Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Gingerbread Everything: White Chocolate Sugar Cookies

The theme of our holiday season this year was unintentionally gingerbread houses.

It started out innocently enough. I read about a local restaurant that had decorated themselves to look like a gingerbread house, and I thought dining there would be a nice way to kick off the Christmas season.

It was, as anticipated, adorable. I only wish we had gotten pictures during the day. Every inch was filled with candy touches.

The same article that mentioned the restaurant, also informed me that there was a life size gingerbread house not too far from us. Shui if course we had to swing by and check it out.
It was well worth the detour. I can't even begin to imagine the Tom's that went into constructing this candy coated fantasy. Even the interior was involved, giving us a peek into the candy kitchen.

And of course, no Christmas would be complete without making our own gingerbread house. The boys had such a great time at the Halloween haunted house gingerbread workshop, that I signed them up for the classic Christmas one.
In truth, I was disappointed. The Christmas one was twice the price, and we were promised the candy selection was enormous. It wasn't. The Halloween selection was better, cuter, and way more creative.

Even the royal icing and gingerbread we were given wasn't as good as what we used at Halloween.

But the boys had fun, which is what really matters.

And Thatkid was able to use those skills to make gingerbread houses with his classmates in school last week. The candy selection there put the workshop to shame!

Both boys used those decorating skills they picked up in making their cookies for Santa this year. Rather than your typical sugar chunks, I jumped at the idea of the Food Network Magazine's white chocolate addition. Topped with royal icing, which the boys are now experts at using, these were a delicious update.

The boys each got a plate to decorate for themselves and Santa, while I took care of the ones going to our neighbors. I guess you could say we had a very sweet holiday!
White Chocolate Sugar Cookies (from Food Network Magazine)
4 oz white chocolate, chopped
2 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
Royal icing for decorating

    1. Microwave the chocolate in 30-second intervals, stirring, until melted. Let cool slightly. 
    2. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
    3. Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. 
    4. Beat in the egg until smooth. 
    5. Beat in the melted white chocolate, then the vanilla. 
    6. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the flour mixture in three additions until just combined. Divide the dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pat into disks; wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours or overnight.
    7. Preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out the dough on a floured surface until 1/4 inch thick. Cut out cookies using a 3- to 3 1/2-inch cookie cutter. Arrange 1 1/2 inches apart on the prepared pans. Freeze until firm, about 10 minutes. 
    8. Bake, for 12-15 minutes, switching the pans halfway through, until the cookies are firm and the edges are light brown. Let cool 5 minutes on the pans, then transfer to racks to cool completely.I
    9. Decorate with royal icing and sprinkles.

    Wednesday, December 19, 2018

    Holiday Express: Fruitcake

    It's amazing that you can live someplace for over 10 years and still learn about new activities you've never heard of.

    Such was the case with me and the Coaster Holiday Express.  The Coaster is the Amtrack train that runs along the coast of California.  During one weekend in December, the train runs a special holiday line, a 90 minute round trip ride from Oceanside to Sorrento Valley.  During the trip there's a special Santa visit and some other holiday fun.  Apparently this event happens every year, and sells out within minutes, and yet this is the first time I've heard of it!

    Luckily this year I found out in time to snag some of those coveted tickets for our family.   When you arrive, there are some fun photo opportunities to take part in.

    And then you line up by car.  They handed out some reindeer games to keep the kids occupied while we waited to board.

    And then, car 2 was boarding!

    As a word of advice, which we didn't think about, seating is not assigned.  Which means, if you're not early in line, there's a good chance your family will be separated.  We lucked out and grabbed the last 4 seats together.

    The train cars are decorated for the trip, festooned with garlands and other festive touches.

    Our first visitor were carolers.  They walked up and down the car singing with us.

    Someone came around with special paper and pens for the kids to write their letters to Santa.

    And then, Anna and Elsa showed up!  While Thatkid was nonplussed, Thatbaby was beyond excited.  As soon as he saw them, he started singing "Love is an Open Door."

    They stopped to chat with each child, and when they got to us, they even sang along with Thatbaby.  Which made his whole life.

    As soon as the sisters left, Santa showed up!  He wasn't quite as kind or interactive as Anna and Elsa, but Thatbaby was positive he was the REAL Santa.  And both kids eagerly turned their wish lists over to him.

    I'm not sure if we'd do this train ride again next year, but for this year, it was perfect for Thatbaby and his excitement over the holiday.  He has been especially cute (which helps him survive because most of the time "destructive" is the more apt description), singing along to every Christmas song he hears, despite not knowing the words.  His holiday favorite this year (despite the fact that he calls every Christmas song his "favorite") seems to be Fruitcake by the Superions, which he loves to sing even when it isn't on.  In fact he asked if we could make fruitcake this year.  And who am I to say no?  Especially when I was pretty sure Alton Brown had a recipe in one of his books.

    This fruitcake is different than most of the ones you see in stores, and even the different than the one in the song in that it uses dried fruits instead of "candied cherries, red dye number two, green cherries."   There are a lot of ingredients, and it takes a long time to make, but the process itself is pretty easy.  And there's a lot of down time.

    Fruitcake (from Alton Brown)
    4 1/2 oz golden raisins
    4 oz currants
    2 1/2 oz dried cranberries
    2 1/2 oz dried blueberries
    2 1/2 oz dried cherries
    4 oz dried apricots
    zest of 1 lemon
    zest of 1 orange
    1 1/2 oz candied ginger
    1 cup gold rum
    4 cloves
    6 allspice berries
    1/2 cinnamon stick
    8 oz sugar
    5 oz butter
    1 cup apple juice
    1 tsp ground ginger
    9 oz flour
    1 1/2 tsp salt
    1 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp baking powder
    2 eggs
    3 oz pecans
    1/4 cup brandy (in a spray bottle)
    1.  Combine the fruits, zest, ginger, and rum in a plastic storage container.  Cover and let sit overnight at room temperature.
    2. Grind the cloves, allspice, and cinnamon in a coffee grinder or spice mill.
    3. Combine the spices, the fruit and its liquid, sugar, butter, apple juice and ginger in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Let cool for 15 minutes.
    4. Place oven racks in center and bottom of the oven.  Place a roasting pan filled halfway with warm water on the bottom rack.  Preheat oven to 325.  Combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.
    5. Place dry ingredients into the saucepan and stir together with the cooling fruit.
    6. One at a time, stir in the eggs.
    7. Fold in the pecans
    8. Pour the batter into a 10 inch nonstick loaf pan and bake for 1 hour.  Remove to a cooling rack and spritz the top with brandy.  Let cool completely.
    9. Wrap the cake in cheesecloth.  Spritz with more brandy and store in an air-tight container.  
    10. Over the next 2 weeks, check the cake every 2-3 days.  If it's dry, spray with more brandy.   The cake is best the longer it ages, so at least 2 weeks, up to 2 months, then enjoy!

    Wednesday, December 12, 2018

    Chanukah Oh Chanukah: Edible Menorah

    It was another successful Chanukah here in Thathouse.  We watched Chanukah movies, read Chanukah books, and sang Chanukah songs.

    Every night we would light the menorah. The boys took turns with this part of the tradition.

    We wore our Chanukah pajamas.

    We made latkes.

    And I tried out a Chanukah challah.

    Even Thatdog got in on the action.

    On the last night of Chanukah we headed to the Hotel Del Coronado for a "Chanukah on Ice."  

    The Hotel Del calls their ice skating "Skating by the Sea" because it's right on the sand of the beach.  We make it a point to go every year, and going to celebrate Chanukah was the best way to experience it.  It was especially meaningful to me because I grew up without a lot of Jewish kids around, and my children are in a similar situation in their schools.  So to have them surrounded by other Jewish kids who celebrate the same things they do was something I wanted so badly when I was young, and something I wanted them to experience.

    There was even a sand-menorah!

    The Minions made a special guest appearance.

    Once we got on the ice, Thatkid took off.  

    On the other side of the spectrum was Thatbaby.  This was his very first time on ice!

    I told Thatboy that Thatbaby has taken to ice the way Thatkid took to water - not very good, but very overconfident.  And he loved every minute.  He had already been asking to start ice skating lessons, so I promised him that after soccer was over, we would sign him up.

    We did a quick run into the Hotel Del to see the Christmas tree and their menorah display.

    The menorah is the key symbol of Chanukah and they come in all shapes and sizes.  Just scrolling through the pictures here you can find 5 very different menorahs! In our house, we also have wooden toy menorahs, and felt menorahs, and wooden placard menorahs.  We have a menorah surplus.  I thought I would add one more menorah to our collection, with a little help from my kids.  This menorah is fun for them to make AND eat!  

    Edible Menorah
    4 oz white chocolate
    9 pretzel sticks
    yellow sanding sugar
    1 banana
    1.  Melt the white chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler.
    2.  Roll the pretzel sticks in the white chocolate to coat completely.
    3.  Dip one end of the coated pretzel stick in the sanding sugar and place in the banana.
    4. When placing the pretzel sticks, press 8 of them down as far as you can into the banana, and just place the last stick in so that it remains taller than the others, to represent the shamash.  I placed mine in the middle, but placing it on either end works also!