Something We Can Use in our Collection: Punch

Yesterday I washed my punch bowl and glasses and packed it away for what I first thought would probably be another year before I realized I have a daughter graduating this year and more than likely will be hosting a reception of some sort for her. A simple way to serve drinks at a reception is of course, with a punch bowl and having a couple good punch recipes up your sleeve... or in your files is a must!

This is one I found on a recipe board for public use. It's probably similar to recipes we all have in our files but I liked how simplistic the ice ring instructions are and frankly, I was just too lazy to type them all out. Ha. Yes, I do always use ice rings when I use my punch bowl and yes, I also always add flowers, fruit or other additions to the ice ring to make it beautiful. I like to use fake flowers that have been washed well to remove any chemical sprays. This way when the ice ring melts the flowers typically still float on the surface or just look pretty in the last remaining inch or so of punch in the bottom of the bowl.

Just another Punch Recipe

2 cans frozen limeade concentrate
2 cans frozen lemonade concentrate
2 cans unsweetened grapefruit juice
2 cans pineapple juice

Mix and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving add:

3 quarts ginger ale
1 prepared ice ring (or a lot of ice cubes if you didn't get a ring made)
1 quart water

Ice Ring for punch bowl

Make an ice ring using at least one of the punch ingredients so that as it melts it will not dilute the punch. Use a bundt pan or an angel food cake pan for a ring or if you don't have one, just use a bowl or pan (making sure the bowl can be frozen)for a solid circle.

Mix up the fruit juice ingredients a day in advance. Pour into pan and freeze over night. You may add cherries and sliced pineapple to the ring before freezing. If you want them to float symmetrically, set a timer for 1/2 hour and rearrange fruit before it freezes to hard. (To remove ice ring from pan, set pan in warm water in your sink until it loosens or place a hot, wet towel on the backside of the pan.)
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Cooking for a Crowd - Macaroni Salad

Earlier today I posted a recipe for a casserole that would serve 50 and baked in under 30 minutes for anyone looking for a last minute recipe to serve to a large group of people perhaps gathering for a New Years Eve feast or if you are hosting one tomorrow. I also wanted to be sure to publish these to my collection for future use at graduation receptions, baby showers and family reunions. Recipes for crowds are hard to find and having them quick and easy at my disposal is always helpful.

Well, I liked the idea of having them on my website for 'quick finding' so much that I have decided to add some of the others. I have them in my 'paper files' here in my home but truthfully, I love to bring up my website when I'm cooking and just have my laptop next to me on the kitchen counter.

Without further adieu let's get cooking! Another recipe for a crowd.

Macaroni Salad for 50

3 pounds cooked ham, cubed
3 pounds macaroni, cooked and drained
4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 bag frozen peas, thawed
6 cups chopped celery
1 large chopped onion
1 5-3/4 ounce cans pitted sliced ripe olives

Macaroni Salad Dressing:
1 quart mayonnaise
4 ounces Western brand salad dressing*
1/8 cup vinegar
1/8 cup sugar
1/2 cup light cream
1 teaspoon onion salt
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Make dressing in a separate bowl. Combine all ingredients and pour dressing over salad. Refrigerate.

*I thought this was an interesting addition but it's certainly not a must have. You can leave it out and just use an additional 1/2 cup of mayo if you'd like.
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Quick! A Last Minute Recipe to Serve 50 People! Cheesy Chicken Casserole!

Tonight, there are many people hosting get togethers and parties. Big, small, intimate or other... groups are gathering to celebrate the New Year. If any of my readers are currently online searching for a quick, easy meal to serve up to 50 people and they either have canned chicken on hand or they are regular readers of mine and have cooked and diced left-over chicken or turkey in their freezer already, then I have a recipe for you that can be done in about 30 minutes!~ Time enough to make it, go get ready for your guests, set the buffet while it bakes and greet tonights crowd with a smile on your face and a yummy, filling meal to serve.

If you don't need it for tonight (because I'm hoping you have planned better than that!) then save this one for future reference. You always have times you'll need to feed a crowd! Family reunions, graduation receptions, some down-home wedding receptions, baby showers and more.

Cheesy Chicken for 50

20 cups diced cooked chicken
10 cups chopped celery
4 bunches chopped green onions
16 ounces chopped green chilies (canned)
2 - 6 ounce cans sliced pitted ripe olives (drained)
4 cups slivered almonds
4 cups mayonnaise
4 cups sour cream
10 cups crushed potato chips
10 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Combine the first eight ingredients with 4 cups of the cheese. Mix well and spoon into four greased 13" x 9" x 2" deep baking dishes. Sprinkle with chips and remaining cheese. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 25 minutes or until hot.
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New Years Eve Party Drink; Cranberry Margarita

Mmmm... Betty Crocker! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! Betty Crocker was one of my first 'real' cookbooks, one I wouldn't be without and one that I've bought numerous copies of over the last 20 years to give as bridal shower and wedding gifts. About 5 years ago I even bought three copies of the special Christmas Cookie cookbook to give to my kids when they get married, as it's been a tradition in our home each holiday season to sit and gaze at the pages and pages of cookies and gingerbread house and bars and the children would call out "I get this one!" "I want that one!" "I get this one!" and 'call dibs' on the photos of 'their' cookies. Yes, Betty Crocker is a staple at our home and this drink idea in their latest newsletter is no exception. Copying here for my own personal use, I can't wait to make these and wish I was having a New Years Eve party just so I'd have an excuse to serve them! They are so pretty and festive!

1 can (11 1/2 ounces) frozen cranberry juice cocktail concentrate, thawed
2 cans (12 ounces each) lemon-lime soda pop
5 cups water
1 cup tequila
1/4 cup lime juice

In 3-quart plastic container, beat all ingredients with wire whisk or spoon until well blended. Cover and freeze at least 24 hours until slushy. Serve in margarita or cocktail glasses.
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Quick and Easy Pasta Carbonara

How about a fast and furious recipe for the quickest carbonara recipe you might ever make!? It's time for me to head to work but I wanted to update my page first. This quick and easy recipe from my files might just fill the gap and fill your stomach on a cold winter's day!

Quick and Easy Pasta Carbonara

1 package bacon, cooked crisp
1 jar alfredo sauce
1 yellow (sweet) onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, fresh minced
Olive oil
1 package tortellini

To the bacon in the pan, add the jar of alfredo sauce. In another pan, gently cook the onion in a bit of olive oil. Add the 3 cloves of garlic the last 3 minutes or so. Add the alfredo sauce and bacon to onions and garlic. Meanwhile, boil the tortellini about 4-6 minutes until al dente. Mix sauce with pasta. Some people like to add a cup of pea's to their version of pasta carbonara. Me? I just add extra bacon!
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Swirled Pumpkin Bars

Although I absolutely love my pumpkin bar recipe (available under 'bars' in the search labels to your right) I love pumpkin bars so much that I always keep my eyes open for more versions. Another love of mine is cream cheese. I decided way back in high school that cream cheese was one of my all time favorite foods because of the endless possibilities it affords. It can be added in casseroles, soups, sauces, desserts, dips and appetizers... anything! I love it just as much as I love onions... and that's a lot!

This recipe is from Sunset magazine and is about 6 years old since they published it, but far older as it's one of those recipes that has been made by our Mothers, Grandmothers and Great Grandmothers for generations and published in numerous church cookbooks and handwritten on scads of recipe cards. There is just something about pumpkin bars that makes you want to sit down at the kitchen table with one or two bars and a steaming hot cup of coffee.

Swirled Pumpkin Bars

6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature

In a bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar until smooth. Beat in 2 eggs, pumpkin, and 1/3 cup water until well blended, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. In another bowl, mix flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and nutmeg; stir or beat into butter mixture until well blended. Spread batter evenly in a buttered and floured 10- by 15-inch baking pan.

In a bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese, remaining egg, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar until smooth.

Drop cream cheese mixture in 24 evenly spaced 1-tablespoon portions over batter. Pull a knife tip through filling to swirl slightly into batter.

Bake in a 350° oven until center of pumpkin springs back when touched, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely in pan, then cut into 24 bars.
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The Affordable Little Gift

Although I made a number of things in addition to the ones pictured above, I wanted to put a quick photo up of some of the goodies made this year for Christmas. At the holidays I like to take a moment and spread a little bit of cheer around, whether it's to the mail person, the bus driver, teachers or the neighbors. This year the holidays snuck up on me and I didn't get as many recipes made as usual (about 25 average) but I did get about 14 done, or something like that.

This year I found little red and green containers with lids at the dollar store, in addition to 4 little santa shaped containers. The smaller ones for general giving to my neighbors but the larger Santa container to that 'special' neighbor or friend.

While I can't afford a $25 gift card or anything like that for the many people on my list, I've found that cookies and goodies are an affordable and wonderful way to say "Merry Christmas! I appreciate you!" and at this busy time of year, the goodies are always welcomed!
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M&M Prezels taste just like Take 5 Candy Bars... Easy and Delicious

Every year for the past 15 years my kids and I have made different versions of M&M Pretzels. Originally started with just a Hershey's Kiss and a plain red or green M&M we later tried different versions and had some fun with different combinations. It's so easy and quick to make them it's wonderful for children to help Mom in the kitchen.

If you can, look for the round pretzels. Typically only available around the holidays they are worth looking for if you can find them. If you can't, use regular pretzels and make due.

Place a pretzel ring on a baking sheet. Top with a Hershey's Kiss. Place in a warm oven (325 degrees) for about 5 minutes until the chocolate is glossy and soft. Place an M&M into the center and press lightly.

What is wonderful to use is the new Hershey's Caramel Kisses and a Peanut M&M. The mixture tastes exactly like a Take 5 candybar. Let them cool completely or put them in the refrigerator to hurry the process.

Another fun idea is to take a pretzel and top with a Rollo candy or a caramel Kiss. Instead of an M&M top with a pecan. It makes an instant turtle candy!

Merry Christmas... enjoy!
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Black Bean with Lime Salad

I think 'salad' is such a broad term I wish there was something else I could call this. It's a delicious mix of black beans and peppers with a hint of lime to bring it all together. My husband loves black beans and I try to use them often in salads, chili, soups, dips and spreads not to mention serving them along side Spanish rice when we have a Mexican themed dinner. He loves them in any way, shape or form! So it's with my husband in mind I tracked down this recipe some time last year and added it to my collection. I hope you do to.

Black Bean With Lime Salad

2 T fresh squeezed lime juice (1 lime) and about 1/4 t of the zest
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 small yellow pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 T olive oil
salt (about 1/2 - 3/4 t)

Blend all ingredients and either serve immediately or chill and serve. Best if not straight from the refrigerator.
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Photos of Home Canned Tomato Juice

Looking through my files this morning I decided I was really tired of looking at these photos and wanted to get them posted. Never mind that it's December and everyone's tomato plants stopped producing 3 months ago! (Ha ha).

This was intended to be a post on what I did with the cherry tomatoes that just would not stop producing this year! For whatever reason (it made sense at the time) I planted 4 or 5 cherry tomato plants last summer. Not realizing how over-abundant they would become we had brilliant small salad tomatoes coming out our ears. By the end of the season when everything else had stopped producing and I was starting to compost the vines and remains, my plants were still giving me tomatoes.

Although not optimal for this usage, I went ahead and used a bunch of them to make my canned salsa (tasted amazing but did have a lot of tomato skins in it as you can't skin and seed a tiny cherry tomato as you can a regular tomato!), I also made many into homemade tomato juice as well as resorting to filling gallon baggies and freezing them whole for use in chili and soup this winter.

Here are some photos I snapped of making homemade tomato juice. Although these are not the tomatoes you want to use, if you are trying to use up pounds and pounds of cherry salad tomatoes, this is what it looks like when you make homemade juice out of them!

Starting to cook them. As they get hot they get very plump and shiny.

Continuing to simmer them they start to break down into their own juices.

Straining the pulp and skin from the juice.

Pure, fresh, hot tomato juice.


This is not being 'canned'. This particular jar wasn't filled all the way so he went into the refrigerator for immediate use that week.

The other filled jars had 1/2 t salt and 1/2 t lemon juice added and then were sealed and given a 35 minute water bath to process.

If you don't have enough juice to completely fill the canning jar make sure you refrigerate it and use it within a week or two. Do not try to process a half filled jar.
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A mountain of lava? No it's Brownies!

A pan of half peanut butter chip brownies and half plain, when I saw this photo close up (in my files) I decided today would be a brownie post! Not something I typically make for the Christmas holidays, I know others do!

Quick and easy because you start with a dry cake mix you probably already have on hand, these caramel brownies are moist and delicious. Add or delete nuts and flavored chips as you wish.

Caramel Brownies

1 dry dark chocolate cake mix
1 c chopped nuts (optional of course)
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted
1 c evaporated milk
35 caramels, unwrapped
2 c chocolate chips
optional peanut butter or white chocolate chips if you like

Preheat oven to 350. Combine the cake mix with the nuts in a large bowl. Stir in the butter and 2/3 cup of the evaporated milk. The batter will be very thick but spread half of it into an ungreased 13X9 inch pan. Bake for 15 minutes.

Heat the caramels with the remaining evaporated milk in a pan, over low heat. Stir constantly until the caramels are melted. Don't get impatient and turn up the heat or they will scorch. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the brownies and drizzle with the hot caramel mixture.

Drop the remaining batter by teaspoon fulls over the caramel mixture (add the optional chips or more nuts on top if you like) and return to the oven to bake for 25-30 minutes.
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Farfalle with Creamy Garlic Sauce

Garlic... again. Yes, I warned you, my family loves garlic based dishes! The sweet taste of real garlic is nothing like garlic salt or garlic powder, so if you haven't tried real garlic yet, I urge you to. This recipe doesn't use much. Garlic is a 'hint' not the star of the show. Try it out.

Farfalle with Creamy Garlic Sauce

2 (12 oz) boxes Farfalle noodles (the ones that look like little bow ties)
1 stick butter
3 cups half and half
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. basil
1 cup Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta as directed on package. In the meantime, melt the butter in a saucepan. Add garlic, and cook until tender. Whisk in half and half, and basil. Whisk in cheese. Drain pasta and place in a large serving bowl. Pour sauce over top. Serve with a nice crusty bread and a side salad. Delicious!
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Cheesy Garlic Bread - So Delicious!

Our family goes absolutely nuts over garlic. Another plus to raising the kids with a healthy variety of foods and never, ever letting them get boxed into only accepting three or four foods they 'would' eat when they were small. This garlic bread is always a hit with my crew, especially my girls. Tonight I made two loaves of french bread and made them into cheesy garlic bread. My 12 year old asked if she had to have soup because all she wanted for dinner was the bread... lots and lots of bread. And my 17 year old? Would live on garlic bread if she could. 

Cheesy Garlic Bread

2 small/medium loaves French bread or one large, sliced into 1 inch thick slices on the diagonal
1 pkg. (8 oz) cream cheese (1/3 fat or fat free is fine for this)
1/4 c sour cream
1/4 c fresh grated parmesan cheese
2 T mayonnaise
2 T butter
2 T fresh parsley or 1 T dried
1 T minced green onions
6-8 fresh garlic cloves, minced or chopped fine
1/2 t garlic salt
1/4 t onion powder

Place everything in a bowl and microwave for 30-60 seconds to soften. Mix with a rubber scraper or wooden spoon until completely blended. Spread on one side of each slice of bread. Bake on a baking sheet at 400 degrees about 7 minutes until done to your liking. Less for soft bread, more for crisp and golden. Goes excellent with almost any food from seafood to pasta, from spaghetti to soups. We love this bread!
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Marshmallow Eggnog

I didn't grow up drinking eggnog and it wasn't a part of my families holidays. I believe I may have seen a carton of store bought eggnog at my Grandmothers on Christmas Eve but my own family never served it and never had it. About 10 years ago, when we started to seriously put into place our own holiday traditions for our children, eggnog was one of them. But... I have to admit I wasn't crazy about it.

That is why, over the years, I usually make a 'faux' eggnog recipe. My recipes use anything but eggs. They use milk, pudding, ice creams and almond flavoring... but not eggs. LOL. My husband however, likes anything remotely called eggnog. He loves them all! So, I collect lots of 'different' recipes for it.

This recipe is from my collection and I chose it because it uses odd ingredients like marshmallow creme! To make it non-alcoholic just choose the rum extract instead of the real thing (if you are concerned about the tiny amount of alcohol that goes into the mixture).

Marshmallow Eggnog

1 7-oz. jar marshmallow creme
1 carton soft vanilla ice cream
6 eggs - one at a time, and beating well after each addition.
1/4 C. rum (or 1 tsp. rum extract)
1 8-oz. container Cool Whip
nutmeg (optional)

Blend the marshmallow creme with the softened ice cream. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in rum then fold in the Cool Whip. Before serving, sprinkle with nutmeg.
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One of the Cookies I Made Yesterday... Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies

After feeling incredible guilt about not getting started on holiday baking yet, I did a tiny marathon baking day yesterday and got about a dozen items made. The Peppermint Pinwheels were of course, one of them! So pretty on the plates, they are a favorite of almost everyone.

I do have a couple hints to this one though.

Last year I had a problem with getting the right minty taste. The recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract. I bought a bottle last year but found it had almost no strength. I had to add more and more... and still didn't get a good minty taste. Instead I ended up using peppermint syrup I had on hand for coffee. This year I anticipated the same, and I was right. If you want to make this recipe I would strongly suggest buying the flavored oils, not extract - or if you do buy peppermint extract do not buy the cheap plastic bottle next to the vanilla. Buy the smaller glass, brand name extract for best results.

Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies

3/4 c butter
3/4 c sugar
1 egg yolk
1 t vanilla extract
2 c flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 t peppermint extract
red food color

In mixing bowl cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add to the sugar mixture. Mix well. Divide dough in half. Add the red food color and peppermint extract to one half, leaving the other white. On a lightly floured work surface roll out the dough to a 16 X 10 inch rectangle with a piece of wax paper between the dough and your rolling pin. Repeat with the second dough. Carefully place the first dough over the second and lightly roll them to bind together. Roll up tightly from the long side. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for a couple hours until firm.

Unwrap the dough and cut into 1/4 inch slices placing them approximately 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets or parchment lined sheets. Bake at 350 approximately 12-14 minutes until set. Cool for 2 minutes before removing from the baking sheet to a rack to cool completely.

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Christmas Baking... A Dozen Things Done and I'm Happy with the Sugar Cookie Glaze.

I sent my husband out the door with an errand list a mile long and the deal was he would do the last items on our Christmas lists if I would stay home and get started on the baking. He must be desperate for some homemade Christmas goodies around here because it was COLD out there!

I'm happy to report that 8 1/2 hours of baking and cooking now has my freezer full of 12 items! Twelve! What a great feeling. I know I'll be too busy this week to do any baking and who knows what next weekend will hold! So at least I have a good start.

I also want to report that without measuring I roughly followed this glaze recipe that we previously talked about...

Perfect Glaze for Sugar Cookies

2 1/2 c powdered sugar

2 T water

1 T Land O Lakes butter, softened

1 T light corn syrup

1/2 t almond extract or vanilla

Food color, if desired

Combine powdered sugar, water, butter, corn syrup and vanilla in small mixer bowl; mix until powdered sugar is moistened. Beat at medium speed until smooth, adding additional water if necessary to reach desired spreading consistency. Tint with food color, if desired.

Glaze cooled cookies and let stand until hardened (6 hrs. or overnight).

I did not actually measure everything (oh come on... you know that's how I cook and bake!) and I'm very, very happy with the results. You can see how brightly colored the red and green are in this picture I snapped of some of the items on the table.

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Sugar Cookie Glaze

It's official, I started the holiday baking. Of course 'start' means I have only made one thing thus far, but I have 'grocery shopping' on my list for later today and I hope to pick up some ingredients so I can truly start in earnest. The cookies I made yesterday are a simple sugar cookie - with sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and flour. Simple and delicious! Not too sweet, they can handle a sweet frosting with no problem. I can't get the image of out my head of how I want them decorated. That is; a bright glaze but not a buttercream frosting. Here is a glaze recipe from Land O' Lakes dairy that I've not tried yet but will be making later this weekend after I buy more powdered sugar.

Makes about 1 & 1/3 cups

2 1/2 c powdered sugar

2 T water

1 T Land O Lakes butter, softened

1 T light corn syrup

1/2 t almond extract or vanilla

Food color, if desired

Combine powdered sugar, water, butter, corn syrup and vanilla in small mixer bowl; mix until powdered sugar is moistened. Beat at medium speed until smooth, adding additional water if necessary to reach desired spreading consistency. Tint with food color, if desired.

Glaze cooled cookies and let stand until hardened (6 hrs. or overnight).
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Substitutions for Tomato Sauce, Sour Cream, Unsweetened Chocolate and More

Looking over some old files I found this one from over a year ago.... Perfect to bring out this morning as many people prepare to do some holiday baking and find themselves without brown sugar, or almond extract or even buttermilk or unsweetened chocolate.

Emergency substitutes for a variety of foods.

Almond extract
Use Amaretto

Brown sugar
For each cup: use 1 cup granulated sugar mixed with 1 Tablespoon molasses

For each cup: Mix 1 cup of plain yogurt or sour cream mixed with ¼ cup skim milk (use only 1 cup of the mixture)

Cake flour
For each cup: Measure 1 cup of all-purpose flour, remove 2 Tablespoons and replace with 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch

Chili Sauce
For one cup: Combine 1 cup tomato sauce, ¼ brown sugar, 2 Tablespoons vinegar, 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon, dash of ground cloves and dash of allspice

Use green onion or scallion tops instead

Cornstarch (for thickening sauces)
For each Tablespoon: Use 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

Corn syrup
Replace with honey

Cream of Tartar
For ½ teaspoon: Use 1½ teaspoons of lemon juice

Ground Red Pepper
For ¼ teaspoon: use 8 drops of Tabasco (or other hot pepper sauce)

Pumpkin Pie Spice
For 1 teaspoon: Combine 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/8 teaspoon allspice, and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Use red onion

Sour cream
Use plain yogurt

Tomato Sauce
For a 15-oz can: Combine a small can of tomato paste with 1½ cups of water. Mix well!

Unsweetened Chocolate (melted)
For each ounce: Use 3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa mixed with melted butter or margarine

Vanilla Extract
Use brandy

Whipped cream
Chill a 13 ounce can of evaporated milk for 12 hours. Add 1 Tablespoon lemon juice. Whip until stiff

For ½ cup: Use ¼ cup of wine vinegar mixed with 1 Tablespoon of sugar and ¼ cup of water

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Quick Jalapeno, Chile and Cheese Dip

If you are having a party or open house however, and need a variety of dips, this is a good one. Garnish with some strips of red peppers and a sprinkle of cilantro to show it's a Mexican (peppers) based dip.

2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup mayonnaise
1 (4 oz.) can chopped green chilies, drained
2 oz. canned diced jalapeno peppers, drained
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Stir together cream cheese and mayonnaise in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in green chiles and jalapeno peppers. Pour mixture into a microwave safe serving dish, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
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The Most Perfect Molasses Cookie

It started out innocently enough... the 2 or 3 'must have' cookie recipes during the holidays. But each year I would make those plus a few more. And the new ones were added to the 'must have' list as well.

By the time we had been married 15 years the list was to about 19 different recipes and I believe last year it might have been around 26. And, out of all those recipe do we have one that is everyone's favorite? A family favorite? One that every single one of us loves?

We do. And most people would never, ever guess that KIDS would love a molasses cookie. Even the name sounds old fashioned! But this is the ultimate Christmas Cookie. The one that everyone wants the recipe for. Everyone loves.

The recipe makes a triple batch. Mix it up and then divide it into gallon ziploc baggies and mix up each portion as you need it.

Perfect Molasses Cookies

6 c flour
3 c sugar
1 T baking soda
1 T baking powder
1 T ground ginger
1 T ground cinnamon
1 t ground nutmeg
3/4 t ground cloves
1/2 t ground allspice

Mix the above dry ingredients in a very large bowl with a wood spoon or wire whisk. When completely mixed divide the mixture evenly into 3 large ziplock baggies with 3 cups of the mix in each. Make one ziplock at a time.

When you are ready to make cookies;

3/4 c soft butter (real)
1 egg
1/4 c molasses

to each 3 cup dry mix in your ziploc. Roll into 1 inch balls and roll in plain white granulated sugar. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes until the edge is firm and the top is cracked. Cool on the pan for 1 minute before moving to wire racks.

*edited to add*

Here is a bit of feedback I received by email from a reader who enjoyed these cookies!

I just wanted to let you know that you are so right about those molasses cookies. I made the whole batch and kept the dry and it was perfect. I went to a Christmas cookie swap and took those and they were a hit. I saw the hostess tonight at a school function and she told me how great they were and how she kept them from the rest of her family!
Anyway, thanks again. The recipe rocked!
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Beautiful Striped Cookie Sticks to add to your Christmas Goodie Platter!

Let's all channel the 'inner Martha' in all of us and make some yummy striped cookie sticks! A simple recipe that reminds me of the flavor of fortune cookies, you can also add a bit of peppermint flavoring to make them minty.

They take a long time to make so be sure you have a good 2-3 hour window 'free' to embark on these if you decide to make them. I personally got to the point where I was so sick of making them that I got a little sloppy, my lines weren't perfectly straight and I didn't care anymore. At that point I threw away the rest of the batter (which would have made about 2 more cookies) and called out 'Enough!'. Unfortunately for me they were a huge hit with my family, they loved them and they've since declared we have yet another 'must have' during the holidays.

Before you start this recipe take a large piece of cardboard or tape two pieces of heavy card stock together. Using an exacto knife cut a rectangle in the center 3 inches by 6 inches. This will be your 'stencil' for the cookies.

Candy Striped Cookie Sticks

8 large egg whites
2 c sugar
2 c flour
1/4 t salt
1 1/4 sticks butter, melted
6 T heavy cream
1 1/2 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 400 degree's while you place the egg whites and sugar in a mixing bowl. Mix on medium until foamy. Mix in flour and salt. Add melted butter, cream and vanilla. Mix. Place 3/4 c batter into each of two bowls. Tint one pink and one red. Transfer the tinted batter to decorator bags with a small round tip or if you don't have them, use a large ziplock baggy with a tiny corner cut off.

Lay the cardboard stencil on a silpat mat on a baking sheet or on parchment lined baking sheets. Using heaping tablespoon of dough, spread it in the stencil, smooth and lift the stencil to leave a rectangle cookie dough shape. Use the pink and red colored dough to pipe stripes on your cookie. Bake 6-8 minutes until the edges are pale golden brown.

Immediately loosen the edge of the cookie with a spatula and flip it over. Starting from one of the long sides, roll the cookie up into a cylinder shape - or a cookie stick or 'roll'. Let cool completely. (click on the photo below to make it larger and read the instructions as well as see the details).

These cookies set up fast after they come out of the oven so you must work quickly. I found it best to have three cookie sheets going at one time, as I would take one out of the oven I would have another cookie ready to go in, and one half way done cooking. This way I was removing a cookie and rolling it approximately every 3 minutes.

Makes about 25-30 cookies.
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Holiday Baking Needs to Begin!

I just cannot fathom how fast time is whipping by me. Do you know I normally have about 500 items made by now and this year, so far, the count is.... zero! This weekend is a big tournament at my childrens high school. Last year at this time I had so many goodies already made that I was able to bring about 6 trays of mixed goodies to sell at a large bake sale that is held. This is what made me realize just how behind I am.

When I was looking up some of my Christmas Cookie recipes in the search bar to the right of these posts I was sad to see that google indexed all of my December posts last year onto one page. This means if you want 'just' the recipe for rosettes, it brings you to the archived page for the entire month of December. That's a lot of recipes to wade through! So this has led me to decide to repost many of my favorite holiday recipes again. This is a great idea anyway because these are the actual recipes I make each and every year, and having them first and foremost on my website makes it easier for me to find them, as well as for my brand new readers.

So prepare to start your baking!
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A New Twist on Serving a Mexican or Taco Dip. Build it Up!

This mornings recipe is 'inspired' by this photo I saw on a recipe from my uber-favorite 'Southern Living' emails. The photo is of their Sun Dried Tomato and Basil appetizer but that isn't a recipe that would go over well in our household. I personally don't like sun dried tomatoes and neither do my family but the photo was an inspiration because to me, when I first saw it, I thought it looked like a typical Mexican dip.

As a matter of fact my first thought was "What a great way to garnish and serve a 7 layer Mexican Dip" only to find it wasn't that at all.

So the photo serves as inspiration. Most people make and love some version of a 7 layer dip for parties because they are so good and so very, very popular. It's time to build it up a little! No more 'flat on the tray' dip. Let's take it to new heights!

Using a typical layered taco dip like this one I published last December, we are going to use a spring form pan to build the dip and then chill it at least 12 hours to help it 'set up'.

Let's start with a typical taco dip recipe. Use your own if you like... they are all similar. The idea however is that you need to make sure you use cream cheese in the revised version so it will hold its shape!

Taco Dip

1 can refried beans
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 - 8 oz container sour cream
1 - 8 oz. cream cheese
1 package Taco Seasoning mix
1/2 c salsa or diced tomatoes
1/3 c chopped or diced onion or green onion
1 small can sliced black olives
1 c guacamole
4 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. finely shredded cheese of your choice

Mix the refried beans and black beans together and add package of taco seasoning. Mash the black beans a bit with a wooden spoon to help blend.

Using a mixer, blend the package of cream cheese with the sour cream. Stir in the chopped green onions and salsa. Mix the guacamole with the 4 oz. cream cheese with an electric mixer.

Spray a springform pan with a cooking spray and spread a layer of the bean mixture, follow with a layer of the white sour cream mixture, then a layer of guacamole, a sprinkle of cheese and black olives and then repeat the layers again. Make them as thick or thin as you like - it's your dip!

I love the garnish on this photo! You can achieve it by using springs of rosemary if you can find them and tiny bits of red pepper.

For my family - or a large group I would double this recipe and make a nice tall dip. When it's as full or tall as you like, cover the top with plastic wrap and chill for 8-12 hours. When you are ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the pan and carefully remove the sides. Serve with tortilla chips, pita chips or celery sticks.
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Hot Chocolate Vanilla!

My regular readers know that I would probably serve myself an extra helping of potatoes before I'd reach for a slice of chocolate pie, or I'd have a tall glass of ice water while everyone else was grabbing handfuls of Oreos. I can't help it. I just don't 'crave' chocolate like some. Another thing I don't care for... hot chocolate. Not even on a freezing cold day in the Midwest. But here is a recipe that someone just like me can truly enjoy. Not hot chocolate... but hot vanilla!

Hot Vanilla

In a medium bowl, whip 1/2 cup of whipping cream until it's frothy. Add a dash of powdered sugar and a dash of cinnamon, then continue to whip the mixture until peaks form. This will be used to top your hot drink.

For each hot vanilla, microwave 1 cup of milk and 2 tsp of sugar in a mug for 90 seconds. Stir in 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract. Top with a dollop of whipped cream, a *optional* drizzle of chocolate syrup or even a candy cane!
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Stonewall Kitchens "Favorites" Recipe Book

I'm laughing about this now... but only just barely. Looking over some old files I saw that I was going to post this recipe book from Stonewall Kitchen - back in May! Ha Ha. That tells you about how busy I am. Gah!

So from May... I give you a yummy, delicious cookbook that probably should have been posted last Spring or Summer! Ha. Instead... we can call it a Christmas gift.

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What Are Frozen Puff Pastry Shells

For many of my readers this month is a time of holiday parties and gatherings. It's a time of finger foods, appetizers and desserts. While going through my photo files this morning I saw a couple pictures I took of a package of frozen puff pastry shells I bought about a month ago. Maybe today would be a good day to do a "What Are Frozen Puff Pastry Shells?"

There is one overwhelming popular brand for this sort of thing that you'll find in most of your area grocery stores. It's in the frozen food section, near the whipped cream, frozen pie shells, frozen fruit and desserts.

When you open the package you might be surprised to see they are not puffy and simply need reheating, but instead are flat, like a perforated piece of cardboard.

You snap them apart and bake according to directions on the package which includes baking quickly at a very high temperature to help in the raising process of the many, many layers of puff pastry.

When done correctly you end up with a little tiny pastry that is not yet a shell to be filled. Instead, you have to carefully 'scoop' out the center, leaving a tiny little vessel in which to fill with either a savory filing like a mini quiche, tiny little ham and a sauce or even a cream cheese and chive filling, etc. or can also be used for a sweet dessert bite when filled with mousse, pudding, whipped cream, etc.

My personal opinion is that although cute, they are rather greasy for our tastes. I didn't like the taste (very chemical tasting) and thought the greasy layers were just a bit too much for me. I would prefer to whip up a batch of mini cream puffs I think instead, and use those for a delicious mini puff appetizer but in a pinch or if I was serving mini quiche or something savory instead of sweet I would buy these again.
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Did you Make Your Mini Thanksgiving Dinner Cupcakes?

These are a tradition in our home and my three teens all say they fully intend on carrying on the tradition to their own families as they grow up and get married. As a matter of fact we've spread this tradition far and wide as many (many!) friends from all around the country now make these for their families as well!

This Thanksgiving was a busy one for us. My new job kept me working right up until Thanksgiving Day. But the kids (and their friends!) all were reminding me constantly and asking if I'd made the cupcakes yet. Oh yes... nothing would keep me from making the cupcakes. LOL.

I thought I would share a couple of the "in progress" photos for you!

Starting out with the sugar 'cranberries' and sprinkle 'green beans'

You can see how I slice the top off some of the cupcakes' peaks
to give me a flat surface to lay the cookie 'plate'

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Vanilla Crepe Torte (Cake)

This recipe is complied from a few different places and all smooshed together to make one. A major newspaper publication has published one similar, as well as numerous websites, magazines, cookbooks and more. There is a reason for that! Yum! It's everything I love... and nothing I don't care for (like chocolate! Ha). It's a Crepe cake or Crepe Torte with my ultimate favorite comfort dessert; a thick vanilla custard mixed with fresh whipped cream.

The 20 layers is incredible to see and is so rich and pretty it's perfect for a holiday open house or gathering.

Crepe Torte (Cake)

For the crêpes batter:

6 T butter
3 c milk
6 eggs
1 1/2 c flour
7 T sugar
Pinch salt
vegetable oil

Make this recipe batter and filling the day before you want to serve the cake!

For the batter, cook the butter in a small pan until brown. Set aside. In another small pan, heat the milk briefly. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. In a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the eggs, flour, sugar and salt. Slowly add the hot milk and browned butter. Pour into a container with a spout, cover and refrigerate overnight.

To make the crepes, bring the batter to room temperature. Place a nonstick or seasoned 9-inch crepe pan over medium heat. Grease the pan lightly then add about 3 tablespoons batter and swirl to cover the surface. Cook until the bottom just begins to brown, about 1 minute, then carefully lift an edge and flip the crepe. Some use their fingers. Cook on the other side for 5 seconds. Place the crepe on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat until you have 20 crepes that are the same size and perfectly round.

For the vanilla pastry cream:

2 cups milk
1 Tbsp. vanilla
6 egg yolks
1/2 c sugar
1/3 c cornstarch
3 1/2 T butter

Bring the milk to a boil. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla and let cool for 10 minutes. Fill a large bowl with ice and set aside a small bowl that can hold the finished pastry cream and be placed in this ice bath.

In a medium heavy-bottomed pan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, then place pan over high heat and bring to a boil, whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes. If you have one, press the pastry cream through a fine-meshed sieve into the small bowl. Set the bowl in the ice bath and stir until it cools a bit. Stir in the butter. When completely cool, cover and refrigerate.

To assemble the cake:

2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons Kirsch
icing sugar (optional)

Whip the heavy cream with the tablespoon sugar and the Kirsch. Fold into the pastry cream.

Lay 1 crepe on a cake plate. Using an icing spatula, completely cover with a thin layer of pastry cream (about 1/4 cup). Cover with a crepe and repeat to make a stack of 20. Chill for at least 2 hours. Set out for 20 minutes before serving. Dust the top with confectioners sugar.
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Chocolate Cinnamon Apple Torte

Chocolate, cinnamon, almond and apple. What an interesting combination! To make it even more interesting it used hard cooked egg yolks... odd! I have this recipe wrote down in my files and there is a scribble of 'food and wine' next to it. I believe it came from a food and wine magazine or article a few years ago. I tucked it away with a notation next to it to make it in the winter time. This still makes sense to me as it really seems a cold weather dessert. Perfect for Christmas or a holiday open house!

Chocolate Cinnamon Apple Torte

2 1/2 sticks butter
1/2 c plus 2 T powdered sugar
1/2 c plus 1 T finely ground blanched almonds
3 hard boiled large egg yolks, cooled to room temperature and pressed through a sieve
2 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt
1 T dark rum
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/4 t baking powder

1 large Granny Smith apple - peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 t cinnamon
1 T unsalted butter
2 T rum
1/3 c heavy cream
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
6 large egg whites, at room temperature

2 oz. bittersweet chocolate shavings and curls
1/4 Granny Smith apple
1 t lemon juice
2 t apple jelly
2 cinnamon sticks

Cream the butter, add the powdered sugar, ground almonds, egg yolks, cinnamon and salt and process until smooth. Add the rum and mix. Add the flour and baking powder and mix well. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and gather into a ball. Cut the dough into thirds; pat each piece into a 6-inch disk and wrap separately in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. Let the dough soften slightly before rolling it out.

Preheat the oven to 350. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll 1 disk of the dough into a 10-inch round. Cut out a 9-inch round. Carefully transfer the round to a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes. Repeat with the remaining disks of dough. Prick the rounds all over with a fork, then bake them one at a time for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Transfer the cakes to a rack and let cool completely.

Filling: In a bowl, combine the apple with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and the cinnamon. In a large heavy skillet, melt the butter over moderately high heat. Add the apple and cook over high heat, stirring, until lightly crusted and tender but not mushy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the rum, stir the apple to coat. Transfer to a plate and let cool to room temperature.

In a small saucepan, heat the cream with the cinnamon sticks until almost simmering. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from the heat. Strain the hot cream over the chocolate; discard the cinnamon sticks. Gently stir until smooth and let cool until tepid.

In a bowl, beat the egg whites until very foamy. Gradually add the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, beating until stiff glossy peaks form. Using a large rubber spatula, fold one-quarter of the beaten whites into the chocolate. Fold in the remaining whites, then fold in the apple.

Set 1 cinnamon pastry round in the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan and spread half of the chocolate mousse on top. Cover with a second pastry round, pressing gently. Spread the rest of the mousse over the top and cover with the last pastry round. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours.

Remove the side of the pan and pat a thin layer of chocolate shavings against the side of the cake. Cut 5 thin slices from the apple and rub with the lemon juice. Fan the apple slices on the cake. In a small saucepan, melt the apple jelly over moderately high heat and brush a thin layer over the apples. Garnish with the cinnamon sticks and serve.
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Quick and Easy Cake Balls

Just like in fashion, food also has fads. (How about all those F's in that sentence! Ha). Last year the biggest rage and 'must have' on everyone's lists were; cake balls.

Beautiful to look at, similar in appearance to truffles and easily mistaken for a truffle until you bite into them, they are tiny little balls of goodness - compacting cake and frosting into one bite instead of a slice. Simple to serve, great for an appetizer or dessert, they go perfectly with almost any situation, party, meal or occasion. The thing is... you don't really need a recipe.

Oh I know... some of you groan when I post recipes that don't really need recipes. LOL. I know some readers think they can't cook or bake unless they are told exactly, precisely how much of everything to use and don't believe they can cook using a 'dash of this' or a 'drop of that'. But you can. Especially this recipe! As a matter of fact, this is the kind of recipe you'll want to make with your kids. Scrub their hands really well (and get under those fingernails!) and then let them 'go to town' with this one.

Cake Balls

sponge cake - about 1 cake or use the ends and trimmings from several cakes that you've saved for this purpose
fluffy butter cream frosting - about 1 container of store bought frosting per whole cake
milk chocolate or bittersweet chocolate - to melt and dip the cake balls
Colorful mini chocolate chips
Toasted almond crumbs, chocolate sprinkles and/or coconut powder

Crumble the cooked and cooled cake by rubbing the cake in your hands. Mix the crumbs thoroughly with butter cream frosting to form a dough. This is where you use your best guess on amounts. You want the cake to stick together using the frosting. Divide the cake dough into small pieces and roll into cake balls. Chill in the refrigerator for one hour.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or a bowl heated over hot water. Remove cake balls from the refrigerator. Insert a toothpick into cake ball, dip in the melted chocolate and then roll into colorful chocolate chips or almonds chips, or coconut powder. You can also dip and let them set and then use a bit of contrasting chocolate or white chocolate (or almond bark) to drizzle over the finished bites.

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Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey Idea: The Greatest Homemade Turkey Pot Pie Recipe!

Tonight after work I had my leftover turkey from the freezer and I knew I wanted to make my family's favorite turkey pot pie except... where was my favorite recipe!? I couldn't find it.

I have thousands and thousands (and thousands!) of recipes. So many that I can't keep all my books, magazines, notebooks, files and papers in one place and I keep most in storage boxes in the basement. I switch them out once or twice a year and try to circulate some of them with the ones I *always* have out.

And I didn't immediately see my Pot Pie Recipe.

I figured pot pies were all the same, so I went online and did a search. Boy was I disappointed! Yuck! Most pot pies were not what I was looking for. After searching through about 7 of them online (including one by a very well known chef that I am never impressed by), I refused to use any of them.

Sadly, although I was SURE I had posted my recipe in the past... I couldn't find it on my site!! I still have a hard time believing I never posted this before, but I didn't find it.

Well, just as I was ready to give up and actually go downstairs to search through boxes and boxes to find THE RECIPE... I spied it! Sandwiched inbetween a couple of cookbooks I saw it! Whew.

Readers... I promise you that this is the #1 pot pie recipe I've made over and over and over again since I first made it back in 1997. I hope you love it as much as we do, and I hope you can use it to make good use out of that leftover Thanksgiving Turkey!!

Old Fashioned Turkey Pot Pie

1 10 oz. package mixed carrots and pea's or all veggies
1/4 c butter
5 T flour
1/2 t salt
1/4 t poultry seasoning or sage
1/8 t pepper
2 c chicken or turkey stock (or use 2 cups water and 2-3 boullion cubes)
1 c milk
3 c chicken or turkey
1/3 c chopped onion or 4 green onions, chopped completely and cooked until tender in a bit of water
1 c cooked and diced potatoes (or use canned or dice and cook them with the onions)

Prepare the pea's and carrots (or mixed veggies). I like to cook them in the microwave while I prepare the rest. Melt butter in saucepan. Blend in flour, salt, poultry seasoning or sage, and pepper. Gradually add stock and milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until thick and smooth. Add vegetables, turkey and cooked onions and potatoes. Pour into a greased shallow baking dish. Make a biscuit topping and top the vegetable mixture. Bake at 425 degree's for 25 minutes until the top is golden brown. About 6 servings.

Biscuit Topping;


1 1/3 c flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt

Cut in
2 T butter
3 T shortening

Add 1/2 c milk (scant) and stir with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. If it's too wet and sticky add one or two more tablespoons of flour. Pat down on a lightly floured surface and roll out to the shape of your baking dish. If you prefer you can cut into wedges or squares and simply top the vegetable mixture that way too. (Up to you!).

The hot vegetable mixture
before the biscuit topping is put on

Raw biscuit dough over the hot vegetable mixture
before cooking

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Start With a Sugar Cookie Mix And... Make Snickerdoodles!

Yes, my regular readers know that I don't buy cookie mixes. I don't have them on hand. I don't use them. But I know most of my friends do and I know that kids, friends and family probably don't care if they are completely homemade or not. When you take a pan of hot, fresh baked cookies out of the oven, the aroma transcends any preconceived notions of whether or not starting with a package mix is ok or not!

When I received a Betty Crocker email that had this recipe in it I immediately thought of a couple of my busy Mommy friends who do have cookie mixes on hand and how they might love to have a recipe like this one. Quick and easy they can pull off cute little Christmas cookies in no time! Hope you enjoy it too.

Snickerdoodles (starting with a store bought sugar cookie mix)

1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz) sugar cookie mix
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
red and green decorating icings

Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, stir cookie mix, flour, butter and egg until dough forms. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. In small bowl, mix sugar and cinnamon. Roll balls in sugar-cinnamon mixture. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 11 to 12 minutes or until set. Cool 1 minute. Remove from cookie sheets. If desired, roll tops of warm cookies in additional sugar and cinnamon mixture. Cool completely, about 20 minutes. Decorate as desired using icing.
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Olive Salad (Green Olive Salad with Kalamatra Olives too!)

I am an absolute pushover for green olives. I love the salty taste, the texture... I love everything about them and the fact is, olives are one of the earliest food memories I have. I literally cannot remember a time when I didn't eat them. First, by plucking out the red pimento inside and sticking them on my fingers and eating them off one by one and later, one of my favorite sandwiches (that I still eat once in a while to this day) are cheese and olive sandwiches; 2 buttered slices of bread with a slice of American cheese, a ton of sliced green olives and squished together firmly between my palms to keep the olives from falling out. It's a comfort food from my high school and junior high days and one that makes my mouth water just thinking about the salty goodness!

That said, you'll understand my excitement a few years ago when I found a couple olive salad recipes. I added this one to my list to make on one of the 'holidays' and really, I should have made this one yesterday for Thanksgiving but I'm going to tuck it into my brain to make for our extended families Christmas Eve celebration as I come from a family of 'olive lovers' and I know it will be a hit!

Olive Salad

3 jars green olives, drained
1 pound Kalamata olives, pitted
1 can of ripe black olives
1 medium jar of roasted red peppers
5 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
2 bell peppers, chopped
1 5-6 stalks celery, chopped with leaves too
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
3T dry Italian seasoning, crushed
3/4 cup olive oil
¼ teaspoon of crushed red pepper

Mix all ingredients together and marinate at least 24 to 48 hours before serving.
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Cucumber Appetizers with Herbed Cream Cheese

If I was to pick a top food that is always on hand, always eaten, always used in at least 5 recipes a week and is versatile, it would have to be cream cheese. We eat a lot of it! From cheesecakes to dip, appetizers to cheese sauces, casseroles to pasta fillings.... cream cheese is one of the most incredible foods! Here is a quick and easy appetizer you can throw together for yourself or company.

4 oz. cream cheese
1 T sour cream
2 T fresh basil - chopped
2 T fresh chopped parsley
1 t chopped fresh oregano
smidgen (1/4 t) fresh rosemary
2 green onions, chopped
1 t lemon juice
1 seedless cucumber (English)

Blend or mix the cream cheese, sour cream, herbs, onions and lemon juice until smooth. Slice the cucumber into 1/4 inch rounds. Either dab a teaspoon of cheese filling on each or place in a ziploc baggy and squeeze a bit out in a pretty dollop. You can garnish with a sliver of red bell pepper and a little oregano if desired.
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Imitation Aussie Bites

Todays recipe is a copy cat recipe for the Aussie Bites that you can buy at membership warehouses. Someone brought in a container to work this week and we've all been enjoying them in the break room. I had one today and while studying it for ingredients decided it was basically a chewy granola bar, but made in a little muffin tin.

I went online to find the recipe and all I found (over and over and over again) was the same recipe posted on numerous sites. It had mixed reviews though - most said it was too dry and crumbly. Looking over the ingredients I would concur. I think it has too much butter and flour in it to be 'chewy'. So the next step was to look up a chewy granola bar recipe and compare the two. The end result is my own version which is this*;

Imitation Aussie Bites

1 cup quick rolled oats
1/3 cup quick oats, processed till finely ground in a food processor or blender
2/3 c whole wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar, optional
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
1 c unsweetened coconut (I think you could use regular sweetened too)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup dried raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup melted butter
1/4 c canola oil
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons hot water

Combine the dry ingredients and fruit into a bowl. Heat the butter and honey in the microwave, stir in the oil and add to the dry ingredients. Place a heaping tablespoon full into mini muffin pans and press down firmly. Bake at 350 degree's 7-10 minutes until set and let cool.

*I'm reserving the right to tweak this recipe and I'll update if needed after it's tried and true!
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Mini Thanksgiving Dinner Cupcakes

I smile to post this because it's the third year in a row on this recipe blog that I've shared one of our Thanksgiving Traditions with my readers. Yes... Thanksgiving can officially take place now that I have the two dozen tiny mini turkey dinner cupcakes made!

Starting with a frosted cupcake, topped with a cookie, you then spread a thin round layer of frosting. Using Brach's Maple Nut Candies for 'turkey', melted caramels for the 'gravy', white frosting 'potatoes' a dot of yellow food color gel for 'butter' and sugar crystal 'cranberries' with nonpareil 'green beans'; it only looks like a meat and potatoes kind of meal. It's really a sweet treat!

Thanks to my blogs I've shared this 'recipe' many times and I'm happy to report that I now have many, many bloggers and friends and readers that make these (or similar using the products they can find in their own grocery stores) every year for their families. What a great tradition! Are you ready to start???
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Chicken 'Ribbon' Sandwiches

Today was the first snow of the season. A great Saturday morning to sit at the kitchen table, sip hot coffee and plan my Thanksgiving menu. I actually started a little bit of the 'cooking' already having made a pumpkin cheesecake yesterday and I baked the cupcakes today as well as the homemade cranberry sauce. I've spent the rest of the afternoon surfing online for Christmas gifts and ideas.

If you have a few holiday parties coming up hopefully you will find more than a few appetizer ideas on my site. I've got a thousand more in my files and hopefully I'll be posting quite a number of them over the next few weeks. Today I give you another version of the ever popular 'ribbon' style sandwich.

Chicken 'Ribbon' Sandwiches

8 oz. cream cheese, soft
1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t five spice powder
3/4 c butter
1/4 c fresh parsley, snipped
10 slices whole wheat bread
5 slices white bread
5 slices of a nice, quality chicken loaf or thick deli slices

Beat the cream cheese and spices in a small bowl with the spices until smooth. Beat the butter with the parsley in a separate bowl. Spread 5 slices of the whole wheat bread with the cheese mixture. Top wtih 5 slices of white bread. Spread those with half of the butter mixture. Top with the chicken. Spread the remaining wheat bread with the butter mixture and place butter side down on the chicken. Cut the crusts from the sandwiches and cut the sandwiches into thirds to make 'ribbons' and then cut each of those into 3 bite sized pieces. This will give you 45 appetizers.
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Scottish Eggs

Hard boiled eggs go fast in this household. With a husband and 16 year old son that love them they disappear so quickly I sometimes have to write on the outside of the shell not to eat it if I'm saving it for a salad or something. They also dearly love almost anything made with hard boiled eggs! This recipe is for those that love hard boiled eggs and sausage. Originally I believe this recipe was made with ground chicken and a few spices, but it's so delicious and so easy when using prepared ground breakfast sausage in its place!

12 eggs
1 pound breakfast sausage
1 beaten egg
fine bread crumbs

Hard boil eggs and allow to cool to room temperature. Shell the eggs and toss them into a little bit of flour. Shake off the excess. Shape a bit of sausage around each egg, encompassing it. Dip each egg into the beaten egg and coat in crumbs. Just before serving deep fry the eggs in hot oil. Drain. Cut in half for an appetizer or serve whole for a breakfast treat.
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Smoked Salmon Bites

With Thanksgiving right around the corner the holidays are ready to kick off! And with that comes a lot of parties and get-togethers. This means; lots of finger foods! So I'm hoping to try to get many little appetizers and finger foods on here in the next couple weeks. I have to start doing some of my holiday baking as well - the kids are anxious for Moms 1,000 Christmas cookies!

My family loves salmon and also loves puff pastry. Put the two together and you have a quick, easy appetizer that looks impressive and is so yummy!

*note* I thought I had a photo of this one but a quick glance through my files isn't locating it. I'll add it if and when I get time as I KNOW I took one! LOL. They look like tiny little cream puffs but instead of being 'filled' they are topped.

Smoked Salmon Bites

1 package peppered camembert
2 sheets puff pastry
smoked salmon - about 4 oz. thin sliced
1/2 of a lime - very thin sliced
dill - fresh and snipped into tiny sprigs

Remove the rind from the cheese and cut into thin 2 inch squares. Cut tiny 2 inch rounds from the pastry, place them in tiny tart trays if you have one, if not, an ungreased baking sheet will do. Top them with the cheese slice. Bake the puffs at 350 for about 25 minutes. Remove from the tray and immediately top with a slice of salmon, a tiny little triangle of lime and a sprig of dill.
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How to Move and Carve That Turkey!

As you stand in front of the hot, roasted delicious turkey you now have to decide; how do you get it from the roasting pan to the serving platter without it falling apart or on the floor?

Honestly, I think Grandma had the best idea; scrunch up paper towels or aluminum foil in each hand as a buffer between the turkey and your hands and then lift and move... really fast! Over the years I've used oven mitts that had to immediately go into the laundry afterwards, I've always used spatulas, tongs and other devices. Wooden spoons inserted inside the bird, even a mixture of all of the above! Whatever works for you works for me! No one will see you do this part anyway.

But now... you have to carve it! I found this step by step picture of how to carve a turkey that I must have found years and years ago as I had it clipped and taped to the inside of one of my hand written notebooks. I thought it would be perfect to post on the blog to help my readers too!

In the end however, if you are unsure of your carving skills, I suggest this: Do it in the kitchen! Away from prying eyes. Bring the bird to the table for the Thanksgiving prayer and then walk it back to the kitchen, carve away and return to the table with a platter full of sliced and carved turkey for the masses. No one will see how you cut it! They'll just see the beautiful and yummy finished product!
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Bacon Wrapped Scallops

There is a reason this one is always seen at parties and get-togethers. It's just that good. I personally serve bacon wrapped shrimp often in our home, and this is similar. Bacon Wrapped Scallops. This recipe has a bit of a teriaki flavor to it.

Bacon Wrapped Scallops

1/2 t garam masala
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t five-spice powder
1/4 c soy sauce
1 T canola oil
1 lb. sea scallops
10 thick slices bacon

Combine the marinade and scallops. Refrigerate 3-4 hours. Cut each slice of bacon in thirds and wrap scallops. Secure with toothpicks. Broil the bites in the oven until the bacon is browned and crisp. Serve. These can also be made a day ahead and then broiled before serving.
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Crumb Breaded Squid

It's the kick off of the holiday season. A time of house parties, work parties and well, parties! What makes a great party is not only the crowd invited but the food served. I, like most people really love a lot of different appetizers being served rather than a heavy meal. This 'grazing' style is perfect as the individual portions are neat and easy to eat, are the perfect 'trial' size (because you never know if you'll like something or not) and it's always good to have something in your stomach if you are also serving drinks. Lastly, a nice selection of appetizers is much, much better than opening a bag of chips and calling it 'done'.

I found an old budget recipe book in my files - one of those that probably didn't go far when it was first printed as it's the one you find in the clearance bin of the dollar store. There is a good reason for that - There are many typo's and little goof-ups in the book but almost anyone could recognize them and knows what to do. (Like it will tell you to add the sugar to the butter, vanilla and milk mixture... but it never told you to mix the butter, vanilla and milk together in the first place!) Don't worry - I'll catch and correct their goofs before I add them to my collection here.

Yet, I love all recipe books, big, small, expensive, or even the freebies. I adore recipes and love food and cooking so they are all equal in my eyes!

Here is a great recipe for Crumb Breaded Squid - served with a coconut sauce

7 oz. pkg. cheese flavored corn chips, crushed into fine crumbs
7 oz. small, clean squid - thin sliced into rings
1/3 c corn starch
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 T milk
oil for frying


1 t canola oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 t curry powder
1/2 t turmeric
2 t cornstarch
1 c canned unsweetened coconut cream
1/2 t sugar

Combine the egg and milk in a small bowl. Toss squid in cornstarch, shake away the excess and dip in the egg and milk mixture. Dredge in the crushed corn chips. Press the crumbs on firmly and cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

Deep fry the squid in hot oil about 30 seconds until done. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot with sauce.

Heat oil in pan. Add garlic, curry powder, turmeric. Cook fo r2 minutes. Remove from heat. Blend the cornstarch with 1 T of the coconut cream. Stir into the curry mixture with sugar. Return to heat. Gradually stir in the rest of the cream. Stir until it boils and thickens. Simmer 1 minute and serve.
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Rainbow Layer Bars with Almond Paste

This post is just making me shake my head to write it. You see, I had to work so long and hard to find this recipe! And it's kind of a cute story so I'm going to share.

First off, I have no idea what this recipe is really called. A long time ago I saw a picture of some cookies or bars that just looked so amazing and delicious, the image stuck in my brain. Although I don't remember when or where I know I was reading something online and came across the photo again so this time I saved a copy of it in my files. I did not have a recipe to go with it, I had no idea where it came from, but I couldn't get the image out of my head!

A few weeks ago I was bored and had some 'down' time to de-stress and just surf the internet a little bit when I came across a post on a message board that wasn't very eye catching, but I clicked on the title anyway. I have no idea why.

Suddenly, there it was. MY picture! The picture I had saved and saved and saved.... hoping to some day track down a recipe to go with it. And it was right in front of me! I was so excited I immediately cut and pasted the recipe to a word file and saved it, but in my rush I neglected to paste the name of the recipe. LOL.

So I have no idea what they are called, but they remind me of Christmas and also of an Italian flag with the red, green and white layers. All I know is have almond paste in them (which is a LOVE of mine) and I want to make these this Christmas!

And now... I finally (finally!) have the recipe. And you do too.

Rainbow Layer Bars

Ingredients4 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 (8-oz) can almond paste
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
25 drops red food coloring
25 drops green food coloring
1 (12-oz) jar apricot preserves, heated and strained
7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped

You'll need a heavy-duty stand mixer for this recipe!

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 13X9" baking pan and line bottom with wax paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 ends, then butter the paper.

Beat egg whites in mixer fitted with whisk attachment at medium-high speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating at high speed until whites hold stiff, slightly glossy peaks. Transfer to another bowl.

Switch to a paddle attachment, then beat together almond paste and remaining 3/4 cup sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add butter and beat until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and almond extract and beat until combined well, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add flour and salt and mix until just combined.

Fold half of egg white mixture into almond mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Divide batter among 3 bowls. Stir red food coloring into one and green food coloring into another, leaving the third batch plain. Set white batter aside. Chill green batter, covered. Pour red batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with offset spatula (layer will be about 1/4 inch thick).

Bake red layer 8 to 10 minutes, until just set but still undercooked!

Using paper overhang, transfer layer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Clean pan, then line with wax paper and butter paper in same manner as above.

Bake white layer in prepared pan until just set. As white layer bakes, bring green batter to room temperature. Transfer white layer to a rack. Prepare pan as above, then bake green layer in same manner as before. Transfer to a rack to cool.

When all layers are cool, invert green onto a wax-paper-lined large baking sheet. Discard paper from layer and spread with half of preserves. Invert white on top of green layer, discarding paper. Spread with remaining preserves. Invert red layer on top of white layer and discard wax paper.

Cover with plastic wrap and weight with a large baking pan. Chill at least 8 hours.

Remove weight and plastic wrap. Bring layers to room temperature. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Keep chocolate over water.

Trim edges of assembled layers with a long serrated knife. Quickly spread half of chocolate in a thin layer on top of cake. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Cover with another sheet of wax paper and place another baking sheet on top, then invert cake onto sheet and remove paper. Quickly spread with remaining chocolate. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Cut lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut strips crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide cookies.
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