He likes it! Hey Mikey, he likes it!

This is a bit unusual for my blog but here goes.  Those of you who know us know we have two dogs, Cider a 5-year-old border collie mix, though you'd never know it to look at him.  And Cabby, a little black lab.  Cabby will eat anything.  ANYTHING.  We haven't found a people food or dog treat she won't eat.  She loves sticks and anything dead she can find in the yard.

Cider on the other hand, has more refined tastes.  While dead things found along the walk can be tasty, he prefers dog food and meat.  Yep, just meat.  He'll eat bread, if and only if you butter it first.  He wouldn't even think of eating bread without butter!  No french fries for this kid either.  Meat.
Here's my picky eater!
Cider's picky tastes apply towards treats as well.  Sweet potatoes, yes.  Plain old biscuits, no.  When I took him to his obedience class I had to grill a steak and cut it up because it was the only thing that he would accept in training.  I tried cheese, hot dogs, sweet potato treats, that food in a log that the trainers swear by.  Nope, he was having none of it.  I couldn't get him to focus on me until I brought steak.  I'm not kidding!  Just ask Jeff at Canine Coach!  He's my witness.

So tonight I went to the Muddy Paws Cheesecake Fall Bazaar.  It was a great event for a great cause, well several causes actually.  For a donation of a new toy or bag of dog food you got free tastings of some yummy cheesecake and could wander through the bazaar.  The donations support STEP Emergency, The Pet Project and Perspective Kids.  There were some great vendors and I really wished I had brought more cash!

But I've digressed.  One of the vendors there was Barkley's.  They are a local manufacturer of dog treats.  They not only make the treats right here in Minnesota, they source their ingredients from right here in Minnesota too!  Barkley's had a few varieties of treats available, peanut butter and chicken and cheddar and duck confit.  It's actually made with duck confit! 

With all of the stuff in the news yet again about dogs dying from eating treats made in China, Dave and I are really looking for better sources of  treats for our dogs.  Have you tried to find a treat NOT made in China?  It's tricky, but not impossible!

So I thought if Cider doesn't like them Cabby will.  Or I could slather them in peanut butter and put them in his Kong.  He seems to be less picky when the treat comes out of his Kong covered in peanut butter.  I bought a bag of the Duck flavor.

Guess what?  He likes them!  Of course he had to sniff it and nibble it and make sure he really did like it but after he finally ate the first one I gave him another.  No question.  He likes them!  We'll be getting more!  At $5 for 4 ounces they won't be going in Kongs but for special treats!  And lucky for us they sell them at one of our favorite places, The Golden Fig!

Buy local!  If you have a dog and want quality treats, buy Barkley's!

Just what I needed!

Buddy Valastro, a.k.a. The Cake Boss was in town last week.  I had tickets and was looking forward to going but circumstances beyond my control made that not possible.

I knew the daughter of a coworker would probably love to go.  She's  become quite an accomplished cake decorator herself!  They went and enjoyed it and as a thank you for the tickets, they bought me Baking with the Cake Boss.

What were they thinking buying me a new cookbook and giving it to me on the Friday before Thanksgiving.  The Friday before the Thanksgiving where I'm doing the cooking and have a ton of prep to do?  The Friday before a week when I have orders for two custom cakes?  Don't they know they are cutting into precious Christmas cookie baking time?  Don't they know me well enough to know that I would crack into that book immediately?

I was getting tired of Christmas cookies anyway!

I couldn't keep out of the book at work on Friday and called Dave to have him pick me up some new tips that would be needed for the first cake I was going to do out of the book, a turkey!

I love the book!  It has step-by-step pictures of each of the, what I call, putzy cakes so they're pretty easy to recreate in my kitchen.

Buddy uses a bundt pan for his turkey cake but my bundt is more traditional than the one in the picture (mine has more sloped sides, the bundt in the picture had straighter sides.  Looking at how the cake was supposed to be shaped in the end, I figured using a bowl would work just fine!  And it did.

The cake required lots of colors and of course I didn't have nearly enough of the right numbered tip, but I think my turkey turned out pretty darn good despite that!

Wait 'till you see what I'm going to do for Christmas!

Thank you, thank you Monteen, Taryn and Rylee!!

Knoke's Chocolates!

One of our favorite places has a new home!

Every Sunday afternoon, after our stop at either Barker's or San Pedro Cafe, you will find Dave and I at Knoke's Chocolates in Hudson, WI.  We pick up a week's worth of truffles and each night we each have one piece of delicious chocolate!  We're very sad when we miss a Sunday for some reason and have to go without chocolates.

The old shop was a cute little candy store where you could watch the candy being made while you wandered around looking at all the great sweet treats available.

The new space is beautiful!  It's bigger, brighter and there's even more great chocolates, candy and ice cream available.  And you can still watch the chocolate maker at work!

The new space is as cute on the outside as it is on the inside!

There are even more jars of great sweet treats!  Be careful if you bring the kids into the store, you may not get them out again!  I know Dave and I can wander around for a long time when we know exactly what it is we want before we walk in the door.

Remember candy cigarettes?  I didn't think you could get those any more!

How about licorice pipes?

And candy dots?  I know at ate a lot of those as a kid!

These aren't big enough for you?  How about Giant Dots?  I know from experience these make great shark eyes!

And how exactly do you eat one of these giant jaw breakers?  With a hammer maybe?

Ok, so maybe you're not in the mood to walk down candy memory lane or you're looking for a little more "adult" candy?  They have that too! 

We love the truffles, the cayenne is our favorite but we always bring home a variety.  Their caramels are delicious and the mint smoothies, oh my!  Oh and the toffee, yummy!  And they have ice cream too!  Dave's favorite is the Zanzibar.  They have double the flavors in the new store!

Do you need a great gift?  How about one of these amazing gift baskets?

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and Knoke's is ready!

And for those of you who have to watch your sugar, Knoke's has a great variety of sugar free chocolates that you'll have a hard time telling are sugar free!

We love Knoke's and are thrilled that they are now in a bigger space.  We brought them a little store-warming gift, chocolate cake of course!  I hope it measures up to their yummy chocolates!

So if you're in the mood for some great chocolates, ice cream, or any kind of candy, stop by Knoke's in Hudson, WI.  Can't get to Hudson?  Guess what, they ship!  You can order online.   I guarantee you'll be happy with anything you order.

Christmas tradition, Italian Chocolate Cookies

Every year at Christmas my family and many of our friends, anxiously await their portion of these yummy cookies.

The tradition started with my Grandma Cicero.  She would make these cookies every year for us.  I have no idea how many she made, but it was a lot.  My grandmother was a "cook by touch" kind of cook and baker.  There were no measuring cups, it was a handful of this or a pinch of that so there was no recipe for these cookies either.

That is until one year when my mother helped make the cookies and as Grandma "measured" in her hand, Mom measured with cups and teaspoons!  Now we had a recipe!

Mom and Grandma Cicero in Grandma's kitchen.  Lots of great memories in that kitchen!
The next hurdle was doubling the recipe.  We knew we needed to considering the growing number of people wanting these gems each year.  Grandma insisted it couldn't be done.  We proved her wrong!  I've doubled the recipe, halved the recipe even quartered it (considering a batch is 300 cookies, quartering is not unheard of!) and they always turn out great.

Tradition was that these cookies were made the Friday after Thanksgiving.  We're not into the craziness of Black Friday.  There's enough craziness in our kitchen on that day!  Well, with marriages and children and busy adult lives, that tradition has fallen to I make them whenever I can get them done!  My brothers all know how to make these cookies, they choose not to, but they're always very willing to eat them!

We are celebrating Christmas at Thanksgiving with my family this year so the cookies can't wait until after Thanksgiving.  Dave has military duty this weekend so spending the day in the kitchen doesn't cut into any time I could be spending with him.  This year was one of those years I knew I needed to double the recipe so I enlisted the help of the daughter of a coworker to get them done.  It really does go faster when there's two of you.

So here we go!

First there's the preparations.  You have to buy all the ingredients which includes things like 4 pounds of flour, 2 pounds of sugar, 2 pounds of raisins and a pound of lard.  Yes, lard.  Would they work with another shortening?  I don't know.  I'm not willing to risk it.  Lord help me the day the health nuts ban lard from the grocery store!

Prepare the table for the cookies by covering it with waxed paper and get the cooling racks ready!

You will need a very large vessel in which to mix the dough.  Remember what you just read, this is pounds and pounds of dough.  And remember this year I doubled it!  I had to mix 8 pounds of flour, 2 cups of cocoa, 2 pounds of lard, 4 pounds of sugar, 2 pounds of raisins, 2 quarts of milk and a bunch of spices!  In what do you mix this dough?  A canner of course!

I mix all the dry ingredients first, breaking up any clumps of raisins, then add the melted lard and milk.  Mom and I used to worry about which we were supposed to add first.  I don't worry so much about that.  I'm sure we've done it both ways in the past!

I can mix it a little with a wooden spoon but unfortunately I don't own a big Hobart mixer so I have to mix it just like my Grandmother did, with my hands.  I get my upper body workout for the morning.

Once mixed it's time to roll it in little balls and bake.  Typically I would use about a teaspoon and a half per cookie.  It makes a nice 2 bite cookie.  I was feeling lazy to day so I did 2 full teaspoons.

The cookies are baked for 15 minutes.  Lucky for me I can have three trays going at a time.

It's when we get to about this much dough left I want to start making tablespoon sized cookies!

After a couple of hours the canner is empty again!

When the cookies are cooled they are glazed with a mixture of powdered sugar and water then decorated.

Today, with my fantastic helper Alessa, we got 607 cookies baked, glazed and decorated in just under 4 hours!  That has to be a record!

The worst part is, after the cookies dry, packing them up!  That will be done later tonight. Oh yea, and the cleaning up the kitchen!

For those of you brave enough to try this, here is the recipe:

4 pounds flour
2 pounds sugar
1 cup cocoa
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 pound lard, melted
1 pound raisins
1 quart milk (we use 2%)
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons allspice
1 1/2 tablespoons nutmeg
1 1/2 tablespoons black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cloves

4 pounds powdered sugar

Mix the dry ingredients (except raisins) well.  Add raisins and mix well, breaking up any clumps of raisins.  Add lard and milk and mix well.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on lightly greased cookies sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.  Cool completely.

Mix some of the powdered sugar with water to form a slightly thin glaze (mine is a different consistency every year!).  Drop the cookies in the bowl of glaze and pull out one at a time, scraping the excess glaze off the bottom of the cookie.  Place cookies on waxed paper and sprinkle with your favorite decoration.  When dry pack up in air tight containers or zip top bags.

These freeze really well!

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