Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tree Stump Chalkboard Ornaments

This summer when we went to Ruidoso, NM for vacation, I brought home some tree limbs to be cut for use at our nephews' wedding rehearsal dinner decorations. Shortly after that, I decided to use those cuts for my homemade gifts for my husband's side of the family.
Those cuts ended up being too tiny to do much with, so I had him cut some more that were larger. These may have been a litt too large, but I wasn't going to ask him to do any more. We were leaving for vacation a few hours after I finished them anyway, so it was a chore just getting them done at all!

I painted the cuts with an acrylic chalkboard paint, then used small chalk to decorate and write on them. An eye screw and baker's twine finished out the top. Lastly, I sprayed a fine mist of hairspray to set the chalk. Family members should be able to wipe off my writing and put their own, if desired.

If I had planned this idea originally, little jingle bells tied on top would have been a cute addition. My original idea was a decoupaged chalkboard tag, but it wouldn't have looked good. In my head, it did! :) Too bad my chalkboard writing skills are lacking - especially on small chalkboards.
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Monday, December 15, 2014

Ladies Cookie Exchange 2014

Yesterday I hosted a Ladies' Cookie Exchange.  Every lady that attended brought a few dozen cookies and an empty cookie tin.  Then everyone took their empty container and filled it up with all of the different kinds of cookies.  There were so many different kinds, that it was fun to sample a few as we placed them in the containers.

My daughter had mixed together a triple batch of chocolate chip cookies, only to find that the element was out on the oven!  Her dough is all frozen now - ready to thaw and bake at any time.  I didn't even make any because of the oven situation, but had candy, cheeseball, and other snacks to serve to the guests, so it worked out perfectly fine.

So, here are just a few pictures of the quick get-together to share with you!

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake with Salted Caramel and Chocolate Drizzle

Sorry I haven't posted in a while! I knew this one would take a while to write, and I didn't have the time until today!  I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Have you ever had the dulce de leche cheesecake at Cheesecake Factory? It's one of my favorites!  This cheesecake isn't quite as good as theirs, but it costs a whole lot less per slice and will satisfy your cheesecake craving, for sure.  I really liked the cheesecake, but would have preferred more caramel topping, so will serve some on the side next time.  And my homemade caramel should have been cooked a little longer.  It's a great recipe that I've shared before and will here again.

1/2 box of chocolate Teddy Grahams (or use 2 cups chocolate graham crackers)
2 tablespoons melted butter

Directions for crust: Prepare the springform pan so that no water leaks into it while cooking. Place a large 18-inch by 18-inch square of aluminum foil on a flat surface. Place the springform pan in the middle of the foil. Gently fold up the sides of the foil around the pan. Make sure to do this gently so that you don't create any holes in the foil. If there are any holes, water will get into the pan and ruin the crust. Press the foil around the edges of the pan. Place a second large square of foil underneath the pan, and repeat, gently folding up the sides of the foil around the pan and pressing the foil against the pan. Gently crimp the top of the foil sheets around the top edge of the pan. Preheat oven to 350°F, with rack in lower third of oven. Crush the cookie crumbs in a food processor or blender until finely ground. In small bowl, mix together cookie crumbs and melted butter. With clean hands, pat into buttered springform pan and up the sides a little. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. 

Four 8-ounce packages cream cheese (not low or reduced fat), at room temperature
1 and 2/3 cups sugar (can used part brown sugar for a richer taste)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs (if you only have large, just use part of one more egg)
1 can dulce de leche 
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter the bottom and sides of one 9-inch springform pan. Wrap the outside of the springform pan with aluminum foil, covering the bottom and extending all the way up the sides. Place one package of the cream cheese, 1/3 cup of the sugar, and the cornstarch in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low until creamy for several minues, scraping down the bowl a couple of times. Blend in the remaining cream cheese, one package at a time, scraping down the bowl after each. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat in the remaining 1 1/3 cups sugar, then the vanilla. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after adding each. Beat in the cream just until blended. Blend in can of dulce de leche. Be careful not to overmix. Spread the cheesecake batter on top of the cookie crust.  Place the pan in a large shallow pan containing hot water that comes about 1 inch up the sides of the springform pan. (I recommend using an old or disposable pan because the wet aluminum foil will discolor your pan.) Bake the cake at 350 degrees until the edges are light golden brown and the top of the cake is slightly golden tan, about 1 1/4 hours (don't worry if it seems a little too browned. Mine is sometimes and it's still fine.. The top will soften up with the added toppings.) Also, this is a darker cheesecake, so it's harder to tell when it's browned.  

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath, transfer to a wire rack, and cool in the pan for 2 hours. (Just walk away. Don't move it.) Leave the cake in the pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate, preferably overnight or at least 4 hours. Transfer to freezer for 1 hour.

To remove cheesecake from bottom of spring form pan, set on stove burner and turn it on - just barely enough to melt the butter on the bottom. Use a large flat icing spatula or knife and turn around to loose from bottom. Slide it onto serving platter.

Salted Caramel Topping:
(From Sally's Baking Addition website)

1 cup granulated sugar
6 Tablespoons salted butter, cut up into 6 pieces
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon salt

Heat granulated sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula. Sugar will form clumps and eventually melt into a thick brown, amber-colored liquid as you continue to stir. Be careful not to burn. Once sugar is completely melted, immediately add the butter. Be careful in this step because the caramel will bubble rapidly when the butter is added. Stir the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted, about 2-3 minutes. Very slowly, drizzle in 1/2 cup of heavy cream while whisking. Since the heavy cream is colder than the caramel, the mixture will rapidly bubble and/or splatter when added. Allow the mixture to boil for 1 minute. It will rise in the pan as it boils. Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon of salt. Allow to cool down before using.
Cover the caramel tightly and store for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Warm the caramel up for a few seconds before using in a recipe.

For cheesecake:  Serve on the side or spread topping over cheesecake.  Finish with chocolate drizzle.

Chocolate Drizzle:

1 cup semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
1 teaspoon shortening

Place chips and shortening in small bowl. Microwave for 15-30 seconds at a time, depending on your microwave.  Stir, then microwave at 15 second intervals until melted.  Be careful not to burn the chocolate.  Using decorators bag and decorating tip (or just cut a small hole in the bag), pipe chocolate onto cheesecake in desired design.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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