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Friday Recipe Exchange: Holiday Sweet Treats

 

Assorted Cookies1

Lots of cooking going on. And look what Santa dropped off early:

Mystery Machine

Just in time to hold the assortment of cookies I made this week. Most of them are going into gift boxes, but I’ll hold enough back for my annual Christmas Eve dinner.

Let’s get right to it. Pictured above:

Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies, recipe here

Spritz Cookies, recipes and instructions for using a cookie press here.

Not pictured because I still have to make them, Chocolate-Walnut Flourless Cookies, recipe here. I love these because you’d never know they were flourless and they taste like brownie bites.

Looking for side dishes for your holiday dinner? You can click here for a lot of different types. And for the pet lovers, Bixby posted an update here and here is photo evidence of how the cats torment him, try not to laugh, it hurts his feelings.

How about you, what’s on your menu for the holidays? Share your holiday traditions, both edible and otherwise.

Mexican Russian Pecan Cookies

Tonight’s featured recipe had a bit of a serendipitous beginning. I was having lunch with friend LFern and told her I was still working on what type of cookies I was going to make for my gift boxes. LFern mentioned she really liked Russian Tea Cakes. I’d never heard of them, so I googled, figuring I’d surprise her with them in her gift box. Turns out they are also called Mexican Wedding Cookies. Next day I was visiting friends Larilyn and Alton (not that one) and what do they bring out to go with the coffee? Mexican Wedding Cookies. Turns out Al calls them Mom’s Pecan Cookies and he shared his mom’s recipe with me. So no matter what you call them, they are tasty.

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 ¼ cups flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup chopped nuts pecans
  • Powdered sugar for rolling

Preaheat oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix butter, ½ cup powdered sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add flour, salt and mix until the dough comes together. Stir in the nuts. At this point, I mixed by hand until the dough stuck together and was smooth.

Scoop about a tablespoon of dough, roll into shape and place on baking sheet

Bake cookies for 18-20 minutes until bottoms are just slightly brown. Remove from oven and cool for just a minute. Fill a small bowl with powdered sugar and roll each cookie in the sugar until coated. Place on a rack covered with wax paper (keeps the sugar mess to a minimum) to cool.

You have to roll them in powdered sugar while they are still hot, which hurts like hell for the first two, but after that, your fingers are coated in powdered sugar and it acts like a heat shield and you’ll be fine. Look, holiday gift baking isn’t for wussies. It’s an extreme sport.

After they cooled, I coated them with more powdered sugar for a festive look.

That’s it for…this year. We won’t have another recipe exchange until January. But I will be posting the recipes for Christmas Eve dinner between now and Christmas. The menu is: Roasted Cornish Game Hens, Smashed Potatoes, Cranberry Chutney, Spinach Salad, and an Ice Cream Sundae Bar.

Have a wonderful holiday, whatever you celebrate. Thanks for coming along for the ride – TaMara

Christmas balls

 

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Holiday Gift Ideas: Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’m busy baking for my annual gift boxes. These won’t be in them, because I”m working on two new cookie recipes I’ve never tried my hand at before. More on that later…

Chocolate Chocolate Cookie

These are pretty and very tasty.  They’re easy and just a touch above regular chocolate chip cookies.

Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • dash of salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds or peanuts), chopped

mixing bowl and cookie sheet

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cream together butter and sugars.  Add eggs and vanilla, mixing well.  Sift together salt, soda, flour and cocoa, then add to butter mixture, blending well.  Add nuts and chocolate chips.  Spoon onto cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  Cool on cooling rack.

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Originally posted Nov 2011

Side Dishes: French Onion Casserole

 

final casserole

When I was home for Thanksgiving, I learned that I had missed out on this casserole. My sister-in-law, Tracie, had taken it to the big family get-together the weekend before. There was not a bite leftover by the end, so I am assuming it was a success. It sure sounds good.

I thought it would be nice to post it in time for this month’s various holiday get-togethers.

French Onion Casserole

  • 2-3 tbsp of butter
  • 3 large sweet onions (or 4 medium yellow onions),thinly sliced
  • 8 oz shredded Swiss Cheese
  • 1 can condensed cream of chicken soup (substitute mushroom soup for vegetarian)
  • 2/3 cups milk
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • pepper
  • 8 slices of French bread

skillet, shallow 2 qt casserole or baking dish (glass)

Melt butter in skillet over medium heat and add onions. Sauté until onions are translucent, a little caramelization is ok.

IMG_9006

In baking dish, layer onions, 2/3 of the cheese and pepper to taste.

Onions

 

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In skillet, heat milk, soup and soy sauce, stirring to blend well.

IMG_9009

Pour soup mixture over casserole and fold in gently to mix.

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Top with bread slices.

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Bake at 350 degrees, uncovered for 15 minutes, bread should be brown and toasted. If not, turn oven to broil to crisp the bread (watch closely).

almost there

Remove casserole, return oven temperature to 350. Push bread slices into sauce, top with remaining cheese, return to oven and bake an additional 15 -20 minutes until cheese is melted.

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Yum

Final 1

 

I think Tracie should blog here more often. Looks great and love all the photos. – TaMara

Christmas balls

Friday Recipe Exchange: Holiday Gifts, Salty-Sweet Edition

Caramel Corn 12-17-11

I love popcorn. So much so, I actually have an electric stirring popcorn popper. It must be a family thing, because my brother, Paul, has all the ingredients to make movie popcorn – and he did serious research on how to get that flavor. I’m good with butter and salt, myself. But my true weakness is caramel corn, so one year when I was trying to think of something fun to give for those neighbor Christmas treat boxes, I decided to try my hand at caramel corn.

And to take it up a notch I decided to make Bacon Caramel Corn. The featured recipe tonight.

But let’s begin with some other salty-sweet ideas for the holiday gift box.

Tex-Mex Popcorn Mix, recipe here.

White Cheddar Popcorn and Chili-Cheese Popcorn, recipes here.

And if popcorn is not your thing, how about some Cajun Spiced Nuts or Indian Spiced Nuts, recipes here.

Finally, the dinner menu this week is all about improving Oven Fried Chicken and amazing Baked Garlic Potatoes, complete menu, recipes, shopping list are here.

What favorite recipes are in your gift box this year? If you give food gifts for the holidays, do you include copies of the recipes? I’m always torn. Either way, go ahead and share some of your favorite recipes in the comments. Next week we’ll tackle sweet treats for gift giving.

Tonight’s featured recipe actually came about because I read this comment at Balloon-Juice, I was intrigued enough to search out a recipe. If bacon isn’t your thing, just omit it from the recipe below to make regular caramel corn, or caramel corn with nuts.

Cashew Bacon Caramel Corn

  • 8 oz maple smoked bacon, cut into eight pieces per strip
  • 12 cups (3 quarts) of popped corn
  • 10 tbsp butter
  • 1-1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups salted cashews (or peanuts, or peanut/cashew mix)
Skillet, saucepan, baking sheets*

In skillet, cook bacon until mostly crisp, drain on paper towels and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Reduce to 200 degrees after 15 minutes of baking.

Place popcorn onto a well-greased baking sheets.

In saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a low boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to med-low and simmer until thickened, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, add vanilla and baking soda (yes, it will foam up so be prepared). Gently stir nuts and bacon into sugar mixture and pour over popcorn, toss, coating popcorn evenly. Bake, stirring occasionally, until popcorn is a deep golden brown, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours  – mine was done at the 1 hour mark. Cool and break apart.

*most recipes call for a roasting pan, I had better luck on my second batch using baking sheets – the popcorn cooked more evenly and was very crisp.

That’s if for this week. Bixby is 6 months old today which doesn’t seem possible and I may have an update on him later, depending on how work goes today  – TaMara

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Holiday Gift Ideas: Spicy Nuts

This week I’m focusing on recipes you can give as gifts (and you thought I was just going to annoy you with Christmas Carols). This week is about sweet and salty.  A change from the traditional sweet treats. Here are two spicy nut recipes that are sure to be welcome gifts:

Cajun Spiced Nuts

  • 1 tsp teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tsp teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 6 cups unsalted deluxe mixed nuts
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt

Mix spices together and set aside.  Heat the nuts in a dry skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to toast, about 4 minutes. Add the butter, stirring, until the nuts begin to darken, about 1 minute. Add the spices, the sugar, 1 tablespoon water, and the salt, stirring until the sauce thickens and the nuts are glazed, about 5 minutes.

Remove the nuts from the heat and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Make sure they are all separated. Let the nuts stand until cooled and the sugar has hardened, about 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container. Makes 6 cups

Indian Spiced Nuts

  • 1 cup unsalted roasted peanuts (or cashews)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 4 tablespoons shredded coconut (either fresh or unsweetened)
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix the nuts coconut, butter, sugar, coriander cumin, garam masala and salt together and pour onto the baking sheet. Toast for 40 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through for even baking. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool. Store in an airtight container. Makes 2 cups

Now once you have these recipes completed, how about some creative ways to wrap them?  Colored plastic wrap and ribbons, holiday Chinese take out containers are always fun, glass canning cars with fabric inserts between the rim and the seal, or even more fun, wrap the nuts in decorative paper cones, tied with ribbon.  These are all creative ways to present your gifts and you make personalized labels to enhance the presentation.

From MakeandTakes.com click on the picture for instructions.

 

 

 

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Originally Posted December 2011

Holiday Gift Ideas: Flavored Popcorn

I’m repeating the holiday gift series this week. We’ll start with flavored popcorn:

One of my favorite things is the mixed can of flavored popcorn.   Unfortunately they can vary in quality and price.  And if you’re paying a premium, well let’s face it, it all hype, because popcorn is cheap, as are most of the ingredients that go in flavored popcorn.  So  I thought I’d pull a few recipes together this week so you could make your own variety tin of flavored popcorn.  I actually have a tower of gift boxes that I’m thinking of filling with different flavors.  You can use decorative plastic and ribbon, or holiday tins, or zip-lock bags placed in pretty gift bags.

For the first recipes, I thought something cheesy.

White Cheddar Cheese Popcorn

  • 8 cups popped corn
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 1/2 cup white cheddar cheese powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried mustard
  • dash of cayenne
  • salt to taste

It might be easiest to do this in two batches.  In a large bag, toss popcorn thoroughly with butter to coat completely.  Mix together cheese and spices, toss with popcorn in the bag until everything is well coated.   Spread out on to baking sheet for 30 to 60 minutes before packaging (this keeps it from becoming soggy).

Chili-Cheese Popcorn

  • 8 cups popped corn
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • dash of garlic
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan (I’d use the Kraft style for ease)
  • salt to taste (the Parmesan may make it salty enough)

Again, you may want to make this in batches.  Mix together butter and spices and toss with popcorn in a large bag.  Add cheese and toss again until well coated.  Spread out on to baking sheet for 30 to 60 minutes before packaging.

Additional flavor ideas:

White cheddar cheese powder and taco seasoning.   Parmesan and dry packaged  buttermilk ranch dressing seasoning.

 

Originally posted Dec 2011

Dinner Menu: Oven Baked Chicken and Garlic Baked Potatoes

Oven Baked Chicken

I’ve had this in my files to post for a while, so I thought it would make a good full dinner menu. I had run across two different techniques to improve on oven-baked chicken and decided to combine them to see what would happen. I will not make it any other way going forward.

The first thing that is different, you add the flour to the egg mixture, making a bit of a batter. Dip the chicken in it and coat completely. Hold up and let excess drip off, back into the bowl. Then place the chicken piece into the breadcrumb mixture.

P1020737

Take a spoon and generously spoon bread mixture over the entire chicken. Using a fork, press the breadcrumbs into the egg wash. Turn it over gently and repeat on the other side. Place on a baking sheet (I like to use parchment paper for ease of clean up).

Baked Chicken Prep

Bake according to directions below. This technique  works well with boneless or bone-in and any meat you would dredge in flour or breadcrumbs. It coats piece evenly, creates a tighter seal and you lose less of the breading. By adding flour to the egg mixture the batter keeps the chicken very most and creates a great, crunchy crust.

On the board tonight:

  1. Oven Fried Chicken
  2. Broccoli
  3. Garlic Baked Potatoes
  4. Sliced Pears

Oven Fried Chicken

  • 2 bone-in, skin on chicken breasts
  • 2 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs
  • 2 chicken legs (or two additional thighs)
  • 2 cups Italian breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups Panko
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ cup water**
  • 1/8 tsp ea. salt & pepper (or to taste)

large mouth bowl, large plate and baking sheet lined with foil or parchment

Wash and pat dry chicken. In large bowl, add water, eggs, flour, oil, salt and pepper and mix well. Spread breadcrumbs and panko evenly on large plate. I often use extra seasoning in the breadcrumbs – garlic powder, onion powder, dried basil and oregano, lots of pepper.

Take chicken pieces one at a time and dredge in the egg mixture, coating completely, dredge in bread crumbs until lightly coated on all sides. See technique above. Place on baking sheet. Bake  at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, or until temp registers 160 degrees. I usually cover for 10 or 15 minutes with foil at the beginning to avoid burning the crust. For even crisper chicken, place a wire baking rack on the baking sheet and cook chicken on that. I don’t have one big enough, so I haven’t tried it.

** add more if needed

Baked Potatoes with Roasted Garlic Butter

  • 4 large baking potatoes, scrubbed and dried
  • olive oil
  • Salt
  • 2 to 4 metal skewers

Spread

  • 1 or 2 large head of garlic
  •  olive oil
  • 1 to 2 sprigs of rosemary, minced
  • 4 to 8 tbsp of butter

Skewer each potato (depending on the size of the skewer you can sometimes get 2 on it, leaving room between potatoes). Rub oil liberally on potatoes and then coat with a light layer of salt. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-45 minutes, until tender when pierced with a fork.

Meanwhile, peel white paper skin from garlic and slice off 1/4 inch off the top. Coat well in olive oil, place in a small baking dish (I saw a great recommendation making several and using a 6-cup muffin tin). Cover with foil and bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, or until cloves are soft when pierced. (Of course you can use a garlic roaster if you have one). You can cook this while you are prepping the chicken and potatoes, then reduce heat.

Once garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze cloves out of their skins. Using a fork, mash garlic, butter, pinch of salt and minced rosemary to smooth paste. Serve with potatoes.

Shopping List:

  • 2 bone-in chicken breasts, 2 bone-in thighs, 2 legs (or additional thighs)
  • 2 cups Italian breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups Panko
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 large head Broccoli
  • 4 large baking potatoes
  • 4 large pears
  • parchment paper (my preference) or foil
  • 2 heads of garlic

Also: rosemary sprigs, olive oil, salt, pepper, and butter

 

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Friday Recipe Exchange: Comfort Foods

DSC_9067 [1600x1060]

I asked JeffreyW to send me some ideas for comfort foods and he included this photo. Yum.

I hope everyone had a good holiday. Now it’s time for the Christmas rush. But before I start with those recipes, I thought we’d revisit comfort foods. When things get crazy busy, I fall back on easy comfort foods: soups, mac-n’cheese, slow-cooker meals.

What sparked this idea was a recipe for Macaroni and Cheese Bacon Cups. No, seriously, someone thought of putting macaroni and cheese into cups made of bacon and baking it in the oven. If you’re daring and want to try your hand at it, JeffreyW has the recipe for Bacon Cups here and two Macaroni and Cheese recipes are here and here.

The photo above is easy to recreate (JeffreyW recommends frozen shoestring fries), but he has a recipe for even more elaborate Chile Cheese Friesclick here for recipe and mouth-watering photos.

When cold weather hits and my schedule is full, I want Spicy Potato Soup and Biscuits, recipes here.

Starting next week, I’ll move into holiday recipes, both for the meals and gift giving. For the animal lovers, there is a Bixby update here, but be forewarned when you click through, HE. HAS. GROWN. Although he doesn’t seem to realize it.

What’s on your menu for the weekend? How is the holiday shopping coming along?

Tonight’s feature recipe is very simple and quick to put together.

Marinated Pot Roast Final

Slow-Cooker Tangy Roast Beef w/Potatoes & Carrots

  • 2 to 3 lbs boneless chuck roast
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 4 red potatoes, halved
  • 4 carrots, peeled & quartered

Slow-Cooker

In order, place items in Slow-Cooker. Cook according to manufacturer’s directions (usually 8-10 hours on low). Couldn’t be simpler. But if you don’t want tangy, just substitute a good red wine for a richer flavor. If you have time, it’s worth it to brown your roast on all sides before tossing in the slow-cooker. Lightly flour all sides, heat oil in a skillet and brown quickly. I usually use tongs and brown the sides as well.

That’s it for this week. Next week we’ll tackle holiday treats for gift giving or to take to parties. – TaMara

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Thanksgiving Files: Hearty Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I was looking through the archives trying to decide which recipes to repeat and this one caught my eye, mostly because I had totally forgotten this cooking method. So reposting as an idea for your holiday dinner. For all the Thanksgiving recipes, click on this link: Thanksgiving Files.

I’m never going to turn away mashed potatoes.  Ever.  But I do have a favorite style – unpeeled and hand mashed potatoes.  I love creamy ones too, but with a good gravy, the hearty ones really hold up.

A while I ago I wrote about a mistake I made cooking potatoes and how I used a recipe I remembered from a few weeks before to save them.  Well, I decided to try it for real this time.  I could not track down the recipe, but did the best I could with what I remembered.  I must have remembered pretty well.  They turned out great.

This recipe uses unpeeled potatoes, but you can peel them and whip them for creamy mashed potatoes suitable for the fanciest Thanksgiving table.  And don’t be startled, but you don’t boil the potatoes either, you cook them in cream and butter. Yummy.

Hearty Garlic Mashed Potatoes

  • 1/4 cup half & half
  • 1/4 cup water or broth
  • 3 tbsp to 1/4 cup of butter
  • 4-6 small garlic gloves, peeled and minced
  • 6 to 8 medium potatoes (russet or yukon gold work best)

4-qt saucepan

Add half & half, water, butter and garlic cloves to the pan and turn heat to low and let butter melt and liquid heat.  Meanwhile, scrub potatoes well and cut small (not diced, but smaller than 1-inch cubes).  Add to liquid and turn heat to high.  Stir constantly until liquid begins to boil, turn heat down to medium-low, cover and let cook until potatoes are fork tender, about 20-30 minutes.  Keep an eye on them and turn the heat lower if it looks like they might stick – if you feel like you need more liquid, add half & half.  There is so much water in the potatoes, this technique works really well.  And the potatoes are extremely creamy because you haven’t soaked them in water.  When they are tender, turn off heat and mash to desired constancy.

Originally posted November 2011

Thanksgiving Files: Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

In preparation for next week, I thought I would highlight a few of my favorite Thanksgiving ideas. Also, to see all of them, click on this link: Thanksgiving Files.

This is by far the most requested dessert I make.  This time of year every dinner I attend, this is what I am asked to bring. I’ll be making two tonight to take to various get-togethers  this week.  Easy, easy, easy and foolproof, but always a beautiful presentation.  If you’re looking to wow, try this one.  From 2009:

Cranberries are on sale!  Buy them now, because I’ve got some great cranberry recipes coming up.  I’m starting with this one, because if you’re going to be a guest at someone else’s Thanksgiving dinner, this is the dish to take.  It’s pretty to look at and it’s both sweet and tangy, perfect after a big dinner.  You’ll wow everyone with it and it’s foolproof to make.

Cranberry Upside Down Cake

  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups cranberries, chopped*
  • ½ cup walnuts, finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp orange zest (rind)
  • 1 ¼ cups flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup milk

Topping

  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1-1/2 tbsp orange juice (more as needed)
  • 2 tsp butter, softened

8×8 glass baking dish & mixing bowl

Preheat oven to 350°

Melt 3 tbsp of butter and pour into baking dish, spread to cover bottom and up the sides. Add ½ cup sugar, mix with butter on bottom of pan. Add cranberries & walnuts, spread over bottom of pan. Cream remaining butter & sugar, add vanilla, egg, orange zest, mix well. Add flour, baking powder & milk, mix until well blended, don’t over mix. Pour batter over cranberry mixture. Bake for 1 hour, or until golden brown and center bounces back at the touch. Invert on plate. Let cool.

Topping: Mix together butter, orange juice & powdered sugar, pour over cake and serve.

* if you don’t have a food processor, you can leave cranberries whole.

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