Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas Blondies - like Fruitcake, Only Better!

Here's Cookie # 2 for my holiday season:  The Christmas Blondie.  It's a holiday take on the standard Toll House Blondie bar, but "seasoned" up with candied cherries, a little nip of cherry brandy (or juice), and toasted walnuts.  This is not your Grandma's fruitcake recipe.  The picture, from the Better Homes and Gardens Web site, is so beautiful that it inspires me to make these bar cookies asap, and in mass quantities.  My friends, pretend you don't see this, because it's going to be a major player in this year's foodie gifts!  The Christmas Blondie is a new addition to my Christmas tradition, and perhaps to yours as well.

Christmas Blondies


Prep: 15 minutes
Bake: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2/3 cup butter, softened
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. cherry brandy or cherry juice (optional)
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted*
3/4 cup chopped white or dark sweet chocolate
1/2 cup coarsely chopped candied cherries

Directions

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13x9-inch baking pan.

2. In large mixing bowl beat butter on medium speed 30 seconds. Add brown sugar; beat until well-combined. Beat in eggs, brandy, baking powder, vanilla, and salt. Add flour; beat just until blended. Stir in nuts, chocolate, and cherries. Spread in prepared pan.

3. Bake 30 minutes or until golden. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut in bars. Makes 24 bars.

4. *Spread nuts in shallow baking pan. Toast in 350 degree F oven for 5 minutes.
Photo and recipe credit, Better Homes and Gardenshttp://m.bhg.com/recipe/bars/christmas-blondies/

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thinking About Cookies

I'm not ready to commit to a list of definites, but I do have Christmas cookies on my mind.  There are some standards that will likely be made:  gingerbread men (and women), peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses, jam thumbprints -- some rolled in coconut, some in chopped nuts, and filled with my friend Catherine's prize-winning jam -- and sugar cookies (Alton Brown's recipe).  Each year I make that simple fudge with the Marshmallow Fluff and chocolate chips.  One cookie that will definitely be on my Christmas platter is the chocolate crinkle (recipe below).  It's a soft, fudgy ball of a cookie, rolled in confectioners sugar just before it goes in the oven, and once it's baked, the surface is cracked all over - thus the name.  They're very pretty.  Another recipe I'm interested in making is one I saw in a magazine at the checkout counter at the grocery store -- a bar cookie, a Christmas blondie, with walnuts, candied cherries, and almond extract.  It's like a fruitcake cookie only so much more interesting! 

There are other traditional desserts that have come out of my Christmas kitchen over the years, many of which have been popular requests by friends during the holidays.  I make a Grand Marnier pound cake, mini-cheesecakes, pie-crust cookies, and apple jelly. Then there's "reindeer food," a prettier version of trail mix which is a concoction of rice chex, mini-pretzels, M&Ms, various nuts, raisins and dried cranberries, all tossed in a thin coating of melted white chocolate, resulting in a snowy-frosted bowl of colorful goodness which is especially pretty presented in a Mason jar with a Christmas ribbon.   And of course, this year Katie and I will attempt a more elaborate gingerbread house.  We're getting good at that, and it'll be fun putting a new creation together. 

Over the next few weeks, I'll be bringing you my recipes for the cookies and treats mentioned above.  I'll start by reintroducing my recipe for Chocolate Crinkles from last December.  You can find it linked here and also printed below.  In the meantime, I'll look for new recipes that hopefully will be woven into already-established traditions and go on to become family favorites for generations. 

Here's to creating new traditions in your home!

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
(Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Baking)
originally posted on ADK Baker December 17, 2009

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c cocoa
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
4 large eggs
2 c granulated sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 c chocolate chips (I like to use Ghiradelli bittersweet, but any semi-sweet will do)
1/2 c confectioners’ sugar

Melt the butter and chocolate on top of a double boiler, over simmering water, and stir often. Remove and set aside to cool a bit.

In a small bowl, stir together the dry ingredients — flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, granulated sugar, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate mixture on low speed until blended. Add the dry ingredients and beat until incorporated. The dough will be stiff, but you must persevere: mix in the chocolate chips by hand.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a good long while, at least 2 hours. I sometimes leave the dough in the fridge overnight.

Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 325. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl.

Roll a rounded tablespoon of dough between your palms into a 1 1/2 inch ball, and toss it around in the powdered sugar. Place the cookies about 3 inches apart on the cookie sheet.Bake the cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until the tops are puffed and crinkled and feel firm when lightly touched, about 13-17 mins. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Photo image credit: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_Mxd4DmGVwxk/S9h3mFv6HKI/AAAAAAAAAqk/_lbpcCveug4/s1600/merry-christmas-cookies-wallpaper-for-desktops.jpg

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Enter the Holidays, and Kathryn's Cornbread Casserole

I've always resisted any indication of the holiday season while there are still leaves on the trees here in upstate New York, while warm breezes still blow, and before Halloween even arrives.  But now that Thanksgiving, what I consider to be the gateway holiday to the season, has come and gone, I'm eager to listen to Christmas carols on the radio, to begin to think about the perfect gift for someone, or try to remember where I packed away the lights and tree stand!  When he arrived Wednesday night, Russ brought me a beautiful pine wreath with a big red bow, and it is hanging on the door to my apartment.  So it begins.  Now, I can enthusiastically embrace what will unfold over the next four weeks.

As the gateway holiday, this Thanksgiving was a fine example.  Katie created a warm and welcoming atmosphere, and cooked up a storm.  She brined a 23-pound turkey, made her own whole-cranberry sauce, a cranberry walnut salad with blue cheese, a great mashed potato casserole from Cooks Country, and a pumpkin soup.  She also made a terrific artichoke dip.  She set a beautiful table.  This dinner was a combined effort, however.  Katie's mother-in-law Penny brought a pumpkin custard,  made the stuffing, and cooked up an abundance of gravy just before the meal was served.  Kathryn, Katie's dad's wife, made a delicious cornbread casserole and an incredible pumpkin spice cake from a recipe from Country Living Magazine.  My contributions were a green bean casserole with fresh mushrooms, a pumpkin pie (had to have it), and a mile-high chocolate cream pie for the genetically predisposed in my family.  Sydney made a huge apple-raisin crisp, and Russ brought an apple-cranberry pie, home-made and lovingly purchased from the deli across the street from his home in Union Springs.  In addition to all this, there was a table-full of appetizers including shrimp, cheese and crackers, and an Indian pastry, Samosas, that my son-in-law Bill loves.  Dinner was served on fine china that Bill's father, Richard, brought back from Japan, purchased during his tour-of-duty as a gift for his mother.  Katie broke out the Hofmann family silver, which made it all very special.


Poor Tom, though he was delicious!

 There were 13 of us for dinner, including Henry, who very happily sat in his high chair and spooned gravy over a Clementine that he had been carrying around all morning!  Five-week old Peter's meals are still quite simple, and next year he'll join us at the table. 

Henry with Aunt Tricia - who's having more fun?

The dessert table

I am very thankful that I am able to share such a holiday with my daughter and her expanded family, and that three of my five children were in the same place at the same time, though Meghan, her boyfriend Mark,  and  my son Joe were missed.  Katie loves to open her home to friends and relatives.  She's good at it, too, and I am proud to see the effort she puts into making a memorable experience for all her guests. 


Peter with Grandma Kathryn


In the spirit of sharing something really terrific, here is a simple, easy recipe for Kathryn's cornbread casserole.  You can find more complicated recipes that require a lot more work, but you can't find one more delicious than this one.  I encourage you to try this as a nice compliment to any holiday dinner you might be planning, or even for a bit of comfort food one weeknight during all the hustle and bustle.  Happy Holidays!


Happy Holidays!

Kathryn's Cornbread Casserole

1-can whole kernel corn drained
1-can creamed corn
8-oz sour cream
1 stick margarine, melted (or butter, if you prefer)
1-box Jiffy cornbread mix
Preheat oven to 350degrees.


Mix all ingredients and pour into a 9x13 (or equivalent capacity) baking  or casserole dish that has been greased or sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. 
Bake until browning begins on top, about half-an hour to thirty-five minutes.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

You've Got to Have Friends, and Cupcakes

The challenges we all face every day would be a lot worse if we weren't able to share our burdens with friends.  Whether we're overloaded at work and an office mate offers to lighten the load, or a group of friends decide to get together after work to reconnect, it seems that friends make life's journeys a little less difficult, and a lot more friendly.  This week, I've been reminded more than once that I can rely on friends to get through a day, a week, or even a challenging life transition.  I find myself now two months into an entirely new work environment, and it's been a huge change for my life, but it is not bad.  This transition even has the potential to be very good, but I'm caught between grieving for the old and familiar while maintaining optimistic hope that what is new will one day become comfortably old and familiar as well. It just takes time.  It's not easy to make big changes in your mid-fifties, and many people simply won't.  They might say, "I'm too old to make such changes."  Sometimes, we have no choice but to take that leap of faith and hope that we've made the right decision, to trust that "everything happens for a reason" and that, though difficult, the adjustments will be worth it.  That's what I am counting on, that I am where I am supposed to be at this point in my life, that I will adapt and grow in positive ways, and that I can rise to the expectations and responsibilities I've assumed.  Tonight, I went out after work with three friends.  We went to Gaffney's in Saratoga Springs, and sat long and lingered over drinks and an assortment of tapas plates.  As friends do, we analyzed the current events in each others' lives, and when it came time to look at mine, they all said they believe that the changes that are occuring in my life will prove to be the right thing. 

In the spirit of friendship, I made cupcakes for a woman in my office who lent a much needed helping hand.  The cupcakes were a gesture of thanks for her assistance yesterday, when she volunteered to take one thing off my desk and lighten my load, just a bit.  I asked her what I could do to show my gratitude, and she said that there was nothing I could do for her, but that her young daughter loved cupcakes.  I got up early this morning and arrived at work with chocolate cupcakes frosted in buttercream.    I didn't have a mix, so as soon as I woke up I Googled "one bowl cupcakes" and was delighted to find Martha Stewart's easy (and very well-rated) recipe for chocolate cupcakes.  It was so simple.  I mixed the wet ingredients into the dry and popped the cupcakes into the oven for 20 minutes, just enough time for me to jump into the shower and out.  I didn't have a fancy box so I cut one side off a box of Cheerios and made a  make-shift tray which held a dozen cupcakes just perfectly.  From my own "quality control" evaluation, I can tell you that the cupcakes and frosting were terrific, really moist and delicious, and I hope that Lynn and her daughter think so too!

Martha Stewart's One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes (slightly adapted)

Oven 350 degrees F
Makes 18 standard cupcakes

Dry ingredients.  Mix together:
3/4 c. cocoa
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients.  Mix together and then add to dry:

2 eggs
3/4 cup warm water
3/4 c. buttermilk (or 3/4 c. milk soured with 1 tbsp. lemon juice or vinegar - 5 minutes)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry and beat for 3 minutes. 

Line muffin cups with paper liners.  Fill 1/2 full with batter.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes, or until tops bounce back when lightly pressed. 

When cool enough to handle, remove cupcakes from pans to continue cooling on wire rack.  When completely cooled, frost with buttercream.

Buttercream Frosting

1 bar (8 tbsp.) butter, softened
1 lb. confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk plus more to thin to desired consistency

Beat butter until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla extract and mix well.  Add confectioners sugar alternately with milk.  Beat well.  If too thick, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time, until it reaches the desired spreading consistency.

Photo:  my cupcakes, with sprinkles!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pumpkin Pancakes are Breakfast for Dinner

Pumpkin Pancakes RecipeTonight Katie made breakfast for dinner, with pumpkin spice pancakes and bacon.  It was one of those raw, blustery November days that called for a warm, inviting meal, whether it was a traditional dinner or not.  It was great to walk into her house and hear her say "We're having breakfast for dinner!".  Katie makes great pancakes.  She consults her Joy of Cooking cookbook for its traditional pancake recipe, usually infusing them with blueberries.  Seeing that we're just eight days away from Thanksgiving, the warmth and spice of pumpkin pancakes is a perfect, seasonal variation.  Henry loved them too.  He'd spear a piece of pancake with his toddler fork, push it on securely, dip it in the puddle of syrup, and stuff it in his mouth.  He had a real system going.  I ate with my right hand, holding Peter, now four weeks old, all curled up and sleeping, with my left arm.  I remember those days early child-nurturing days, doing a lot of things with only one free hand.  We do become quite adept at functioning well with a baby in one arm and accomplishing tasks with the other! 

This recipe that follows is from allrecipes.com, and the over-950 reviewers gave it 4.5 stars out of five.  That's a solid endorsement that this recipe is not only reliable, but really good!

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vinegar

1. In a separate bowl, mix together the milk, pumpkin, egg, oil and vinegar. Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and salt, stir into the pumpkin mixture just enough to combine.


2. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.


http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/pumpkin-pancakes/Detail.aspx

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Spiedie Sandwiches

Tonight I wanted to make something simple and easy to share with Katie and Henry.  Little Peter, being only three weeks old, will have to wait for such simple dinners.  This morning before I left for work I put three boneless, skinless chicken breast halves in a plastic bag and poured Spiedie marinade over top, twist-tied it up, and left it to enhance in my fridge all day.  After work, I stopped at the grocery store for some soft, wheat kaiser rolls.  When I got home, I ran upstairs to get the chicken and brought it downstairs to Katie's where I grilled it outdoors for about 8 minutes a side, never touching it other than to flip it half-way through.  The sandwiches were delicious, so if you're ever thinking you want something very, very good, but also very, very simple, plan to make spiedie sandwiches for dinner.

After dinner, I did the very few dishes we used while Katie gave Henry a bath .  Later, I snuggled with little Peter while Katie and Henry had a pillow fight and read a book.  It was a lovely evening.

SPIEDIE SANDWICHES

1 lb. chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless
A bottle of State Fair Spiedie Sauce
Soft wheat rolls (or the traditional slices of Italian bread)
lettuce
tomatoes
mayo
barbeque sauce

Early in the day or the night before, place chicken in a glass dish or plastic, resealable bag and pour marinade in to coat all pieces.  Leave it in the fridge until you're ready to cook.

Cook pieces over moderate flame on grill or in a grill pan on your stove, about 8 minutes per side.  When cooked through, remove from heat and allow to rest for a few minutes.

Cut cooked chicken on the diagonal in about 1" thick slices.  Stack chicken pieces on wheat roll with lettuce, tomatoes, and any other condiments.  I like a little mayo, but you can use ranch dressing or barbeque sauce --- whatever you like.

If you have left-over chicken (I always do) chill in fridge and cut into chunks and toss with walnuts, craisins, and a little mayo to make an incredible chicken salad for your lunch the next day.

Photo image:  http://www.spiedie.com/images/Reg8-16Thumb.jpg

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Egg Custard, a Small Comfort

Today was one of those days when I was reminded of something my children loved when they were little.  I used to make egg custard, the simple, basic, smooth-as-silk comfort dessert, slow-baked in the oven, and chilled to perfection in the refrigerator.  In my mind, there's no other dish that conveys love as much as a little, chilled glass pyrex dish of custard, sprinkled with nutmeg.

The other night, my son Jeffrey and I had dinner at Wheatfields in Saratoga Springs.  For dessert, I chose creme brulee, my absolute favorite dessert to order out, loved just a little bit more than Key Lime Pie.  I've been thinking about it ever since.  What is it about creme brulee that calls my name?  Is it the crunchy, sugary top?  Is it the velvety-smooth egg custard within?  More than that, my love of this dessert is due to the memories it evokes.  When my son  Joe was a little boy, he loved custards and puddings.  He loved egg custard, especially, and he loved butterscotch pudding.  I would make egg custard for him whenever he was having a tough day.  He's a grown man now, but today would have been a good day for custard.  Instead, we had dinner out together, and tried to make sense of the ups and downs of life, the things that are worthy of our energy, and the frustrations that are better left behind.  He did most of the talking -- he's an enthusiastic spectator of current politics, and many of his ideas are not those I embrace -- but it didn't matter what the discussion was about.  What mattered is that today was a day to spend some time, to listen, to make sense of the world, if that is indeed possible.  Neither one of us could even consider dessert, but I couldn't help but think, as I looked across the table at this handsome, strong man who was once my little boy, that custard would have been perfect.


 Easy Egg Custard

Epicurious, March 2007


From Epicurious: "This classic dessert remains a standout for its sophisticated yet mild flavor and its creamy texture. Ideally sized for a kids' snack but worldly enough for a dinner party, it takes just 15 minutes of prep time and can be stored in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 days. (It's even better the afternoon after you've made it.)"

Yield: Makes 6 servings

2 cups whole milk
2 eggs (preferably free-range)
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Freshly grated or ground nutmeg
1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
2. Place six 4-ounce ovenproof cups (you can use ramekins, or coffee cups marked as oven-safe) in a deep baking pan just large enough to hold them.
3. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over medium-low heat.
4. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks, sugar, and vanilla.
5. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the simmering milk, whisking gently to combine.
6. Pour the mixture through a fine strainer into the cups (if the strainer clogs, use a spoon to scrape it clean), then sprinkle lightly with the nutmeg.
7. Pour hot (not boiling) water into the pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cups.
8. Bake until the custard is just set (it can still be a little loose), 30 to 35 minutes.
9. Let the custard cool in the water bath for about 2 hours before serving.

Recipe/photo credit, and to read more:  http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/printerfriendly/Easy-Egg-Custard-239229#ixzz14f1DuF40

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pumpkin Cake

This past weekend I made a birthday cake for my friend Sarah's granddaughter, Everlie. Sarah asked for a pumpkin cake with  cream cheese frosting, so I found a good recipe on About.com's page for southern cooking and it sounded great, so I tried it. I made a few adjustments with the spices (see below) but I knew when I made the batter that this was going to be a wonderful cake - the aroma of the spices was incredible all on its own.  The color from the pumpkin was beautiful, and the batter was delicious.  I knew I had a winner here.  Everlie's cake was 2-layers with cream cheese frosting, decorated in little flowers.  The next day, I made the recipe again, and divided it into 12 cupcakes and one 8" square pan.  The cupcakes were served for dessert, still warm,  no frosting, but with a sprtiz of whipped cream.  The 8" cake was dusted with confectioners sugar, sliced up (see photo) and made its way into work with me the next morning.  I can't even begin to tell you the rave reviews this cake received, so I am sharing it with you.  Make your family (or just yourself) happy with a little slice of autumn in this delicious pumpkin cake.


PUMPKIN CAKE WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING (or without!)

Oven - 350-degrees F

In medium bowl, stir together the following dry ingredients and set aside:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg*
1/2 teaspoon allspice*
1 teaspoon grated orange rind* (not necessary, I just had it so I added it)

*These are my addition - not in the original recipe...

In large mixer bowl, mix well:

2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
4 large eggs
2 cups pumpkin puree or cooked, mashed pumpkin (I used canned, simple and perfect)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To the wet ingredients in the mixing bowl, add the dry ingredients and mix well.  Beat until thoroughly combined.  Pour into prepared pans (greased and dusted, or sprayed with vegetable spray and lined with parchment, or for cupcakes. lined with paper liners).

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven until they test done:  for layer - about 40 minutes, but test with toothpick to be sure.  If cake bounces back when pressed in the center, it's done.  For cupcakes, about 20 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1/4 cup softened butter
8 oz. cream cheese, softened.
1 lb. confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

Combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl; beat well until smooth.  Frosts an 8" round 2-layer cake.  Sprinkle top with 1/2 cup chopped pecans if desired. 

Recipe source from About.com:  http://southernfood.about.com/od/pumpkins/r/bl30212s.htm

Monday, November 1, 2010

Catching Up, in Pictures

I haven't been blogging much lately because:

1.  My new job keeps me busier than any job I've ever had.
2.  My grandsons Henry and Peter are irresistible.
3.  I've been baking alot of seasonal treats.
4.  All of the above.

Correct answer: 4.  All of the above.  Phew!!!

So, now it's catch-up time.  Here's a blog post in pictures, which, at this point on a Monday night, tells this past week's story better than I'm able to. 


This is the English 105 Class I visited last week.  They blog!

Prof. Anne Breznau and me on class day...

My otherwise beautiful friend Claire, showing her true self on Halloween!

Cupcakes I made for "Grammy Eddy" - my kids' grandma.  They're gluten-free!

Haunted House by my son Jeff and me.

And from the back...

Sheriff Henry!

The destruction begins (note to self: no black jelly beans next year)...

Bam Bam, Betty, and Barney (aka David, Mary, and Gordon Eddy!)

Hank and Pete "I guess my baby brother can stay!"

I hope you all had a lovely end of October and a good start to November.  I'll be back soon with some great recipes for Thanksgiving and the holiday season, and of course, with pictures!