Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cherry Thumbprints

Happy New Year! Where does the time go?

For Christmas, my sweet friend Marcelle gave me a cute reusable shopping bag full of gourmet goodies. Among them was a jar of delicious cherry preserves. For whatever reason, when I saw them, I immediately thought they would be good on thumbprint cookies--even though I've never eaten or made thumbprint cookies. It was surprisingly hard to find a recipe for thumprints; most of my cookbooks simply didn't have one, and the ones that did all called for nuts, which I didn't want. I finally found a recipe in Family Fun magazine that sounded like what I wanted, and I don't plan on looking any further. The cookies turned out perfect. They were buttery, tender, and just a little crisp, like a good shortbread, and the jam on top turned out sticky and sweet, like candy. I'm only sorry we didn't discover them sooner!

For the recipe, click HERE.
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Thursday, December 24, 2009

25 Days of Holiday Delights: Judy's French Toast Casserole

This is a Christmas of firsts for our little family. It is the first Christmas we will be spending in our own house. It is the first Christmas Eve dinner I will be hosting. It is the first Christmas where we won't go visit my family at all at any point. *sniff* The upside to all of this is that we have the opportunity to start cultivating a few new family traditions, and one of those is breakfast.

My husband's family always has what they call a "farmer's breakfast" on Christmas morning. Scrambled eggs, biscuits, homemade sausage gravy, etc. That sounds tasty to me, but I don't really want to make all of that on Christmas morning, and I certainly don't want to be stuck cleaning it up when there is so much merry-making going on! My family usually has sticky buns from a neighbor and a delicious egg, ham, and green onion casserole that my mom makes. That sounds tasty too, but PC-ness dictates that we choose something new and completely unassociated with either family. So my husband and I have chosen Judy's French Toast Casserole, and we're actually totally excited about it! It is basically bread pudding disguised as breakfast, complete with tart apples, cinnamon swirls, and a luscious butterscotch sauce. It isn't made yet, so sorry about the lack of photos, but I couldn't in good conscience NOT post a recipe when I was this close to the end of my 25-day project! Merry Christmas!

Judy's French Toast Casserole
from my husband's Aunt Judy

2 teaspoons corn syrup
1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 granny smith apples, peel, cored and thinly sliced
cinnamon swirl bread
8-10 eggs
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine corn syrup, butter, and brown sugar in a small saucepan, and simmer until syrupy, about 3-5 minutes. Pour sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 pan. Place apple slices on top of sauce. Place 2 layers of cinnamon swirl bread on top of apples. Beat remaining ingredients together and pour on top of bread. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Uncover and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
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25 Days of Holiday Delights: Tannya's Tamales

I've made an executive decision: I am posting both today's recipe and tomorrow's recipe today. I've been puzzling over how to post a recipe on Christmas when everyone will be busy and no one will be checking their computers, and the last recipe in a 25-day project promises to be a good one, so it deserves to be seen and appreciated. So, dear readers, you get two recipes in one day: one for tonight, and one for tomorrow.

My mom has this strange affinity for tamales. She seriously loves them. I even gave her tamales not once, not twice, but three times for Christmas and/or her birthday. If we didn't already have a traditional Christmas Eve dinner in my family, I'm pretty sure my mom would adopt the Mexican tradition of tamales at Christmas.

Tamales seem like a difficult thing to make. They certainly are time-consuming--which is why tamale making is usually a party with lots of people helping out--but the ones I've made are simple and delicious. And I don't just mean a little bit delicious. I mean eat a dozen of them in one sitting and then have more a few hours later delicious. Without further ado (because if you're going to make them, you'd better get started now!).

Click HERE for the recipe.

And I'm including this cute (if I do say so myself) little diagram I drew for a cookbook my sister decided not to go through with. I'm no tamale expert, but this is the wrapping technique I've had the most success with.
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

25 Days of Holiday Delights: Molasses Crinkles

Just like peanut blossoms and snickerdoodles, molasses crinkles were a fixture on the Christmas cookie plates we made growing up. Some molasses cookies have too strong a molasses flavor. Some ginger cookies have too strong a ginger flavor. These delicious cookies have just the right amount of everything! They have a sweet, mellow molasses flavor that isn't harsh or overpowering, and they taste spicy without being hot or bitter. They go perfectly with a cold glass of milk. Just ask Santa. He's eaten a ton of these over the years!

Molasses Crinkles
from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book
I usually cringe at the use of shortening, but these cookies are so good that I hate to mess with the recipe! If it ain't broke...

3/4 cup shortening, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
granulated sugar for rolling

Beat shortening, brown sugar, egg, and molasses until light and fluffy. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Cover dough and chill. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough into 1 1/4" balls. Roll in granulated sugar and place on greased baking sheet. Get your fingers wet with water and lightly touch the top of each cookie. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove and cool.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

25 Days of Holiday Delights: Pop's Pancakes and Triple Berry Syrup

Here's what I was busy doing all day yesterday: making tiny jars of triple berry syrup and bags of pancake mix to give to our friends and neighbors for Christmas! I decided on this Christmas present a long time ago, so my husband dutifully picked me gallons and gallons of blackberries this summer, and I froze most of the raspberries our bushes gave us. We also picked quite a few blueberries at a local u-pick farm and paid next to nothing for them.

Click HERE for the recipe for Triple Berry Syrup. The recipe given uses just blueberries, but I used equal parts blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries.

I have never been a huge pancake fan. I know that is practically sacrileges to say, but they just aren't my favorite griddled breakfast bread to eat covered in syrup. I prefer french toast and waffles. But my husband's family makes delicious buttermilk pancakes, so I've become a bit of a convert (don't worry French Toast, I still love you best!). Below is the complete recipe for Pop's Pancakes.

Pop's Pancakes (or Waffles)

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 heaping Tablespoon baking powder
4 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 quart buttermilk

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Place 4 eggs and 1/2 cup oil in a blender, and add enough buttermilk to equal 1 quart of liquid. Blend until smooth. Whisk buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients until smooth. To make waffle batter, just separate the egg whites, beat them until stiff, and fold them into the finished batter. For both pancakes and waffles, cook as you usually do.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

25 Days of Holiday Delights: The Ghost of Cookies Past

I have been hard at work in the kitchen all day. But our northern latitude and rainy climate mean no more light for today, which means no pictures until tomorrow. So here are some cookies from the past that would make delicious additions to any holiday cookie plate or dessert buffet. Just click on the name of the cookie to see the recipe!

Chocolate Orange Shortbread

Orange Juice Cookies

Honey Beescotti

Quadruple Chocolate Chip Cookies

White Chocolate Oatmeal Jumbles
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Sunday, December 20, 2009

25 Days of Holiday Delights: Chocolate-Caramel Pretzel Sticks

Two Christmases ago, the year before we did the apple butter and english muffins, we took plates of treats to all of our friends and some of the people in our neighborhood. The one piece of feedback I got from everyone was, "Those pretzel things were awesome!" Why is it that the most delicious things to eat are often the ones that are easiest to make?! I should be grateful in this season of errands and business for easy, delicious crowd pleasers. So here they are again: Chocolate-Caramel Pretzel Sticks. Because they're so easy, I didn't write down any instructions for myself last time we made these. That was a mistake! Some tips:

  • Caramel sticks to everything, even wax paper. Spray your wax paper with PAM so that you don't lose half your caramel!
  • I don't know who in this world actually thinks that chocolate will set up on its own! Stick it in the fridge!
  • When you take the caramel-covered pretzels off the wax paper and dip them in chocolate, just put them back on the paper. It should be pretty clean (since it was covered in PAM), and the coldness of the cookie sheet will prevent the chocolate from spreading out a lot.
  • I dip my pretzels to about the half-way point. To accomplish this, I usually tilt the bowl of caramel or chocolate on its side and roll the pretzel around, as opposed to actually dipping it.
  • If your caramel is like mine, it will spread into a little puddle around the pretzel on the wax paper. When you're ready to dip them in chocolate, just use your fingers to quickly and gently mold the caramel back around the pretzel. If you're quick, it won't stick to your fingers at all!
  • You will probably have leftover pretzels. Sorry!
  • I wait to do the sprinkles until I've dipped all the pretzels in chocolate. Don't worry; that chocolate is NOT going to set up in the time it takes you to dip the rest of the pretzels, and certainly not at room temperature!
Chocolate-Caramel Pretzel Sticks

1 bag Snyder's of Hanover pretzel rods
1 bag Kraft caramels
18 oz (1 1/2 bags) milk chocolate chips

Line two baking sheets with wax paper, and spray the wax paper with PAM. Carefully snap all of the pretzels in half. Unwrap the caramels, put them in a microwave-safe bowl, and add 2 Tablespoons water. Microwave the caramels for 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each microwave session, until caramels are melted and smooth. Dip the broken end of the pretzels in caramel and place on wax paper. Refrigerate until caramel is cold and set. Place chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each time, until smooth. Dip the same end of the pretzel in chocolate, place back on wax paper, and decorate with sprinkles. Refrigerate until chocolate is firm.
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Saturday, December 19, 2009

25 Days of Holiday Delights: Homemade Apple Butter to Give

**Before I get started, I have to admit that the apple butter in the photos is not my apple butter. My friend Annie made it and the cute little labels.**

My mom is really big on gift-giving. It is how she expresses love for her family and friends, her "love language". Every Christmas while I was growing up, we made plates of cookies to take to our friends and neighbors for Christmas. Now that she has fewer helpers at home, my mom usually resorts to store-bought blankets, candles, or flower arrangements, but the tradition of homemade holiday gifts for friends and neighbors is one I have decided to continue with my children. Now, I love candies and cookies as much as the next person--probably more than most--but even I get a little burned out on sweets by the time Christmas finally rolls around. So, instead of plates of sugar cookies and ginger snaps, we decided to give homemade apple butter and cinnamon-raisin-vanilla english muffins last year (OK, the english muffins were from Costco, but I digress).

I remember loving apple butter as a child. If you have never had the pleasure of eating it, it basically tastes like spreadable apple cider. You mix applesauce--homemade or store-bought--with warm, fragrant spices, and cook it down until it forms the most delicious condiment in the world.

Click HERE for the recipe. The only changes I made were to add a few granny smith apples to the mix. While they are not recommended for applesauce, their tartness adds an amazing flavor to the apple butter. Without them, it tastes a little flat.
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Friday, December 18, 2009

25 Days of Holiday Delights: White Chocolate Cherry Biscotti

One of the hazards of being part of a couple that loves to cook is the incredible number of cookbooks we have in our home. Our vast cookbook collection used to take up about 1/4 of the bookshelf space in our computer room. So we bought a tall, skinny bookshelf, stuck it in the corner of the kitchen, and filled it with cookbooks. It is already overflowing, but we love having the cookbooks handy and out of the way. Except for when the children play with them. For whatever reason, our kids don't seem to be able to leave the cookbooks alone. They are already little foodies in the making. My baking of these cookies today stems from our baby's love of the cookbook shelf. She loves to pull cookbooks off, look at them, and leave them scattered about the kitchen. The cookbook this recipe came from, Desserts for Chocolate Lovers by Baker's, was lying face down on the floor this morning when I was cleaning up. When I picked it up, I noticed that lots of pages were dog-eared. I hadn't looked at this cookbook in so long that I didn't remember what recipes were in it, let alone which ones I had been interested in, so I flipped through. And I saw these and knew I had to make them today. And they were delicious. So thank you little one for taking the cookbook off the shelf and inspiring me to bake!

White Chocolate Cherry Biscotti
from Desserts for Chocolate Lovers by Baker's
Although they're called biscotti, they taste like a cross between crisp sugar cookies and shortbread.

2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup salted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
12 oz white chocolate chips or chopped white chocolate
1/2 cup sweetened dried cherries
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease and flour 2 baking sheets. Mix flour and baking powder; set aside. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Gradually add the flour mixture, scraping the sides and beating well. Stir in 1 1/2 cups white chocolate, cherries, and pecans. I had to use a wooden spoon for this part. On a well-floured surface, roll the dough to 1/4 inch. Cut with 3-inch cookie cutter (I used hearts, as suggested by the cookbook), rerolling scraps as needed. Place cookies 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, and bake 10 to 12 minutes until lightly browned. Turn cookies over and bake another 10 to 12 minutes, until dry and slightly golden. Let cool completely on wire racks. Melt remaining white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, stirring every 30 seconds until smooth. Spoon the melted white chocolate into a small ziplock bag. Cut one of the bottom corners off the bag and drizzle white chocolate over cooled cookies. Refrigerate until chocolate is firm.
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

25 Days of Holiday Delights: Manger Cookies

I'm not sure where this recipe came from. I have very strong memories of making them and eating them at Christmas time when I was little. And I am under the impression that they have something to do with my sister Holly (the Christmas baby) and kindergarten. But no one in my family has the recipe written down anywhere! Consider that problem remedied!

These cookies/candies are easy and delicious, especially if you like butterscotch chips. They only require three ingredients and the use of a microwave; no baking or even stove-top cooking necessary. They're perfect for children to make, and perfect for everyone to munch on. And they look like hay, hence the name "Manger Cookies". So sweet.

Manger Cookies
makes 12

1 cup butterscotch chips
1/2 cup peanut butter (creamy and crunchy both work)
2 cups fried chow mein noodles (usually located in the asian section of the grocery store)

Combine butterscotch chips and peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 1/2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds, until completely smooth. Add chow mein noodles and stir to coat. Spoon cookies onto a wax paper-lined baking sheet and refrigerate until firm. Eat cold or at cool room temperature. They get messy quickly just from your body heat, so store them in the fridge.
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

25 Days of Holiday Delights: Orange Slice Cake with Orange Glaze

Sorry for missing another day!! To make it up to you, I'm going to share this little holiday food tidbit: Costco has this fantastic triple layer cheese spread that is to die for. It is festively colored (white, green, and red), has layers of cream cheese, pesto, and sun-dried tomatoes, and is just about the most delicious party food ever. Go buy some; your friends will thank you!

Now for today's recipe. I was going to wait to post this, but I don't have anything else ready to post, so this will have to be a few days early. Our Cake Slice Bakers assignment for December is going to be posted on the 20th, but I was disappointed with everyone's choice because the book we're baking from has so many good holiday cake recipes. So in protest, I made a different cake, a holiday cake, a fruitcake no less. And you know what? It was fantastic and I won a Christmas dessert contest with it! Cooking Light Magazine featured a similar recipe on it's December cover several years ago, and I've meant to make it each Christmas since. When I found this recipe in Southern Cakes, I took it as a sign that this was the year of the Orange Slice Cake!

Orange Slice Cake with Orange Glaze
from Southern Cakes by Nancy McDermott
Due to my lack of planning, this cake was served warm at a Christmas party, and I highly recommend it!

3 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lb orange slice candy, chopped (about 3 cups)
2 cups chopped pecans
1 8-oz package pitted dates, chopped
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Grease a 10" tube pan, line the bottom with parchment, and grease the paper. Combine flour and salt in a small bowl, and combine orange candies, pecans, dates, and coconut in a large bowl. Toss the candy mixture with about 1/3 of the flour mixture; use your hands to make sure each individual piece is coated with flour. Set aside. In a very large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in half of the remaining flour and mix until just blended. Add the baking soda to the buttermilk and pour half of that into the batter, mixing well. Add the remaining flour, then the remaining buttermilk, mixing after each addition. Add the candy mixture and mix well. I used a wooden spoon at this point; the batter is very thick. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and bake it at 300 degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until a skewer poked into the center of the cake comes out clean. While the cake is baking, combine 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 cup orange juice, and 1 Tablespoon orange zest to make a glaze. Pour the glaze over the hot cake; it will soak in while the cake cools. Cool the cake in the pan, then remove it to serve.
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Monday, December 14, 2009

25 Days of Holiday Delights: Polly's Peppermint Cheesecake

I have the honor and pleasure of teaching the 9-year-old Sunday School class at church. You'd think ten or so 9-year-olds would be a little tiring, and they can be, but mostly they are just sweet and entertaining. When I was first assigned to teach them, I asked each child what their favorite treat was so that when their birthday rolled around, I could bring that treat to class to celebrate the birthday boy or girl's big day. We just celebrated our last birthday of the year yesterday with cheesecake. I wasn't sure quite how to accomplish the task when I first heard "cheesecake." Most of the other kids picked brownies or cookies. One girl even picked lollipops. Those things travel really well--can even be individually wrapped--and are basically serve-yourself desserts. And, as I pointed out a few days ago, things have been far, far more hectic around here than I anticipated. Then, while I was perusing and old family reunion cookbook, I came across a recipe from my cousin Wendy that sounding too good to pass up: frozen peppermint cheesecake! It took about 15 minutes to make from start to finish, and the kids went bonkers for it! They actually licked their plates and tried to tell me they hadn't gotten any and needed another piece!

Polly's Peppermint Cheesecake
When you're ready to serve it, take it out of the freezer and cut and serve it immediately.

1 8-oz brick cream cheese, softened
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup crushed candy canes (I think 12 is probably the right number of candy canes to equal a cup; plug your ears and pulverize them in the food processor.)
1 pint heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks
2 store-bought oreo cookie pie crusts

Combine cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, and candy canes in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Divide the mixture between the two chocolate crusts. Freeze and enjoy!
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

25 Days of Holiday Delights: Wassail

When you are frozen to the bone, nothing warms you up quite like a delicious hot drink. One of our new family favorites is actually an old family favorite that my husband grew up drinking: wassail. A few years ago, I put together a cookbook for my husband's family for Christmas. My husband--who loves to cook as much as I do--submitted this recipe, and this is what he wrote about it: "If made properly, this should evoke memories of childhood and holidays. If it doesn't, you either made it wrong or you need to work on your holiday spirit."


1 gallon apple cider/juice
1 can frozen apple juice concentrate
1/2 can frozen OJ concentrate
8-10 whole allspice balls
8-10 whole cloves
2-3 cinnamon sticks
a few dashes of Molly McButter

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Heat through and serve. Store leftovers in the refrigerator with all of the spices included, and it will get stronger and better-tasting every day!
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Saturday, December 12, 2009

25 Days of Holiday Delights: No Bake Cookies and Snickerdoodles

So when I first got the idea to do 25 Days of Holiday Delights, I didn't really stop to think about how much baking that would mean. We have so many things to bake for in December that I didn't think it would be much of a stretch: preschool teacher gifts, neighbor gifts, sunday school teacher gifts, gifts for the kids I teach at church, gifts for the kids my husband teaches at church, gifts for friends, several parties, and on and on. But man oh man! It has been hard!!! It isn't that I haven't been baking up a storm. It is just hard to squeeze in plating, photographing, and posting too! Anyway, here are two family favorites to make up for the lost day. The first, No Bake Cookies, comes from my husband's family. They taste like fudge. Enough said. The second recipe, Snickerdoodles, is one of my favorites. The recipe I grew up eating and make for my own kids is from the original 1960's edition of the Betty Crocker Cooky Book, which I highly recommend getting if you don't already own it. It is where most of our family favorites come from!

No Bake Cookies

Click HERE for the recipe for No-Bake Cookies

from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book

1 cup shortening (I used 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup shortening)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix shortening, butter, sugar, and eggs thoroughly. Blend flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Stir into wet ingredients. Shape the dough into 1" balls. Combine the remaining 2 Tablespoons sugar with the cinnamon, and roll dough balls in this mixture. Place 2" apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 8 minutes. Do not overbake.
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

25 Days of Holiday Delights: Drop Sugar Cookies

Forgive the orange frosting. These pictures are from a Halloween batch.

Sugar cookies are delicious. I grew up eating good ones, so they've always been a favorite of mine. And I love that they are pretty much perfect for any holiday. The absence of any strong, specific flavors (citrus, spice, almond) paired with the fact that you can cut them into whatever shape you want (hearts, pumpkins, pine trees) make them completely appropriate regardless of the season. But, sugar cookies take time. The dough usually has to be chilled for a few hours, then rolled out, then cut into shapes, etc. Sometimes I want a sugar cookie without all of the hassle. A few Valentine's Days ago, I desperately wanted sugar cookies with pink frosting, but I had a very active 2 year-old to deal with AND I was 8 months preggers, so the traditional sugar cookie was very much out. So I turned to my friend the internet and found a recipe for drop sugar cookies that was very similar to the recipe I grew up eating, minus the chilling and rolling. I have made them a few times since and loved them. While they aren't going to win any sugar cookie beauty pageants, so do win on flavor and ease. And, as Diana Berry says that Gilbert Blythe says, "Sometimes being smart is better than being pretty."

Click HERE for the recipe.
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