Sunday, December 14, 2008

Family Traditions in Food....

The not quite a cookie exchange cookie exchange party!

So, every year I host a cookie exchange, and everyone brings anywhere from 8-12 dozen cookies to be exchanged, and everyone leaves with a variety of goodies to take home. This year, I was going to have a party, but not ask everyone to bring cookies...just an informal gathering of friends and family to celebrate the upcoming holidays and being together. I'd serve appetizer type foods, and a dessert, and that would be that. Well, since I had to make dessert anyway, I decided to go ahead and make cookies (ok, well, certain people who shall remain unnamed were begging me for cookies! lol). Next thing I knew, Mom was making cookies too (my favorites!), and my sister in law was making fudge, and my friend brought over more appetizers...we ended up with a whole lot of goodies! So, in the spirit of giving inspired by the season, here are some recipes for you! Merry Christmas!

First up: Artichoke Dip. I came up with this version, because all of the recipes I found called for spinach, and I wanted a dip that focused solely on the delectible artichoke hearts. It's a quick mix and bake recipe that everyone loves.
  • 1 cup mayo (I used the olive oil kind)
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 2 small jars marinated artichoke hearts
  • 1 cup Quattro Fromaggio (a 4 cheese blend: parmesan, asiago, provolone & fontina)
  • 1 1/2 tsp fine ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
Combine everything except the paprika and spread into a baking dish. I used a 6x9" glass dish. Bake at 350* for 30 min. Sprinkle with paprika, and serve with thinly sliced pieces of baguette, tortilla chips, or crackers (or all of them!)

This is a Veggie 'Pizza'. It's a really simple appetizer to make. You just use Pillsbury crescent rolls, baked flat in a single sheet. Combine 8 ounces each sour cream and cream cheese with your favorite ranch dip/dressing seasoning and spread that over the crescent roll base, then top with an assortment of fresh veggies. Tasty and simple, what more could you want? :)

Here we have a dip that is a family tradition going back a couple generations. It's an easy take on pate that my Mom made every year on New Year's Eve, and my family loves it too!
  • 8 ounces braunschweiger
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 cup chopped green olives (with pimientos)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
Combine the braunschweiger and cream cheese until thoroughly mixed. (I use the paddle attachment on my stand mixer for this). Add in olives, green onions, and worcestershire to taste. Transfer to a crock, cover with plastic wrap and chill for several hours to allow flavors to meld. This can be made a couple days in advance. Remove from fridge 15-20 min prior to serving.

Next up, Cappuccino Love Bites! These are a buttery cookie that's been rolled in a combination of turbinado sugar and instant espresso, baked, then topped with a Hershey's Hugs. Tastes like a drink from your favorite coffee house!

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp espresso or milk
  • 2 1/4 c flour (all purpose)
  • 1/2 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1/2 cup instant coffee or espresso
  • 48 Hershey's Hugs, unwrapped
Cream butter & sugar until light and fluffy. Whisk together flour, baking powder, & salt. To the butter, add the egg, vanilla, and milk or espresso; beat just until combined. Add dry ingredients; beat just until combined. Don't over-mix. Spoon dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, and roll like a log. Chill 1 hour or until firm. Divide dough into 1" balls. Combine turbinado sugar and instant coffee; roll balls in mixture. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet (spray is fine), and bake at 350*f for 10 min. Tops will crack slightly. Don't allow sides to color. Immediately top each cookie with a Hug, and, if desired, swirl the hug with the tip of a spoon or knife while still warm.

Candy Cane meringues are something I started making a few years back, and they are hugely popular with our clan! Make a basic meringue and flavor it with peppermint extract. Be sure to use extract, not oil. Pipe onto parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with crushed candy canes. Put into a 225*f oven for about 90 min, or until perfectly dry. When completely cooled, dip bottoms into melted dark chocolate. That's it!
Next to the meringues: Lacies. A simple mixture of 1/2 c brown sugar, 7 tbsp of butter, 3/4 c flour and 1 cup chopped almonds. Spoon onto buttered cookie sheet and bake at 375*f until thin and deep golden, about 10 min. Sandwich cooled cookies with melted chocolate..yum!

Last but definitely *not* least! I saved them for last because they are the best! French Christmas Cookies. These little morsels are decadent and delicious. The combination of flavors works so perfectly together, you'll wonder why you hadn't thought of it sooner! And the best part about making them at Christmas is the recipe makes dozens and dozens of cookies, so you have lots to share with your family and friends!

  • 40 Graham cracker singles (2 packs from a box)
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups finely chopped pecans
  • 1 (12 ounce) bag mini chocolate chips
  • 1 cup half & half
Heat oven to 375*f. Line a baking sheet with candy cups (smaller than mini-muffin cups, these are available at crafts stores like Michael's or at candy/cake making supply stores).
Place the graham crackers into a ziploc bag, and roll over them with a rolling pin. You want them crushed, but not to a powder.
Cream butter and sugar. Add crushed grahams; mix. Add pecans & mini chips; mix. Add half & half, mix until thoroughly combined. Fill each candy cup 3/4 full. Bake for 10-12 minutes; just until set. Do not overbake!
For the icing:
  • 1 (12 oz) pkg chocolate chips
  • 1 (12 oz) pkg butterscotch chips
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
Combine and melt together, stirring often, until completely melted and smooth (except for nuts if using chunky peanut butter! lol). For ease and speed, fill a baggie with this mixture and snip a small hole on one corner and pipe the icing onto the cookies.

There you have it! Recipes for some of our traditional family favorites for the holiday season! I hope everyone has a wonderfully Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hannukah...just a Joyous Season! Oh, and Happy New Year too!! Enjoy!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas....

....And if it keeps up the way it was today where I'm headed, it looks like I will have one! FINALLY! After 20 some odd years in California for Christmases, GREEN Christmases. I know this isn't really food related, but to make it up to you, I will share a recipe that I love at the end of this post. In the meantime....doesn't it look beautiful???

When I was a kid, every Christmas was a white one and I didn't really know that it could be any other way for a long time. It takes some getting used to, these green Christmases. One year, it was 78 degrees! On Christmas! Crazy, I tell you! Some people thrive on it, I know...but I like the Norman Rockwell, Bing Crosby, White Christmas! Ok enough about that. As promised, here is a recipe, one that will surely become a family favorite for many, as it has for us.

Rocky Road Bars
1 (12 ounce) pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (12 ounce) pkg butterscotch chips
1 cup chunky peanut butter
1 bag mini marshmallows (white or, for the holidays, they often have colors)

Line a 9x13" baking pan with aluminum foil, and spread a very thin sheen of butter.
Melt the chips carefully in the microwave or in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Stir in the peanut butter until thoroughly combined. Stir in the marshmallows. Immediately pour into the buttered pan, spreading to the edges evenly. Chill to set, 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator at least 20 minutes prior to cutting, or you will be there all day! :) Cut into small squares, this is rich stuff! But it is a tasty alternative to fudge (or accompaniment, depending on your sweet tooth!), and everyone who tries it usually ends up asking for more!

Happy Holidays! More recipes to come!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Apple Pom Pie by Alexis

Alexis Bakes Her First Pie

Here is the recipe as requested by several people for the Apple-Pom Pie that Alexis baked on Thanksgiving. It was her first pie that was all her own from start to finish, and I'm very proud of her for trying something completely new. The pie was delicious warm, with a scoop of ice cream (cinnamon, yay!). It was also delicious warmed up the next day! The pie crust recipe below is my standard go-to crust that I got from my mom and it works for almost any pie.

2 1/2 cups pastry or all purpose flour
1 cup cold butter, lard, or Smart Balance shortening
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2-4 Tbsp ice cold water

Whisk together the flour, salt & sugar, then cut in the butter. You can use a pastry cutter, two knives, or a processor...whichever method you're most comfortable with, until the mixture is crumbly and the pieces are no bigger than a pea. Add 2 tbsp water, and mix lightly with a fork. If needed, add more water, 1 tsp at a time, until the dough comes together when squeezed in your palm. Shape into a disk and refrigerate.

Apple-Pom Pie
8-10 apples (see **note), peeled, cored and sliced
1/4 cup fresh pomegranate juice
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup sugar
4 tbsp quick cooking tapioca
2 tsp cinnamon

**Note: For the best results, use a variety of apples like Granny Smith, Empire, Pink Lady, Ida Red...local apples are terrific in pies!

Combine all of the filling ingredients, tossing with your hands or a large spoon. We used a fresh pomegranate, pressed through a fine mesh strainer, to get the juice, but a bottled juice would work if you don't have fresh available.

Prepare crust as directed. After 20 min chill time, roll crust to fit a 9" - 9.5" pie plate, with enough around the rim to create a nice fluted pattern. This will not only look good, but also help keep everything *in* the pie! Fill with apple mixture, then prepare topping as below:

for the topping:
3/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
1 stick butter
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats

Combine with your fingertips, rubbing the butter in, until it resembles coarse crumbs. Carefully top the pie, lightly pressing with the palm of your hands to keep in place.

Place pie in the oven at 400*f for 15 min, then reduce heat to 325*f and bake for another 40-55 min, or until top is deep golden brown and apples are fork tender. Place on a wire rack and let set for at least 30 min before serving.