Blog Archives

Dinner Menu: Ravioli w/ Rosemary Basil Cream Sauce

A little bit of comfort food (at least Ravioli is in my house) for what has been a very cold and busy week. I make fresh pasta for special occasions – my spinach lasagna being one of them. I have only made fresh ravioli once, and once was enough. Much like making my own steamed dumplings, effort vs. reward is definitely unbalanced. Especially when with a little bit of experimentation, you can find really good fresh or frozen ravioli at a reasonable price. I usually stick with the cheese or cheese & spinach ravioli – most of the meat ones I find taste like mystery meat.

On the board tonight:

  1. Ravioli w/ Rosemary Basil Cream Sauce
  2. Tomato-Zucchini Confetti
  3. Tossed Salad
  4. Sorbet or Gelato

Ravioli w/ Rosemary Basil Cream Sauce

  • 1 cup heavy cream*
  • 1 tsp crushed dried rosemary (or one sprig fresh)
  • 4 – 6 fresh basil leaves, minced
  • 20 oz frozen cheese ravioli
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 3 tbsp green onion tops, chopped
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese

2 saucepans

Combine cream & spices in saucepan, bring to a boil, stirring constantly, reduce heat and simmer until reduces to ½ cup, about 15 minutes. Cook ravioli according to package directions. Drain and return to pan. Add lemon juice, salt, pepper & cream sauce. Toss. Add scallion tops and parmesan.

*You can absolutely substitute whole or non-fat milk for heavy cream and mix well with 1 tbsp flour

Tomato-Zucchini Confetti

  • 1 tbsp + olive oil
  • 2 medium zucchini, cubed
  • 2 medium tomatoes, cubed
  • 4 mushrooms, cubed
  • 4 green onions, chopped (set greens aside for Ravioli)
  • 2 tbsp chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp dried basil, crushed (or 2 tbsp fresh)
  • ½ tsp dried oregano, crushed (or 2 tsp fresh)


Heat 1 tbsp of oil in skillet, add vegetables and garlic, sauté for 2 minutes, add chicken broth and spices, and simmer vegetables until tender. Remove, toss with olive oil and serve.

Shopping List:

  • Tossed Salad fixins
  • Salad Dressing
  • Sorbet or Gelato
  • 8 oz heavy cream or milk
  • 4 – 6 fresh basil leaves
  • 20 oz frozen cheese ravioli
  • 6 oz parmesan cheese
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 4 mushrooms
  • 4 green onions

Also: rosemary, lemon juice, salt, pepper, olive oil, chicken broth, garlic, basil, oregano

Originally posted December 2009



Full Dinner Menu:Cream of Potato Soup, Orange-Walnut Spinach Salad and Pear and Sour Cherry Crisp

The deep chill set in last week and shows no sign of leaving, so it had to be soup tonight. I just made a big pot of potato soup from leftover mashed potatoes and a few whole potatoes I sliced on my new mandolin to help get me through the big freeze. I thought it should then be the theme for tonight’s menu.


I’ve been eyeing mandolins for a while and settled on one that would be useful for how seldom I would use it. So far I really liked it. I did invest in a glove to prevent adding my fingertips to any meal prep. So between that and the new camera, I’m hoping to wow you with some pretty plates in the coming weeks.


But until then, here is tonight’s full menu and shopping list:


There’s nothing better on a cold night than Creamy Potato Cheese Soup.  I rarely peel potatoes, I scrub the skins thoroughly and that’s good enough for me. It also saves a lot of time and potato skins are full of good things. Yes, there is cheese, but milk instead of cream, and you can even use non-fat milk without noticing any loss. I threw the Pear and Sour Cherry Crisp in at the last minute, because to me, fall is all about fruit crisps.

On the board tonight:

  1. Cream of Potato Cheese Soup
  2. Orange-Walnut Spinach Salad
  3. Pear and Sour Cherry Crisp

Cream of Potato Cheese Soup

  • 6 large potatoes, cubed (peeling opt)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • ½ tsp ea: sage, rosemary, basil
  • 4 cups milk
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 8 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
  • salt & pepper to taste

Lg. saucepan (2 to 4 qt)

In saucepan or Dutch oven, cover potatoes with water and boil until fork tender, drain all but 2 cups water. Add onions, garlic and spices to potatoes*. In a bowl mix together  milk, flour, salt & pepper. Mix well, no lumps, add melted butter. Add to potatoes and mix well.  Bring to a low boil, stirring constantly, add cheese, reduce to low and simmer for 15 minutes.

*A great trick is to remove about ½ cup of the cooked potatoes and mash, then add back into soup, this gives you an extra creamy texture.

Orange-Walnut Spinach Salad

  • 10 oz spinach, washed
  • 2 oranges, peeled, remove white skin & cut into chunks (you can substitute equivalent canned mandarin orange slices)
  • ½ red onion, sliced in rings
  • 1 oz bleu cheese, crumbled
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • Raspberry-walnut dressing

large salad bowl

Tear spinach leaves. Layer in a large salad bowl. Top with orange chunks, onion, sprinkle blue cheese and walnuts. Add dressing & toss before serving.

Pears & Sour Cherry Crisp


  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 stick butter (1/2 cup)

Combine dry ingredients and cut in butter until mixture is crumbly


  • 4 large fresh pears, cored, peeled and sliced
  • 1 ½ cups frozen pitted cherries, thawed
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • ¼ cup sugar

8×8 baking dish, greased

Combine pears, cherries, sugar, & cornstarch. Spread in baking dish. Top fruit mixture with flour topping. Bake at 375° for 25 to 34 minutes, topping should be golden & pears tender.

Shopping List:

  • 6 large potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 1 red onion
  • 4 cups milk
  • 8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
  • 10 oz spinach
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 oz bleu cheese,
  • 4 oz chopped walnuts
  • Raspberry-walnut dressing
  • 1 stick + 3 tbsp butter
  • 4 large fresh pears
  • 12 oz frozen pitted cherries

Also: cornstarch, sugar, brown sugar, flour, oatmeal, cinnamon, sage, rosemary, basil, garlic

Originally posted November 2009


Friday Recipe Exchange: Let’s Talk Stews

DSC_5396 [1600x1200]

Phew, almost forgot about the recipe exchange – was out house hunting and lost track of time.

I am just not sure how it got to November 1st already. I am not ready for the holiday season to begin. I am thinking about Christmas Eve dinner menu, though, because I am hosting again this year. Suppose to visit family for Thanksgiving, but that may not happen, so I might have to begin to think about that menu, as well.

BTW, in case you missed it – and if you visited the blog anytime in the last week, how could you have – my beloved Boston Red Sox are World Series Champions.

I decided it was stew weather. When things get chilly and busy, stew is one of those things I love to have slow cooking when I get home in the evening.  In my mind, stew is best when it’s simple: meat, potatoes, carrots, turnips or rutabaga, onions, salt, pepper and a bay leaf.  But I understand that there are as many stews as there are families who enjoy them. With that in mind I have a few recipes and the featured recipe will be a simple one that you can add anything to that suits your fancy.

Let’s start with the Dinner Menu this week, which is Spicy Chicken Stew and Sweet Potatoes with Apples (click here).

Tes at Home had a Beef Stew with Apples, link here.

I have a Beef Stew in Wine with both pressure cooker and slow-cooker instructions here.

And finally JeffreyW does a Guinness Lamb Stew, pictured above and recipe here.

What’s on the menu for the weekend? How do you dress up your stew recipes? Hit the comments and share your tips.

Now for the featured recipe with bonus biscuits:

Beef Stew

  • 1 lb chuck, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 4-6 small potatoes, quartered
  • 2 small turnips or rutabaga, peeled and quartered
  • 8 oz baby carrots, halved
  • pinch of rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves (remove before serving)
  • ½ tsp ea. salt & pepper
  • 7 cups water
  • 2 tbsp flour

slow-cooker, skillet

Heat oil in skillet and brown beef (you can do this the  night before and refrigerate with all the pan drippings). Place meat, onion, turnip or rutabaga, potatoes, carrots & spices in the slow-cooker,  add 6 cups water and cook according to slow-cooker directions, (usually 8 to 10 hours on low). Before serving, turn heat to high, mix 1 cup water and flour completely, add to stew, stirring constantly, and cook additional 10-15 minutes.

Wheat Biscuits

  • 1-1/2 cups white flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup milk

large bowl and baking sheet

Mix dry ingredients together, cut in shortening, add milk. Stir quickly with a fork until completely moistened, don’t over mix. Knead gently on floured surface for 10-12 strokes. Roll out to ½ inch thick, cut into biscuits. Place on baking sheet and bake at 450° for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown.


Dinner Menu: Grilled Steak with Coffee Rub

A friend of mine spent a few months one summer experimenting with coffee rubs. This was one of my favorites. If you need something fun to do with your next grilled steak, this is a recipe to try. And with my love of blueberries, can’t go wrong with a blueberry coffeecake.  Yum.

On the board tonight:

  1. Steak with Coffee Rub
  2. Green Beans w/Bacon & Onion
  3. Baked Potatoes
  4. Blueberry CoffeeCake

Steak with Coffee Rub

  • 3 tbsp chili powder (pure ancho or a blend)
  • 3 tbsp finely ground coffee (espresso works best)
  • 1 ½ tbsp paprika (use a good one)
  • 1 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 to 1-1/2 lb of steak (rib-eye, sirloin, NY strip, etc) in 4 thick pieces

Mix together all spices. Lightly rub each steak with oil and then coat liberally on both sides with coffee rub. Now you can cook in a pre-heated skillet on medium-high heat, 5 to 7 minutes each side for medium rare. You can broil in the oven, using the second slot down from broiler, for 5 minutes each side, again for rare to medium rare, longer for medium. Or if you’re lucky (sigh) you can grill them outside. Cooking times will vary no matter which style you choose, so watch carefully and you’ll probably have to use a meat thermometer to really judge, because the rub makes it a little harder to eyeball it. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Green Beans w/Bacon & Onions

  • 1 lb fresh or frozen green beans (if fresh, snap off ends and snap into smaller pieces)
  • 2 strips bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste

Sm. Saucepan, steamer and Skillet

Steam beans until slightly crisp, but tender. While beans are steaming, begin browning bacon until crisp. You can drain most of the bacon drippings, leaving 1 tbsp to lightly coat beans. Add onions. Drain beans and dab with a paper towel. Add to bacon mixture, mixing well, until beans are coated in bacon drippings. Cook on medium-low for 1 to 2 minutes, until onions are heated through.

Blueberry CoffeeCake

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp cultured buttermilk powder (or 1 cup butter milk  & omit water)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 8 oz frozen blueberries


  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup flour

8×8 baking dish, greased

2 bowls

In bowl, add flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, buttermilk and mix well. Make a well in the center add egg, water & oil. Stir quickly until all everything is mixed well, but don’t over mix. Fold in blueberries. Spread batter evenly in baking dish. In bowl, mix topping ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over the top of batter. Bake at 400° for 25-30 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.

Shopping List:

  • 3 tbsp chili powder (pure ancho or a blend)
  • 3 tbsp finely ground coffee (espresso works best)
  • 1 ½ tbsp paprika (a good one)
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 to 1-1/2 lb of steak
  • 1 lb fresh or frozen green beans
  • 2 strips bacon
  • 4 green onions
  • 4 tbsp cultured buttermilk powder or 1 cup buttermilk
  • egg
  • 8 oz blueberries

Also: brown sugar, butter, flour, vegetable oil, vanilla, salt, baking powder, sugar, fresh ground pepper

Ginger Glazed Carrots

Originally posted December 2009.

I thought I’d post a few vegetable recipes this week.  I often prefer my vegetables raw or lightly stir-fried, so I don’t do many fancy veggie recipes.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a bunch of those recipes in my arsenal! I use them a lot when having friends or family over for dinner.  We’ll start with this one:

Ginger Glazed Carrots

  • 1 lb baby carrots, washed
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 2 tsp to 1 tbsp butter
  • salt as desired

saucepan and steamer basket

Place steamer in saucepan, add enough water to come to the bottom of the steamer.  Add carrots, bring to a boil and steam until tender (about 5 minutes).  Remove carrots and steamer, drain water from the saucepan, add carrots and remaining ingredients to saucepan and stir on low heat until carrots are coated with honey and butter.  Serve immediately.

Thursday Recipe Exchange: Steak with Coffee Rub

JeffreyW’s Loaded Baked Potato would be great with Coffee Rubbed Steak

It’s another one of those Colorado weeks where it’s impossible not to want to be outside all day. Beautiful, warm spring weather, the flowering locusts are in full splendor making my evening bike rides fragrant and still cool enough at night to need a blanket…or a cat…or several. I’m halfway through my horseback riding lessons, I’m finally comfortable with my posting trot, but feel like my major accomplishment is being able to adjust my stirrups from the saddle. I also managed to get my deck flower pots planted, though I always want more than I have space for, I’m satisfied with what I’ve done for this season. It is definitely outdoor season here.  What’s on your weekend agenda? Planning on grilling for Mother’s Day?  What is your favorite food item to grill?

In honor of the great weather, I thought tonight should be about grilling. Steak to be specific. This rub is a favorite of a couple of readers, so I thought it was a good time to repeat it. This can be used with any cut of steak, though I originally had it on rib eye. It’s too heavy to use on poultry or white fish, but I would be tempted to try on swordfish or maybe salmon. Easy to do and adds a real dramatic flavor.

Steak with Coffee Rub

  • 3 tbsp chili powder (talking the good stuff here, pure ancho or a blend)
  • 3 tbsp finely ground coffee (espresso works best)
  • 1 ½ tbsp paprika (again, you want a good one)
  • 1 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 to 1-1/2 lb of steak (rib-eye, sirloin, NY strip, etc) in 4 thick pieces

Mix together all spices. Lightly rub each steak with oil and then coat liberally on both sides with coffee rub. Now you can cook in a pre-heated skillet on medium-high heat, 5 to 7 minutes each side for medium rare. You can broil in the oven, using the second slot down from broiler, for 5 minutes each side, again for rare to medium rare, longer for medium. You can grill them outside. Cooking times will vary depending on which steak cut you choose, so watch carefully and you’ll probably have to use a meat thermometer to really judge, because the rub makes it a little harder to eyeball it. Let rest for a few minutes before serving.

Thursday Recipe Exchange: Potato Soups

Cross-posted at Balloon-Juice.

 Spicy Potato Soup_Snap2

It’s suppose to be record warm temperatures this weekend, so it’s not quite soup weather. I do expect either at least one more big snow or some spring rains (hopefully), so it is still soup season in my mind. I love soups and fall-winter-spring lunches are often homemade soup.  Quick and easy to take to work and reheat.  I make a big pot on Sunday and it usually gets me through the week, add fruit or salad and lunch is cheap and healthy.

This week I made a pot of Creamy Potato Soup and almost immediately knew what I really wanted was the Italian potato soup I usually make. So that is my plan this evening, to put together a pot of this:

Zuppa Toscana

  • 8 oz ground beef or (4 0z ground beef & 4 oz spicy sausage)
  • 6 green onions, chopped (including greens)
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic, divided
  • 6 -8 medium potatoes, sliced thin (do not peel)
  • 3 cups chicken broth (or equivalent)
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tsp to 1 tbsp dried basil, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 cup spinach or kale, chopped
  • grated Parmesan

Large dutch oven or saucepan

Heat pan and brown ground beef, onion and 1 tsp garlic.  Remove and set aside.  Add chicken broth, water and potatoes to pan, bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender.  Add meat mixture, spices and milk and let simmer on medium-low, stirring occasionally to makes sure milk doesn’t scald.  Just before serving, add spinach or kale and let simmer 2 minutes.  Serve with grated Parmesan.

Now hit the comments and share your favorite soups, potato or otherwise. Next week: Chicken & Vegetables

Thursday Night Before Christmas Menu: Christmas Morning Edition

I’ve decided this will be our traditional Thursday Night before Christmas Menu. One quick note,  if you haven’t seen it, JeffW has a great shot our blog mascot and his hero here.

From 2009:

This is my traditional Christmas morning breakfast. These are simple to make and taste so good.   And of course I’ve included a recipe for Santa’s cookies, ‘cause you know the better the cookies, the better the presents he leaves you, so you don’t want to be leaving any store-bought cookies.  On the board tonight:

  1. German Pancakes
  2. Walnut Syrup
  3. Sliced Peaches
  4. Santa Cookies

German Pancakes

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • ½ cup butter

2 oven proof skillets, large mixing bowl & 2 large plates

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Place skillets in oven and heat.

You’ll need to cook these in two batches. Mix all ingredients together except butter, scraping sides of bowl frequently. Batter will be lumpy. Do not over mix.

Melt 2 tbsp of butter in each skillet, swirling around sides. Ladle ¼ of batter into each skillet. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Remove to two large plates, cut into each in half and serve. Top with syrup or powdered sugar.

Cook remaining batter. Add 2 tbsp of butter to pans, swirl, split remaining batter, bake for 15-20 minutes while everyone chows down on first batch.   Serve with walnut syrup or powdered sugar and sliced peaches.  Serves 4

Walnut Syrup

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts


Heat sugars, syrup and water to low boil. Reduce heat, simmer until thickened, 10-12 minutes. Stir in butter & nuts. Great over ice cream, too

Santa Cookies

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 ¼ cup flour
  • colored sugars or colored frosting

mixing bowl &  baking sheets

Cream butter & sugar with electric mixer. Add sugar, baking powder, salt and mix well. Beat in egg, vanilla and 1 cup flour. At this point you’ll probably have to hand mix the last 1 ¼ cups of flour. Cover and chill for 1 hour. Divide dough in half. Refrigerate ½, roll out other half to ¼- ½ inch thick. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes, bake at 325 degrees for 7-8 minutes (don’t over cook). Decorate with colored sugars immediately or with frosting after they’ve cooled. Repeat with remaining dough. Makes 36 cookies…enough for Santa and all the reindeer.

Shopping List

  • Peaches
  • 5 cups flour
  • 9 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 sticks (1-1/2 cups) + butter
  • 2 oz light corn syrup
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • colored frostings and sugars, other cookie decorations as desired

Also: baking powder, salt, vanilla

Cinnamon Swirl Sour Cream Bread

I have made this bread for several years and tinkered with the recipe until I’ve gotten it to where I like it.  It started out as cinnamon buttermilk bread, but last year I had an abundance of sour cream in my fridge and swapped sour cream for the buttermilk, but it turned out a little heavy, so the next batch I split them – 1 cup of sour cream, 1 cup of buttermilk.  In case there is anyone who doesn’t know, there are a couple of tricks for getting the benefit of baking with buttermilk, but not actually having to buy any.  The first one is to make your own.  Actually what you’re making is sour milk, but can be substituted for buttermilk without making any difference in taste or texture.  You add one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of milk, stir and let it sit for 5 minutes.  The other is to buy buttermilk powder.  I get mine from King Arthur Flour, but I know there are brands that you can buy at your local grocery store.  Just follow the directions on the package for proportions. You can also substitute plain yogurt for sour cream.


Cinnamon Swirl Sour Cream Bread


4 cups all purpose flour (17 oz)

2 teaspoons of baking soda

1 teaspoon of salt

1/2 cup of canola or vegetable oil (3 1/2 oz)

1 cup sour cream (8 oz)

1 cup of buttermilk (8 oz)

1 1/2 cup sugar (10 1/2 oz)

2 eggs

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

1 cup brown sugar (8 oz)

1/2 chopped nuts – optional


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small bowl mix the flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In another small bowl mix together the cinnamon and brown sugar, set aside.

In a mixing bowl cream the oil and sugar until fluffy.  Add in eggs one at a time, mix in until incorporated.  Add in the sour cream and buttermilk, mix until combined.

Add in all of the dry ingredients at one time, mix gently until just combined.

Stir in nuts if you are adding them.

Pour batter evenly into 2 – 9×5 in loaf pans  or 4 – 3×5 mini loaf pans.

Sprinkle even amounts of cinnamon and brown sugar mix onto the top of each loaf and swirl with a knife or a chopstick.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 45-55 minutes for the large pans or 25-35 minutes for the little pans, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.


I like to bake this bread in disposable foil pans, wrap them up in foil or plastic wrap, put a bow on them and give them for gifts.



Christmas Baking

Here’s my Christmas sweets and baking list.  Marshmallow cream fudge – chocolate, dark chocolate, peanut butter, and white chocolate, 6 layer bars, snowball cookies, cinnamon swirl-sour cream bread, banana bread, peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies for Santa, cheesecake for Christmas dinner and applesauce-cinnamon ornaments.

Yes, it’s a tad late to be starting on my holiday baking, but I didn’t think it was such a hot idea to bake  too much while I was regularly trying to cough up a lung. But my cough has finally waned, so I feel like I can bake without posting an “baked with love and germs” note on all of my baked goods.

I’ve been making marshmallow cream fudge since long before I knew much about cooking and if I tried a different recipe my family would probably up and move out of the house.  I’m a fan of making things from scratch as much as I can and forgoing processed food full of preservatives as much as possible, but I absolutely make an exception for marshmallow cream fudge.  I love how the fluffy stuff lightens up the confection and there seems to be enough non synthetic-chemical enhanced  ingredients in the recipe to kill the chemical taste.  I follow the recipe on the marshmallow cream jar with a few changes depending on the flavor.  The first thing is that I use Ghiradelli chocolate.  I fell in love with Ghiradelli when I went to San Fransisco when I was 21 and toured the Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory at Fisherman’s Wharf.  Since then European baking chocolate has become pretty easy to find, even in most grocery stores and reasonably affordable.  I’ve tried several different brands, but I always come back to Ghiradelli to make brownies and fudge  (and their Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa makes the best hot chocolate ever, in my opinion).

I use the  60% Cacao Bittersweet chocolate to make my dark chocolate fudge and their semi-sweet chocolate for the regular chocolate fudge and follow the general directions for Fantasy Fudge on the marshmallow cream jar (sans nuts, my kids are crazy, but not nutty).  The white chocolate and peanut butter versions are a little trickier.  Good white chocolate should have cocoa butter as the first listed ingredient (at least 20%).  But that means it’s a lot softer and oilier than regular chocolate.  So for the white chocolate and the peanut butter, I reduce the amount of butter and cook it a little longer.

Here’s the recipe with all the variations.

Marshmallow Cream Fudge

3 cups sugar – 21 0z

3/4 cup unsalted butter – 6 0z  (no, I will not use margarine to bake or cook, ever) for chocolate or dark chocolate  or

1/2 cup unsalted butter – 4 oz  for white chocolate or peanut butter

2/3 cup of evaporated milk – 6 oz

1/4 teaspoon of salt for chocolate, dark chocolate or white chocolate and 1/2 teaspoon for peanut butter

12 oz of semi-sweet, bittersweet or white chocolate (3 bars of Ghiradelli) or 1 1/2 cups of peanut butter – 14 1/4 oz

1   7 0z jar of marshmallow cream

1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract for chocolate or dark chocolate, 2 teaspoons for white chocolate or 1/2 teaspoon for peanut butter.

1 cup of nuts – optional

Break the chocolate into reasonably small pieces, they don’t have to be tiny by any means, your sugar syrup is going to be over 200 degrees, it will melt a good sized piece of chocolate.  Ghiradelli baking bars can be broken into the squares marked on the bars.  Set aside.

Now the recipe on the jar tells you to mix the sugar, butter and evaporated milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly  in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes.  This might get you the texture you want and then again it might not.  In my case, usually not.  If I don’t use a candy thermometer I almost always crystalize my sugar.

So I mix the sugar, butter, salt and evaporated milk  in a heavy saucepan.  Clip on my handy-dandy candy thermometer (I have a brand new digital one to try this year, I can’t wait) and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly with a silicon whisk and cook until it reaches the lower end of soft ball stage (which is  235-245 degrees) for chocolate or dark chocolate or the upper end for white chocolate or peanut butter .  Then I add the chocolate or peanut butter and stir like fire with a wooden spoon for at least 3 minutes or until the mixture goes from shiny to matte (an Alton Brown trick to keep the sugar from crystalizing).   Add the vanilla and the marshmallow cream, stirring until the marshmallow is mixed in (or not, it looks kind of neat all streaky).  Add in the nuts if you got ’em  and pour into an 8 x 8 or 9 x 13 in pan (I line mine with foil or waxed paper for easy removal and clean-up).   Cool until it’s set and room temp all the way through.  Cut into squares, eat and go into sugar shock.

Two of the above recipes are so easy that they don’t require a full post.  My 6 layer bars are Magic Bars without, you guessed it, the nuts, which is why they only have 6 layers.  I love this recipe, you don’t have to mix anything, you melt the butter in your baking pan, pour in the graham cracker crumbs, mix them with the butter, press into the bottom of the pan with a spoon, sprinkle the chocolate and butterscotch chips in the pan (I don’t even bother to measure them out, I use about half of a bag), sprinkle on the coconut, pour a can of sweetened condensed milk over the whole deal and bake them for half an hour at 350 degrees F.  Voila and yum.

The apple sauce-cinnamon ornaments are a tradition in my house, we have to make new ones every couple of years because they aren’t terribly durable and we add new people to the family.  You take equal amounts of cheap applesauce and cheap cinnamon (seriously, you’re not eating it, so don’t splurge on expensive Vietnamese cinnamon – generic will do fine).  Stir the cinnamon into the applesauce until you have a stiff, but malleable dough.  Throw in any old ground holiday spices you might have taking up space in your spice cabinet if you want to, ground ginger, ground cloves, allspice, nutmeg.  If they’ve been in there for more than a year or two the smell will add a nice touch to the ornaments but probably won’t taste very good.  Just make sure you are at about equal proportions apple sauce to spices.  Roll the dough out to 1/4 – 1/8 of an inch and use holiday cookie cutters to cut out shapes.  If you want to use them as ornaments use a straw to punch out a little hole in the top to thread a ribbon through.  We write names on ours while they are still wet so everyone has a new ornament.  You can even fancy them up and wait until they are dry and decorate with glitter. Some recipes say to just dry them for 24 hours on a cooling rack, but I prefer to to put mine in the oven at 150 degrees F for 2-3 hours until they are completely dried through and there are no damp spots in the middle.  The cooking method makes them a bit more brittle, but the smell that infuses your house is worth it.

I’ll post the recipes for the rest of my list over the next few days.  The snowball cookies are new for me, but the rest of them, I’ve made for years, though I  haven’t decided what flavor of cheese cake to do yet, so that might end up being a new adventure since I’d like to try something different.