Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas Treats

If you're like me, you've been snacking on sugary treats lately and you're just about junk-food-ed-out.  I had big plans to do a special bonus cookie post before the holiday, but life got in the way.  So as I sat down to write today, I thought, "Maybe I should just write this post then save it to post next December."  But alas, I do not have that sort of discipline.  It's now or never!

So while I totally recognize the possibility that you are starting to throw all the leftover treats in your kitchen into the trash, I'll just put this cookie post out into the universe and maybe you'll come back to it next time you want to do some baking....especially if you (or a loved one) has dietary conditions like a few in my family do!  Because you see...this isn't just any old cookie post.  This is a cookie post for people who have to eat lactose-free (and gluten-free) diets!
This first cookie is the reason I'm going to gain 20 lbs in 2015.  I've been doing my best to avoid lactose for about 20 years now, and for the most part I've been able to find good substitutes for most foods (Lactaid instead of regular milk, parmesan & monterrey jack instead of mozzarella, frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, etc). But there just isn't a great substitute for butter.  Don't get me wrong, we use Smart Balance light when we need a butter "spread" or something to cook with that will give a "butter-like" flavor, and we have used Earth Balance sticks when baking, but they are pretty not-butter-tasting substitutes.  In fact, the only lactose I really allow myself is when I use a teaspoon of butter on my waffles once a week or so at breakfast.  Anyway, the point is that I haven't been able to find a substitute that will really mimic butter, especially in baking.  So there are lots of dessert recipes that I simply don't make anymore because they turn out a shadow of their former selves.  (And I'm a "if it doesn't taste really good, then I'm not wasting the calories on it" sort of dessert eater.)  

But then I found this: 

Coconut oil does not taste like butter, but man does it make a fantastic cookie.   I'll have to pace myself, but I am definitely looking forward to trying other recipes with coconut oil subbed in for the butter or oil.  This particular recipe is a delightful take on the oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.   It does have gluten in it because of the flour (though you could probably substitute a flour not made from wheat), but these are entirely dairy-free as long as you pick dairy-free chocolate chips (I like Ghardelli semi-sweet, but Costco usually has a giant bag of chips that also do not contain milk.  And a side note: cocoa butter, which is almost always an ingredient of chocolate chips, has nothing to do with actual butter or anything dairy-related.)


2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup canola oil or melted coconut oil (use a little more if dough seems is too dry)
2 large eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips or chocolate chunks + more if desired

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer add the oatmeal, flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, canola oil, eggs and vanilla, beat until the dough is moist and all the ingredients are combined. The dough will be crumbly. Mix in the chocolate chips.
Shape dough into balls and place on prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until just set.  

I originally found the recipe here.

Moving on, here are my Puppy Chow Cookies in progress.  This one was both dairy- and gluten- free because I used a peanut butter cookie recipe that had just 5 simple ingredients:
2 Cups Peanut Butter
2 Cups Sugar
2 beaten eggs
2 tsp Vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Mix it up, place balls of batter on ungreased cookie sheets and bake for about 10 minutes at 350.

After the cookies are cool, melt 1 1/2 Cups semisweet chips and mix in 1/3 Cup of peanut butter.  Dip each cookie in the chocolate-peanut-butter mix, then roll in a bowl of powdered sugar.  Voilá!  You've got your puppy chow snack in cookie form!

Inspiration for this recipe was found here.  
Last, we have my daughter's favorite treat of the holiday season: Oreo Cookie Truffles!

I set her to work the day before we want to make these - I buy two family-size packages of Oreos and it's her job to open each cookie, scrape off the middle goo, then put the two chocolate wafers in a plastic bag.  We dump the goo and don't use it for this recipe, although I think some people do include the goo in theirs.

The recipe itself is super simple:
We whack the Christmas right out of that bag of Oreos - sometimes pounding it with a meat hammer and sometimes going at it with a rolling pin.  If you are high class, you could even use a food processor.  Whatever method you choose, just make sure you've got those cookies broken down into CRUMBS.

Put the crumbs in a big bowl and add cream cheese.  I use Tofutti "Better-Than-Cream-Cheese" to make them dairy-free.  This year I used about 10 ounces to mix in with my two packages of cookies, and I really liked that ratio.  If you're really into cream cheese, you might like more added, but when using the tofutti, I found that a 5oz cream cheese to 1 pack of Oreos ratio means that the Oreo taste completely overpowers the cream cheese taste (there is a little bit of a weird after taste with the dairy-free cream cheese if you use more.)

I take off my rings and get in there to squish the batter together with my fingers.  Pup the batter into the fridge for an hour or two to firm it up.  Next we roll it into small balls and put those on a cookie tray lined with waxed paper and put them back in the fridge.  (I cover them with plastic wrap and leave them there overnight to really firm up.)

The next step is to melt almond bark in a double boiler.  I don't own such fancy kitchen implements, so I get out a big sauce pan, fill it halfway with water, then set a smaller sauce pan inside, where I melt the almond bark.

Once it's melted smooth, I like to use a fondue fork to poke into each Oreo ball, then I dip it in the almond bark.  I set it back on waxed paper to cool, then once the coating hardens, I dip the top of the ball back in the almond bark to cover the hole left from the fondue fork.

Check out a printable version (that suggests you use too much cream cheese!) of this recipe here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rory and Jojo

Continuing with my theme of "The Year Of Accessories!", I give you a new hat pattern, Rory and Jojo.

This idea sprung up and was entirely knit while I was binge-watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix.  [How did I not see that series when it ran the first time?  I blame having small children in the house. :)]  The bright blue eyes of both lead actresses inspired to name the hat after one of their characters.  "Jojo" is the type of yarn I used for this hat - Jojoland Splatter Dash.  It's a soft, silky 100% merino with a lovely sheen that will keep you warm without any itch factor.  And it drapes like buttah.

 I originally envisioned this as a slouchy-style hat, but while putting in the final edits from the test-knit, I decided to write in a length modification so people can make it a beanie-style (fitted, not slouchy) if they prefer it that way.  I'll be knitting a sample hat for that style myself as soon as I have a couple other projects off my needles.

 The brim on this hat is made from 2/2 cables, so if you're a "cable without the needle" kind of person, this is an easy project to work that way.  And, there's only 4 rows that actually use the cables, so it'll keep your interest without totally souring you on cabling.  The dense fabric of the brim is nice for keeping ears warm when the wind is blowing!

All the beanie styles can be made from one skein of Splatter Dash and so can the smaller two slouchy styles.  Actually, I made my Adult Small hat from one skein (97grams!) but I include a little extra yardage in my pattern estimates so people don't run out of yarn and hate me.  But if you like to live on the wild size (or don't mind shortening the length by a couple rounds if you come up short on yarn), go ahead and just get one skein for the smaller adult slouchy style.  Chances are good that you'll be fine and you'll save yourself $15.  Speaking of saving money, I see that the Yarnia website has this yarn on sale for $10 (and free shipping on $50 orders)!  This is nice yarn and that's a great price.  It's tempting me to get more for future projects!

Many thanks to the fun testers who worked on this project - queenbayman, JudyeNaz, gloriajj & schmitt642.  I always appreciate the work my testers put in on a project, but on one like this, where I decide to do something like change the crown decreases at the 11th hour, they deserve even more thanks!  (Speaking of, a couple of the test hats have a pointy look to the crown decreases that wasn't what I intended - the new decrease pattern will take care of this and round out the crowns of hats made from the final version of the pattern.)

So dive into your stash and see if you come up with a skein of DK (or two).  You may have Christmas knitting already on your needles, but this hat might make a lovely gift for someone on your list, too....

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Harry Potter for the Holidays!

As far as I can tell, everyone under the age of 15 loves Harry Potter.  And a good number of people older than that love him as well.

The most enthusiastic Harry Potter age group seems to be the under 12 crowd.  From the minute they become familiar with the books (or have older siblings who tell them about the books), kids seem to be attracted to the idea of being a wizard and the magical life that goes with that.

My own kids, at 11 and 14 still love the stories and the movies that were made from them, but they have grown out of their "pretending to be Harry & his friends" playtime games.  My niece and nephew, at 6 & 9, are still in their prime imaginary-play years.

"The" Sweater
Last year, upon hearing that my niece was obsessed with all things Harry, I took a look at Harry Potter-themed knitting patterns.  I had already made "The Sweater" for my son, and I think when I ran that idea across my sister, she talked me out of it.  I came across a pattern for double-knit bookmarks that I thought were adorable, but I know from experience how excited kids get about opening a bookmark for Christmas.  Even if it is Harry-Potter-themed, that sucker is probably going to end up behind a dresser or at the bottom of a toy box before we're very far into the new year.

But a scarf and hat set based on that bookmark there's something any kid could get behind!  They could wear this ensemble at recess as they cast spells on their friends!  They can publicly proclaim their Hogwarts house affiliation!  And having unique winter outerwear can also be a plus when it comes to reclaiming things from the lost & found at school.  (Ask me how I know this!)

So last Christmas I found maroon & gold yarn and double-knit a scarf.  I used the Gryffindor lion design from the bookmark pattern and monogram letters from this "Harry Potter Font" chart that I also found on Ravelry.  I added fringe to the ends of the scarf.  The hat was double-knit as well and I added two pompoms to the top just for fun!

If you click into my project page, the second photo shows my niece's adorable reaction of excitement that I caught just as she put on her new winter set.

This year, my nephew has gotten in on the Harry Potter action.  My sister told me that there had been some scuffles concerning the Gryffindor set because both kids wanted to wear it while casting spells.  So we thought a second set for the nephew was in order.  And this dude is not a Gryffindor....he's Hufflepuff to the core.

I wish I had caught a picture of my niece's face when her brother opened his birthday gift.  Apparently a new little friend of hers has pledged allegiance to Hufflepuff, which has made my niece feel like she should be Hufflepuff as well.  There was a serious sad face going on when she saw her brother's set.  If she was a typical first-born, she'd be scheming right now, trying to come up with a plan wherein she convinces her brother to trade sets with her while simultaneously making him feel like it was his idea in the first place.  But maybe she's not as cunning a first born as I was...

At any rate, the two sets were a hit and a new Hufflepuff set has been put on the table as a Christmas gift suggestion for my niece.  As far as cost goes to make these sets - the gold & maroon yarns were easy to find in a soft acrylic that is sold at Michael's (I believe it was Caron, but I'm not 100% sure that's right.)  I think I used 2 skeins of each color and the whole set probably came in under $30.  The Hufflepuff set was trickier to find yarn for because the canary yellow wasn't available in the softer acrylic brands at my local craft store.  I think I could have gotten it in Red Heart, but I can't imagine wrapping a double-knit Red Heart scarf around my own face, so I didn't want to go that way.  Instead, I went with a 60/40 acrylic/wool blend from my LYS - Pacific Chunky.   I would have preferred a worsted or aran-weight, but my options for washable yarn in canary yellow at this LYS were pretty limited.  And at about $8 per 120 yards, this yarn made the Hufflepuff set more of a $60 project.  Still totally worth it for all the use my nephew will get out of the set, and as you can see, it will easily fit him for as long as he is a Hufflepuff!