Friday, December 27, 2013

Coquito: Puerto Rican Eggnog

Have you ever had coquito? When I was younger, I used to be an eggnog connoisseur! Every year, I would seek out eggnog recipes from all over the world to taste. One of the best I ever had is coquito!

In Puerto Rico, coquito is made with rum. Since I am a Latter-Day Saint, I don't drink. So, I make mine without rum. (I am sure someone is going to write to me and tell me that it isn't really coquito if it doesn't have rum in it!  Nevertheless, this is the way I make and drink it!)

This recipe is made with sweetened condensed milk. I know that some people don't like sweetened condensed milk. I can understand that. It does have a bit of a 'canned milk' taste to it. Not to worry! Did you know that you can make your own sweetened condensed milk? There isn't any 'canned milk' taste at all when you make your own! I would hate for you to not try this recipe just because you don't like sweetened condensed milk!

So, here we go! Links to sweetened condensed milk recipes follows directly below the coquito recipe.

3 egg yolks, beaten
A 12 oz. can of evaporated milk (You can use coconut milk, if you would like.)
A 14 oz. can of cream of coconut. (I use Coco Lopez. If you can't find Coco Lopez in the canned milk aisle of your store, try the alcoholic drink mix aisle.)
A 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup half & half or milk  (Sometimes I use light cream.)
1/4 tsp ground cloves (Sometimes I use nutmeg.)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla (I usually use 1/2 TBS. I make my own, you can see how to do that here.)

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk
Homemade sweetened condensed milk recipe #1 (This recipe requires the most effort of the three, but is really good!)
Homemade sweetened condensed milk recipe #2  (This recipe is the fastest and easiest to make.)
Homemade sweetened condensed milk recipe #3  (This recipe uses canned evaporated milk.)

Start by beating the eggs well. I used a whisk. They should be thick. In a saucepan, combine the eggs and evaporated milk. Mix well and heat on low heat stirring constantly. The mixture needs to cook until it reaches 160 degrees. When ready, it should be very thick and coat a metal spoon. 

Remove from heat. Stir in remaining ingredients. Mix in a blender. My suggestion is to use an electric blender. You will need to mix this well each time you serve it. (It tends to separate.) In my experience, shaking  the mixture doesn't really blend it well so an electric blender is needed.

Serve chilled. As it chills, it gets really thick and creamy! Coquito isn't really for drinking as much as it is for sipping. It makes a great dessert! If I could, I would have this every day of the year, it is THAT good! Unfortunately, eggnog doesn't like me anymore so I must limit my consumption to a few sips on Christmas day.

If you have never had coquito, try this recipe! If you love eggnog, you will not be disappointed!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Victorian Style

Whenever a holiday comes around, my thoughts always go to my ancestors. This is especially true at Christmas. I want to know: How did they celebrate Christmas? What did they ask Santa to bring them when they were children? What did they eat to celebrate the day? What was the conversation like around the dinner table? What Christmas carols did they sing?

While I will never know for sure (until I meet them in Heaven and get the opportunity to ask!), I can get an idea of what Christmas was like in the 1800's by visiting websites & reading books that offer that information. So, to that end, here are some websites that describe how our ancestors celebrated Christmas:

Victorian Christmas Dinner Menu
A Victorian Christmas
The History of Christmas in the 19th Century
The History of Christmas in America
Old West Legends: A Pioneer Christmas
Christmas in the 1800's

Friday, December 20, 2013

I Need A New Winter Coat: Update!

I finally found some time to work on my coat! I am not anywhere close to finishing but I do have a good start. Thankfully, Heavenly Father has provided us with some warm weather so I don't have a need for a coat just yet! I am not sure how much longer this warm weather will last, so I am going to have to finish it very soon.

I made some changes to the pattern. As you may recall, I am using the Folkwear Model T Duster Coat pattern. You can see my original post here.

In the early 1900's, this coat was not worn as an elegant coat, it was worn to keep the dust of the road off of your good clothes. Since I wanted mine to be a dressy coat that I could wear to church, I am changing the seams, and adding a lining.

The pattern directions call for using flat felled seams (flat felled seams are commonly used on jeans). I think this gives an informal look to the coat. In my opinion, flat felled seams would look great on a rain coat, but not on a dressy coat. Instead, I decided to use a serger to bind the ends of the seams. To make everything lie flat, the seams of the lining will be pressed to the opposite side of the seams on the coat.

As of today, here is my coat.

Overall, I am very pleased with this pattern manufacturer. The directions are well written and the pattern is very easy to use! The seam allowance is 1/2 inch. I used a scant 1/2 inch. The notches and dots lined up beautifully - no adjustments were needed!  When I construct the lining I am going to use slightly over a 1/2 inch seam. This way, the lining should fit into the coat without any wrinkles or extra folds.

My original goal was to make the shorter version of the coat (without pleats). I bought the yardage recommended for the shorter version. However, I laid out the pieces differently than the pattern recommended and freed up some extra fabric to make the pleats. Here is a picture.

The next step is to add the sleeves, then the front pockets. Once those are finished, I will start on the lining. I haven't even cut out the lining pieces yet!. I think I am going to add an extra pocket to the lining so I can conceal carry my handgun. I am probably going to have to lay out the pattern pieces differently here as well, or I won't have enough fabric left over to make the pocket. The coat is somewhat fitted, so after I get the sleeves in, I will try it on to make sure the gun will fit.  I may find that my gun will leave a noticeable 'bulge' if I try to carry it. If that is the case, I won't add the extra pocket.

I am going to try to work on the coat a bit more before New Year's Eve. However, I am not sure how much I will accomplish! I probably won't have another coat update until January!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Holiday Garden, Part II

I have even more flowers in bloom now than I did at Thanksgiving! I always feel so blessed this time of year to see so many of God's beautiful blooms around me! So, in addition to the flowers I showed you at Thanksgiving (you can see that post here), here are some new ones that came into bloom.

This is my Amaryllis. They really are not hard to grow and can produce flowers for many years, depending on where you live. Here in the south, they tend to get rust (the fungus kind) so they can be a bit difficult to keep for years. I can only get them to flower for 3 or 4 years, then the rust overwhelms the bulb and they end up dying. Still, they make such beautiful flowers, I can't live without one (or two)! This one is on my fireplace mantel with the orchids I have in bloom.

At Thanksgiving, I showed you this picture of my Brassavola Nodosa. The flowers were just about to open.

Here is is today! These flowers opened about a week ago. It is one of the two flowering plants I have in bloom that only give off their scent at night. The scent is so lovely! It fills the whole room. This one is on my dinning room table.

The last plant I have in bloom is a corn plant. This is the very common everyday houseplant you can find in stores everywhere. If you keep it long enough, it will flower! My plant is 28 years old. It has never been repotted, never been top dressed with 'fresh' soil and it is only fed houseplant fertilizer sticks twice a year. Sometimes it is watered weekly, sometimes it is watered once a month! The point being, this plants get almost no care! Yet, it has rewarded me with beautifully scented flowers for the past 10 years. The shorter days of the year signals the plant to bloom, I don't do anything to help it along. 

The flower stem is on the top of the plant. Here is a close up.

It lives in an east facing window most of the year. At Christmas time, it goes into a corner without light (natural or artificial) to make room for the Christmas tree. My plant is about seven feet tall. This plant has got to be one of the easiest plants to grow, ever! Mine is practically neglected, yet it faithfully blooms every Christmas! At about sundown, it scents my family room, kitchen and master bedroom! 

I also splurged (read that to mean it wasn't in the budget) and bought a new poinsettia plant this year. Most of the 'white' varieties that are available are really light yellow and not a true white. Well, this year I saw a true white variety! It has a touch of pink on the leaves and looks so beautiful, I just had to have one!

Poinsettia plants are a splurge for me because I don't buy them each year and treat them as short lived gift plants. I grow them like a regular houseplant and 'force' them each year to bloom in color. The red ones are the easiest to get to bloom. All other colors and varieties are very difficult for the home gardener to 'force' successfully. However, I am stubborn, so I am going to try to get this one to bloom next year! I took this picture because it may be the only way I get to look at the pure white color next year! We shall see! 

I sincerely hope that you too have Christmas blooms at your house! To me, Christmas isn't Christmas without tropical plants in bloom!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Make Your Own Gingerbread House, Part III

Here at Whispers From Elizabeth, we are making a gingerbread house for Christmas!

On Wednesday, I showed you the supplies you will need to gather to create your own gingerbread house. On Friday, I showed you how to bake the gingerbread, make the trees & bushes, start a snowman and add Life Saver 'windows' to the baked gingerbread pieces.

Today is the last day of the series. We are going to put it all together! Let's start where we left off, with the snowman. After the fondant 'snowballs' dry overnight, it is time to put them together with some icing. In addition, I colored some icing black and made 'coal' eyes and buttons. (I used the round tip to make them.) Then, I colored some additional fondant green and made a scarf for the snowman. I also colored some fondant orange and made a 'carrot' nose. Both the scarf and nose were attached with icing. Here is what mine looked like.

Next, I decorated the house pieces. My goal was to make them look like the house was made of bricks. I also added icing to look like window panes. I used the round decorator tip to accomplish this. Lastly, trim up the windows to give it a finished look. All house trim work is done with the star tip.

It is not necessary to do this if you don't want to. You can decorate it many other ways as well. Try M&M's, cookies, gum drops, whatever you like!  You could also leave it plain!

Once all the house pieces are finished, it is time to put them together. I started by cutting a hole in the center of my cake board. My gingerbread house was for a party and I wanted to add a light inside to have the windows 'glow'. Add icing to the bottom and sides of each piece. Press into place, gentlyIt may be necessary to use a bowl to hold the first pieces up while the icing dries. 

As you add a new piece, trim it with icing for a finished look. 

Time to add the roof. To ensure the roof stays secure, be generous with the icing. Then, gently press the roof piece into place. 

At this point, you can now decorate the roof. You can cover it with frosting and add candies or other goodies like on the cover of the book Festive Gingerbreads.

I decided to make mine have a more 'realistic' look about it and used gum to make 'roof tiles'. Start by cutting sticks of gum into pieces. Each piece is then attached with a bit of icing. I used Fruit Stripe gum.

You want to have each row of gum overlap the row below it for a more realistic look.

To complete the entire roof, I used 6 large packs of gum. Trim it up for a finished look. 

I also added a chimney.

I decided to cover the chimney with frosting and added some chocolate covered 'stones'. I got these at Fuzziwigs Candy Factory. I had extra pieces leftover, so I used them as a front walkway.

To create a 'snowy' finish, I covered the cake board with icing and added some icing to the roof so it looked like snow. I just used a spatula to add this effect. I also added some stick cookies to the back of the house and stacked them so they looked like firewood. I covered them with some icing so it had a snow effect as well. Here is a picture of the back of the house.

Here is the final result!

Right before I packed it into a box to take to the party, I put some powdered sugar into a flour sifter and sifted a bit over the entire creation. This gave it a look of freshly fallen snow.

It was a big hit at the party! I bet your creation will be a big hit for you too!

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Make Your Own Gingerbread House, Part II

Here at Whispers From Elizabeth, we are making a gingerbread house for Christmas!

On Wednesday, I showed you the supplies you will need to gather to create your own gingerbread house. Today is Part II of this series. We are going to bake the pieces of the house and start decorating the trees, bushes and snowman.

Let's start with baking the gingerbread. As I mentioned on Wednesday, your gingerbread dough should be well chilled before baking. It is much easier to work with when it is chilled. Cut off a piece of the dough and roll it out thin. You will want the pieces of the house to be quite firm. They must have the consistency of a gingersnap cookie and not a soft and chewy one. I rolled the dough to about 1/8 inch. 

Lay the cardboard pattern over the gingerbread and cut out.

Before you bake your pieces, put them in the freezer for 10 minutes or so. This is necessary so the pieces won't loose their shape while in the oven. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes. Here is a picture of some of my pieces .


When you have a few pieces that are ready for the windows, gather the Life Savers and separate by color. Take them out of the wrappers and place into a baggie. Wrap the baggie in a kitchen towel and smash the life savers into small bits. You will end up with some powder and some small bits. You can also use a mortar & pestle to break them up.

Next, wrap the section that needs the window in aluminum foil. This will contain the Life Savers powder so it won't run all over the cookie sheet. Then spoon in the Life Savers. 

Spread the powder/pieces around so they are even. Make sure it is touching the edges of the gingerbread. When finished, the powder/pieces should be even with the height of the gingerbread. Don't overfill!  Brush off any powder that may be on the gingerbread itself. You won't be able to remove it after it melts. Here is a picture of one of mine.

Bake at 325 degrees for 4 or 5 minutes. Watch these the entire time so they don't burn! Let them cool completely. Here is a picture of one of mine. 

When they have cooled completely, gently remove the aluminum foil from the edges of the gingerbread. Then slowly peel the foil off of the 'window'.

After you bake your house pieces, it is time to make the icing. This icing is a quick drying, hard icing that will 'cement' the pieces together so the house will hold up. It is super easy to make. It does require electric beaters, the hand crank beaters take way too long to make this icing! This icing recipe is on page 78 of the book, Festive Gingerbreads by Evelyn Howe Fryatt. Here is the recipe:

Royal Icing
3 1/2 cups of powdered sugar
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 1/2 TBS meringue powder

Combine the water, meringue powder and cream of tartar. Beat until foamy. Start with a whisk and mix together until the meringue powder is moist. If you don't use the whisk and use the electric beaters now, you will send the meringue powder up in the air in clouds of dust! Using the whisk and beating by hand for a few minutes ensures the meringue powder goes into the frosting and not all over your kitchen.

Now you can use the electric beaters and beat until foamy.

Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time and mix well. Don't use the high speed on your beaters or you will mix too much air into the icing. Medium or low setting is best. Beat the icing until it stands in peaks, is dull in color, and is stiff and thick.

One more thing to remember when working with this icing. You must keep it covered with a wet towel to keep it soft. If you don't put a towel over it, it will start to dry in the bowl!

I colored the first batch of icing green to make the trees and bushes. Let's start with the bushes. Select well shaped marshmallows. You don't want any that are squished or otherwise misshapened. Here are the ones I selected from my bag.

Use the leaf decorator tip. If you are using sandwich bags to hold the icing, cut a hole in a corner and insert the leaf decorator tip in it, then add the icing. I am using a parchment triangle for this icing.

Hold the decorator tip close to the marshmallow, but not touching it. Start at the bottom. Squeeze the bag to let the icing flow. As the icing touches the marshmallow, stop squeezing and pull the tip away from the marshmallow. It should look something like this.

I didn't start at the bottom of this one so I could get a good picture of what the icing looked like when you squeeze it out. It is much easier to hold the marshmallow if you start at the bottom! Then, go all the way around the marshmallow, working your way up to the top. Each 'leaf' you add should touch the icing next to it. If you find a hole, just insert the decorator tip in the hole, and gently squeeze a bit of icing. Stop squeezing before you pull the bag away. (This is critical to make the icing look like real leaves.) Here is what mine looked like about halfway complete.

Almost finished...

Next thing you know, you have bushes! It only took a few minutes to complete all five. I added red sprinkles to mine. It makes them look like holly bushes with red berries. 

Now, let's do the trees. Use the same technique.

As I worked the icing up the ice cream cone, I added sugar pearls to make the tree look decorated. Then I added a candy star at the top. 

It isn't necessary to add the decorations, the trees look just as good if you leave them plain. If you want to add decorations, add them as you work up the cone - while the icing is soft. If you wait until you finish icing the entire tree, the icing will be too hard to accept the sugar pearls.

Now, let's make the snowman. You will need fondant. Cut off a corner to make the first snowball.

Roll the fondant in your hands to make a very round ball. Smooth out the edges so you don't have any creases. Make three different size balls for each body part of the snowman. I also added some shredded cinnamon for 'arms'.

Let the balls dry overnight. 

Next, I will show you how to put everything together!

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Make Your Own Gingerbread House, Part I

Have you ever made a gingerbread house? Now, I am not talking about making one from a kit, I am talking about making one from scratch. It is not hard at all. Really! The best part is, you don't need any special skills. Are you up for it?

Just in time for Christmas, I will show you how you can make your very own gingerbread house. Today, I will show what supplies you need. On Friday, we will bake the house pieces and assemble some of the scenery. Monday, we will put it all together!

If you want to follow along in the book, I used Festive Gingerbreads by Evelyn Howe Fryatt. The first gingerbread house I made is the one on the cover of this book.

Festive Gingerbreads

This book is out of print, but you can purchase a used one from an Amazon affiliate. Get one of the cheaper ones, it doesn't have to be in perfect condition! Here is a picture of mine.

The very first thing you must do is to gather supplies. The materials fall into three categories:
  • The gingerbread recipe
  • The decorations
  • Tools needed to make the gingerbread house
Lets start with the gingerbread recipe. I use the Hansel & Gretel recipe on page 78. This is the same recipe I used to make the Award Winning Gingerbread Cookies I showed in a post last year. The recipe has a slight variation to it when you are making pieces that must bear the weight of frosting and candy. Gingerbread made for the intent of eating (such as in cookies) should have baking soda in it. That is the way the recipe is written in the previous post. 

However, if you are going to use the gingerbread for house construction, substitute 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder for the 1/2 tsp baking soda in this recipe. The previous post shows you exactly how to make the gingerbread so I won't repeat it here. I will just show you my dough. I doubled the recipe. The recipe as written in the previous post is enough to make a house. I doubled it because I also want to make cookies. Because the dough has baking powder and not baking soda, the cookies will have the texture of a gingersnap, not a soft and chewy cookie.

The dough is much easier to work with when it is cold. I made mine last night and put it in the refrigerator. I expect to start baking the pieces late this afternoon.

The next consideration is the decorations you will use on the house. Your imagination is the limit here! Look at the picture of the book, see what they used. Gumdrops, M&M's, mini-cookies, candy canes, pretzels, Life Savers, or any other type of candy will work! Stroll the candy aisle of your favorite store and pick out a few things. Here is a picture of the supplies I gathered.

Now, you don't need all of this stuff. You pick what you would like! Let me give you what I think is a minimum amount needed to make a pretty gingerbread house:
  • M&M's - They can do so much! You can decorate the roof, use them for a pathway to the front door, use them as 'bricks' on a chimney, and save one for the door knob on the front door! Mini M&M's work well too!
  • Mini-cookies - To give variety to the roof, get some mini-cookies to decorate with. You will be placing them on the roof, just like in the picture on the book cover.
  • Regular size marshmallows  - I believe this item is critical! Marshmallows make the BEST bushes! This will give your house some 'real life' features. You can see marshmallow bushes in the picture on the book cover.
  • Ice cream cones - If you want to make realistic trees for your house, you can't beat ice cream cones! This item isn't really necessary, but I always add a few trees to my gingerbread creations for some added 'real life' features. 
  • Life Savers - I use Life Savers to make windows. If this is your first gingerbread house, you don't need to make windows. (I didn't make windows on my first house.) However, I am going to show you how easy it is to make realistic looking windows so you may want to try it! If not, Life Savers can add variety to the decorations on your house and they make a great wreath.
  • Fondant  - This stuff makes a great snowman for the yard! Get a little box, you don't need a lot. You will roll it into 3 balls to make the snowman. I got mine at the big box store.
  • Food coloring - Get a basic box with red and green in it. Don't get liquid or gel food coloring. You need food coloring paste. The liquid & gel coloring only makes pastel colors. If you want a vivid red and green, you must use paste.
The other thing you will need to decorate your house is icing. This is not just any icing, but a hard drying icing that will 'cement' everything together so the house will hold up. For the icing you will need powdered sugar, cream of tartar and meringue powder or egg whites. I like meringue powder because it is cheaper. If you are going to make a 'winter wonderland' around your house, it takes a lot of egg whites! One can of meringue powder will last many years. I get mine at the big box store in the cake decorating aisle.

The last consideration is the tools you will need to construct your house. The first item to think about is what you are going to use to hold the gingerbread house. I use cake boards. I got mine at the big box store in the cake decorating aisle.

Next, you will need some heavy duty paper to make the house shapes. Construction paper or cardstock paper are good choices. You can also use freezer paper. You will need to make a roof and the front and back of the house. Your house can get as elaborate as you want!  Cut out the pieces and tape them together first to make sure your house will fit together. You can see the ones I will use in the picture above. However, if this is your first house, you may want to keep it simple. To make the house on the cover of the book, you will need three pieces:
  • A rectangle for the roof. I think a good size is 10 1/2 inches x 7 inches
  • An isosceles triangle. A good size would be 8 inches for the base and 10 1/2 inches for the sides.
  •  A front door. 2 inches x 3 1/2 inches. You can make it rectangular shaped or round off the top. 
Of course, all of this is scalable. The key is to make sure your paper pieces fit together relatively well before you cut out the gingerbread. (They don't have to be perfect.) Here is a picture of the pieces I created for my very first gingerbread house. I can't find the piece for the roof. (It wasn't in the bag with the rest of my pieces!) They measure to the sizes listed above.

Last, you will need some decorator tips to shape the icing. Don't go purchase these if you can borrow a few from a friend. You will need:
  • A leaf tip- This will be used the make the leaves for the bushes and trees. Any size will do.
  • A star tip- This will be used to make the trim on the house. Any size will do.
  • A round tip - This is for general purpose decorating. Any size will do.
My tip set is from Wilton. I know that each tip size has a number associated with it. It really doesn't matter what size you use for any of these. I don't use the smallest or the largest out of my set. I always opt for the medium ones. Again, it really doesn't matter.

Sometimes I use parchment paper triangles to make my decorator bags (to hold the frosting). Sometimes I use a small sandwich bag and cut a corner off. If you have parchment paper triangles, they will work great to decorate your gingerbread house. If you don't have any, don't worry about it. A sandwich baggie will work too.

That's it!  Follow along with me and make a house of your own!

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