Monday, April 28, 2014

Care packages-boxes filled with Love


Who doesn't like to get mail? Letters, magazines, bills(not) and even emails.
But a package...it's like a little Christmas gift with every delivery. I love to send packages filled with food, special gifts, favorite things and surprises. It's fun to imagine the recipient's smiling face as they open their box. If you're lucky, you get to watch them open their package with the help of your phone or computer. And even though you know they appreciate it, the best part is getting a sweet thank you note or phone call. 


My care package career started when my then fiancé left for ROTC summer camp.

Not to date myself, but it was long before Facebook and texting existed so we kept in touch with old fashioned letters and packages. I would send him his favorite snacks, fun & silly toys, and of course cookies. He made good friends quickly on mail day!
Years later when our kids started playing sports care packages involved sending cookies for the team to share on the bus or during weekend tournaments. Care packages evolved into coolers full of drinks, sandwiches and fruit. 
But still there were always cookies...usually Monster Cookies.
When the older kids left for college packages were again the best way to send a little piece of home.
One thing I usually do is to cover the entire box with packaging tape. This served two purposes: it helped to water proof the goodies and forced the student to take the package back to their dorm/apartment to open. That way they could share with whom they wished instead of being mauled in the mailroom. It also added to the anticipation. I've invested a few $$ in tape over the years not to mention chocolate chips and M&M's!
And then the Grandchild was born and care packages became spoiling opportunities, 'cause that's the main purpose of Grandmothering. Holidays are an especially fun time to create fun boxes of joy but everyday surprises in boxes covered in princess stickers are just as special. I'm always on the lookout for items that may be needed for future gift boxes. I'm already gathering toys and activities for the grandchild's road trip bag for her big move this summer. (Shhh, don't tell!)
All these years of selecting, baking, and stuffing boxes has prepared me well for my next assignment-intenational mailings. The Army recently deployed boy #2 so I started gathering and baking for his first package while I waited for his new address. I was a little concerned about the price of postage since I can easily spend $20 on a package sent to a few states away. How much would it be to send a package half way around the globe?? A friend of my daughter's (who is married to a Marine that spent some time in Afghanistan) clued me into the beloved flat rate box that the good old USPS will send to any military base for $15.45, Hooray! THANK YOU Katie!!
She also informed me that you could send pretty much anything except pork, alcohol, and porn. Lucky for me I wasn't planning on sending any of those items!
Of course I wanted his package to arrive fresh and undamaged, unlike this disaster of late. :(

Bubble wrap, package peanuts, and crinkle filler are all good things to add to your package to make sure the contents don't have room to shift during the careful handling by our trusted delivery professionals. I also have been known to fill a box with balloons, almost as fun as popping the bubble wrap!

To keep your baked items fresh: cool completely before wrapping, double wrap individual cookies and include a slice of bread in a container of (brownies) to help retain moisture.

I like to bake on Sunday and mail on Monday so the baked items will be as fresh as possible and the package won't be stranded somewhere over the weekend.
Another good tip I've started recently is to send a picture of the receipt to the recipient/parent of recipient so they are aware of estimated delivery date and time. I've never "lost" a package but priority mail does include $50 worth of insurance for your convenience.
My son received his first package in about a week, a little late for Easter but I don't think he or his new buddies minded. I even included camouflage plastic eggs filled with candy, see Wal-mart is good for somethings! 
For this package he requested powdered drink mix and a non-electronic book, easy & of course I added brownies, monster cookies and a few other surprises.
This wordy blog post took way longer than packing the box!

Your reward for reading this whole post is my monster cookie recipe, totally worth it.

I almost always double this recipe and it converts well.

Monster Cookie

(from two of my favorite ladies: Connie Schrag and Paula Deen)
Ingredients:
1/2 c butter, softened
1/2 c sugar
1 c br sugar
3 eggs
1 t vanilla
1 1/2 c chunky peanut butter
2 t baking soda
4 1/2 c quick oats
1 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 c M&Ms
Directions:
Mix together ingredients in given order.
Stir in chips and candy.
Use 1/3 cup dough for each cookie. 
Flatten each cookie slightly on parchment lined baking sheet.
(6 cookies will fit on a half sheet pan)
Bake @ 350º for 10-12 minutes, just until edges are firm.
Cool on baking sheet before moving to cooling racks.
Yield: 2 dozen

You're welcome.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Biscotti. It's not just for coffee drinkers

New baking challenges are fun, especially when the process is not difficult and the end result is not just edible but down right tasty.
Last summer I tried baking biscotti for the first time and have made it about once a month, or more, ever since.
I had never even tasted it but decided to bake a batch and give it a try. I always thought it was just for coffee drinkers/dunkers...which I am neither.
I would describe it as a crispy version of a slice of quick bread and better for you than a fried pastry.
So I encourage you to put down the donut and try some biscotti!

Cranberry Pecan Biscotti
Ingredients:
1 large orange
1/2 c dried cranberries
6 T butter, softened
1 c sugar
3 eggs
2 t vanilla
3 c flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 c pecans, chopped
1 egg, beaten
large crystal sugar
Directions:
Roll orange on counter, pressing down to "soften". 
Grate the orange rind and squeeze the juice of the orange into a bowl. 
Heat in microwave for about 15 seconds. Add cranberries, put aside.
Cream butter and sugar until light, about 2 minutes.
Add 3 eggs, one at a time until incorporated. Stir in vanilla.
Combine dry ingredients and add to batter, mixing on low speed.
Pour off most of the juice from the cranberries and add to the batter along with the nuts.
Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface; divide in half.
Shape each piece of dough into a 16x2" log.
Place each piece of dough on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Brush dough with beaten egg & sprinkle generously with sugar.
Bake at 375º for 25 minutes or until slightly firm to the touch.
Transfer to wire rack and cool for 20 minutes.
Reduce oven temp to 300º.
Place biscotti logs on cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut logs crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2" thick slices.
Place on a wire rack, cut side down. Place rack on baking sheet.
Bake until firm to touch, about 30 minutes.
Store cooled biscotti in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Caramel Macchiato Biscotti
Ingredients:
6 T butter, softened
1 c sugar
3 eggs
2 t espresso powder
1 T vanilla bean paste
1 1/2 T warm water
3 c flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
3/4 c Kraft caramel bits
1 egg, beaten
turbinado sugar
Directions:
Cream the butter and sugar until light, about 2 minutes.
Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate each.
Stir in espresso powder, vanilla and water.
Combine dry ingredients and add to batter.
Mix in caramel bits.
Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface; divide in half.
Shape each piece into a 16x2" log.
Place each piece of dough on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Brush dough with egg & sprinkle generously with sugar.
Bake at 375º for 25 minutes or until slightly firm to the touch.
Transfer to wire rack and cool for 20 minutes.
Reduce oven temp to 300º.
Place biscotti logs on cutting board. 
Using a serrated knife, cut logs crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2" thick slices.
Place on a wire rack, cut side down. Place rack on baking sheet.
Bake until firm to touch, about 30 minutes. 
Store cooled biscotti in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Chocolate Mint Cupcake Do-over

While planning the monthly offerings for the Dessert of the Month Club 
I knew these cupcakes belonged in March. 
















I make these every year about the time our shipment of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies arrive. 

Keebler makes a similar cookie so you can make these cupcakes anytime, 
not just until you run out of GSTM...which is about a day in this house!











The originally posted cupcake is a great, quick way to get your chocolate mint fix but just wasn't special enough for the Club. So here's the homemade version:
Ingredients:
Cupcake-
1/2 c butter, softened
1 1/2 c sugar
2 eggs
2 t vanilla 
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 c cocoa powder (I use dark cocoa)
1/2 t salt
1 c buttermilk
12 Chocolate mint cookies

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350º.
Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. 
Add in eggs and vanilla, mixing well to combine. 
In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. 
Add half of the dry ingredients to batter and mix well to combine, followed by half of the buttermilk, mixing well to combine. 
Repeat with remaining dry ingredients and buttermilk, mixing well to combine.
Line muffin pans with liners, place a cookie in each liner and fill with batter, about 2/3 of the way full. 
Bake for about 15-20 minutes. 
Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

Frosting-
1/2 c butter, softened
2/3 c cocoa powder (I use dark cocoa)
3 c pwd sugar
1/3 c whipping cream 
2 t vanilla (use mint flavoring instead)
pinch of salt 

Directions:
Combine softened butter and cocoa powder. 
Add in powdered sugar, salt, flavoring and most of the whipping cream. 
Beat well, adding in small amounts of remaining whipping cream, until desired consistency is reached.
Pipe onto cooled cupcakes. 
Decorate with candy curls made from Andes Mints, if desired.