nutcrackers.  Counting several others tucked in higher in the bookcase, there were 26 pairs of eyes staring at us every time we watched TV.  Displaying them all together was kind of cool, kind of freaky, and a whole lot of overwhelming.  Part of me says, “More nutcrackers!”  The rest of me says that’s nutsy.  We’ll see.  I hear there’s a whole set of Wizard of Oz characters. That would be pretty neat, right?  Anyhoo.

In the foreground is an oil-rubbed bronze trough filled with twine and twig balls (all scrounged from my attic), into which I nestled a trio of scented candles, another find on my fall trip to Atlanta and IKEA.

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The tree this year was in the same spot as last year’s. The only real change (besides slipping in a few more ornaments) is the star on top.  It’s a heavy paper star with a Scandinavian feel, also from….you guessed it:  IKEA.  I had been looking for something traditional like this for several years and latched onto it when I spotted it. And it was cheap, to boot.  Yes, it *should* have had a light inside, but I kept forgetting to pick up the specific bulb it requires.  Good thing it folds flat for storage.  I’m sure I’ll remember to get a bulb for it next year.

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And finally, my kitchen…and kitchen tree.  I went on a baking and candy-making spree (some new recipes are coming soon), then bundled up plates to take to the neighbors before Christmas.
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The kitchen tree is similar to last year’s, but with a few more Fiesta ornaments I snagged on clearance at Macy’s on our New York trip.

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And that’s it.  Thanks for strolling through our house and 2012 holiday memories with me.  I hope your look back on auld lang syne is full of fond recollections, too.  And may your hopes and wishes for the days ahead all come true.

Happy Monday,
Terry

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Before Thanksgiving, I was gung-ho:  this year, by virtue of calendar “magic” we had an extra week between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I was determined to take full advantage of it.  Alas, it has simply allowed me to procrastinate by another several days.  I should have known better.

We worked on perfecting our “exterior illumination” skills a couple weekends ago and wound up with twinkling lights all twinkling.  Which wasn’t easy as we thought it would be…apparently there is high demand for LED outdoor lights, so we had to regroup, reconnoiter and strategize our lighting with the hodgepodge of cool and warm lights we could scrounge up.  (Note to self:  next year, we go hunting for lights before Thanksgiving.)IMG_2918

Last Saturday, Mr. Official and I raced to see who could deck their tree in the quickest twinkling of an eye.  I tackled the kitchen tree while he took on his UT tree.  And he did a smashing job – in fact, I think he might have found himself a new annual job.

This week, I have a few major to-do’s on my list before family arrives and we settle in to enjoy the holidays together:

Baking and candy-making today.
Last big shopping/wrapping push tomorrow.
Last decorating push to finish the dining room and other little nooks and crannies on Wednesday.

I think part of my procrastination has stemmed from a desire to uncomplicate Christmas.  I love all the hoopla and festivities that surround the holidays, but I’m also coming to appreciate that sometimes less IS more.  So now that we’re down to the last few days, only the most important (to me) to-do’s are going to get done. The rest was arguably just not that important.  It should make the take-down and stowing away a little easier at least!

Happy Monday
Terry

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I love knowing odd bits and pieces of history, especially in subjects that interest me most, but also random facts that have nothing to do with anything.  They are simply fun to share with others.  I mean, who refuses to smile if you tell them today is National Cookie Day? (It is, by the way.)

A very happy (if belated) birthday to Charles A. Pillsbury, flour magnate, born in New Hampshire on December 3, 1842.  (I wonder if he was the inspiration for the Pillsbury Doughboy?)1970 Sears Wish Book 001

And today back in 1884, the World’s Fair in New Orleans opened the Horticultural Exhibit, said to be the largest competitive exhibition of fruits in the world at that time.  Also today in 1854, Aaron Allen patented a folding chair.  Dinner hostesses everywhere owe a debt of gratitude.

On December 7, we can celebrate the anniversaries of a couple of patents:  one for Bakelite in 1909 and one for a household refrigerator cooled by sealed gas refrigerant, issued in 1926.  Where would we be without stove knobs and refrigerators?

And on the same day, we can wish a very happy birthday to Richard Warren Sears, who was born in 1863.  He would develop a mail-order jewelry biz into the Sears Roebuck & Company and eventually inspire countless children’s Christmas lists with his “Wish Book.”  It wasn’t the internet, but it brought the entire universe of toys to us in our homes, and that was pretty special.

And there you have it…a week’s worth of domestic trivia.  Share a cookie and a smile with someone today.

Happy Tuesday
Terry

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Not THAT list…I leave those calls to the big guy in the red suit.  This is my Christmas confectionary list.  I’ve always loved eating and making sweet treats, so this is the most wonderful time of the year, for me anyway.

This year’s list is a little more ambitious than last, which centered around the tried-and-true recipes of Christmases past.

A few of the standards, like apple cider caramels, pralines, chocolate walnut fudge, toffee for Middle Son and divinity (weather permitting), along with the must-make almond crescents have made the annual cut.  But several new recipes are on my radar (Pinterest) screen, like

Shortbread, both traditional for Swimmer Girl and Double Dark Chocolate
Hidden Treasure Cookies
Apricot Bars
Sugar Cookie Bars with Peppermint Frosting
Sweet ‘n Salty Peanut Butter Cookies
Caramel Shortbread Bars
Red Velvet Peppermint Crinkles
Cinnabon Fudge

All-told, about a baker’s dozen different treats will be making their way into freezer containers and eventually piled onto trays for neighbors, Mr. Official’s work group, and a few friends.  The rest will get eaten by us…some will undoubtedly get filched out of the freezer by sneaky eaters, while others will be served at the end of family dinners.

So what’s on YOUR Christmas list this year?

Happy baking!
Terry

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A few days ago, I pinned this photo of chewy granola bars

from backtothecuttingboard.com

I was eager to try them because my kids love having granola bars to grab-and-go, but I cringe at the amount of refined sugar and preservatives in the store-bought bars.

So I followed the directions and made the basic bars.  Here they are, stacked up and ready to bag.

I only managed to cut mine into 16 bars, not 18.  and mine weren’t as neatly cut as the pinned photo.  I guess practice makes perfect.   Fortunately, my family liked them so much, it only took a couple days before they were ready for me to practice making them again.  This time, I made two batches…

chewy granola bars

PB & cashews on left; rocky road on right

For the second batch, I adapted the original recipe to make a larger recipe and make them more like the sweet and salty bars my family also adores.

Homemade Sweet & Salty Bars

1 package Reese’s peanut butter chips (you could use white chocolate chips, or half peanut butter and half butterscotch chips)
6 tablespoons butter
1/3 corn syrup
1/3 cup honey
2/3 cup  brown sugar
3 cups granola
1 1/2 cups crisp rice cereal
1/2 cup cashew pieces (you could use peanuts or almonds)

Place parchment paper in 9×12 pan and sprinkle chips evenly on bottom.  Place in 350 oven for 2 minutes; remove and smear chips in an even layer on bottom of pan; set aside.

In 3-quart heavy saucepan, combine butter, corn syrup and honey; when melted add brown sugar and heat to boiling over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and continue stirring until brown sugar is completely dissolved, about 2 minutes.  Add cereal and nuts; stir to coat.  Pour into pan and spread evenly, press firmly with spatula and rerigerate for 15 minutes or until firm; cut into bars.

The third batch was “rocky road” with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips; the only change I made to the original recipe was to place the chips and marshmallows on the bottom of the pan instead of trying to sprinkle and press them into the top.

Happy snacking,

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We’re down to the last week – are you ready?  Christmas is almost here and I hope everyone is ready to enjoy some time with family and friends.

I finished up my Christmas baking a few weeks ago, and froze the bounty, which I’ll make into plates to take to neighbors. I already sent a plate with Mr. Official to share with his coworkers last week.

But as I scoured for new Christmas recipes to try, it struck me that we really do live in a slice-and-bake era, and most of the “new” Christmas treats are cobbled together from pre-made ingredients.

I’m sorry if I’m bursting anyone’s bubble, but I don’t think Christmas cookies include your run-of-the-mill chocolate chip, M&M or peanut butter cookies or Rice Krispie treats.  (Although if you usually resort to pre-made or easy-bake cookies, maybe from-scratch versions of these cookie jar staples ARE your idea of a special “Christmas cookie.”)

And in the interest of full disclosure, I admit I have my share of what I call “cheater” treats – coated pretzels, Rolo “turtles,” and Oreo truffles.  These are treats with 2 or 3 ingredients that go together fast, are fun to make and tasty, and we use them to fill out the cookie plates as well as munch on ourselves.

But when it comes to cookies and Christmas, it’s time to put the brakes on and get our bake on.

Let’s slow things down a bit and dig out some of those old recipes.  If you don’t have copies of them, think back to what you remember from your childhood, or ask parents, aunts and uncles or grandparents about the special baked treats they remember most from their own “wonder years.”   Then look through cookbooks or online for recipes that will bake someone a happy memory or two. 

Yes, it’s extra work.  Yes, we’ll have read and follow archaic directions and actually measure out ingredients.  We may have to measure out some time – something that is in short supply these days.  And we may wind up with a big mess in our kitchen.

You can’t cook or bake?  Really?  The generation that can figure out how to text and tweet has no excuse:  we can read and follow directions, which is all cooking and baking really is.

No time to do a full-blown cookie bake-a-thon?  No problem. Pick one recipe – just one. Carve out time and make a batch this week. Put on some Christmas music – (the Charlie Brown Christmas track is one of my all-time favorites), and before you know it, you’ll be washing up the baking sheets and nibbling on your results as they cool.

I promise, it will be worth it.  Be it ever so humble, those old-fashioned Christmas cookie recipes from a by-gone era are a bridge between our past and our future.  Deciphering decades-old recipes scribbled on yellowed scraps  of paper, searching out those ingredients we aren’t familiar with, and even enduring the occasional failed effort.  Those form traditions that give us and our children a rich layer of Christmas memories.  And those memories will carry into their adult years and can be passed along to their children.

It is a sure bet that a child (even if it’s only your inner child) will remember a December evening or weekend morning  making cookies.  No matter how messy or disastrous, it will stick with you long after you have forgotten the must-have toy of the year. Don’t settle for slice-and-bake.  Bake some memories, and make them special.

Happy baking,
 
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