Sunday, December 28, 2008

Crash Hot Potatoes

For Christmas dinner this year, we had grilled herb-crusted beef tenderloin with four dipping sauces, crash hot potatoes, creamed spinach, and salad. We didn't have a very big meal because we had had the breakfast casserole I posted elsewhere, along with cinnamon rolls and fruit salad for breakfast.

These potatoes were a highlight. I got the recipe from the Pioneer Woman website and made a few changes. They do have a decent amount of olive oil, but compared to other holiday potato recipes, they are not that bad. They go very well with steak and are easy enough for a weekday, but delicious enough for holidays.

Crash Hot Potatoes

Small red potatoes
Kosher salt
Olive Oil

Clean potatoes and boil in salted water until fork-tender. Drain. Preheat a rimmed cookie sheet in a 450 degree oven; drizzle with olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Place whole potatoes on cookie sheet and "crash" them with either a potato masher or a large fork. It's okay if they end up in pieces a bit. Drizzle a little more olive oil on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Note: The potatoes can be boiled ahead of time and cooled if desired. You may need to cook them a bit longer.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snowman Treats for Kids

I like to include some kid-friendly treats with a Christmas tray. Here are two I've used. There are many versions of them on the internet, but most likely I got the ideas from Family Fun magazine.

Pretzel Snowmen


white chocolate chips or white candy bark (often called almond bark)
rod pretzels
mini chocolate chips or baking M&M's
orange gel food coloring
gummy rings: peach, etc.
gum drops/bells
fruit by the foot


Melt the white chocolate in the microwave on 50% power, stirring every 30 - 60 seconds until melted. You can add 1/2 t. of oil if it seems too thick. Hold one end of the pretzel and use a spoon to coat 1/2 -2/3 of the pretzel. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and set each pretzel down. Stick on the mini chocolate chips or M&M's for eyes and buttons, leaving a space for the scarf. Cut about 6-9 inches of fruit by the foot with food scissors; fringe the ends. Put the scarf criss-crossed around the snowman's "neck" and secure with more white chocolate (put it back in the microwave if it hardens). Attach the gummy ring and gumdrop to the top with white chocolate to make a hat. Make a carrot nose with the gel, or just use one of the orange M&M's.

Note: you might find it easier to do the decorating while the snowman is standing up in a glass. I use the baking pan, though.

Marshmallow Snowmen

The picture is a bit different from mine - it's on Twizzler skis, which is really cute!


large marshmallows
white chocolate/white candy bark
fruit by the foot
pretzel sticks
cracker/twisty pretzels/square pretzels
mini chocolate chips/baking M&M's
orange food gel

The process is basically the same as in the previous example - although you use the white chocolate as "glue," and you don't cover the marshmallows in chocolate. Use the cracker/square pretzel as an anchor, then attach three marshmallows with white chocolate. Break stick pretzels in half and push into second marshmallow for arms. The mini M&M's and chocolate chips are for eyes and buttons, and the fruit by the foot is for a scarf. Make a carrot nose with the gel, or just use one of the orange M&M's. I don't use a hat because these are prone to tip over, but I think a mini Reese's PB cup would be cute.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Breakfast Casserole

And now, for something completely different. A recipe with no sugar!

I love this breakfast casserole template from Pam Anderson. She is one of my favorite cookbook authors. [Insert obligatory no, not that Pamela Anderson - by the way, did you see the picture of her at the art gallery where she forgot her pants? Not good.]

Anyway, this is a template because you can mix and match whatever ingredients you like. You can leave out the meat and vegetables and have just a basic egg and cheese version. My favorites, however, are sausage and bell peppers or bacon, spinach, and onions. The key is to saute your vegetables lightly before putting them in the casserole - don't put them in raw.

This is great to make ahead, so I love to do it for Christmas morning. Besides, if you use red and green bell peppers or spinach and bacon, you have the green and red theme covered.

Breakfast Casserole

1 quart half and half
12 large eggs
1 tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper
12-14 slices fluffy white bread (Cheap soft white bread is best)
1 pound meat or seafood and 1 pound vegetables or 2 pounds of vegetables (optional)
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
12 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 3 cups)

Cook meat if using and set aside. Prepare vegetables by chopping and sauteing with a little olive oil and salt and pepper.

Whisk half and half, eggs, salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl until smooth.

Spray a 13 x 9 inch baking dish with vegetable cooking spray. Line bottom of baking dish with 6 slices of bread. If necessary, cut strips and fit them into any gaps. If using meat and/or vegetables, scatter half of each over bread, then sprinkle with half the scallions and half the cheese. Pour 1 cup egg mixture over bread. Make another layer with remaining bread, filling gaps as needed. Top with remaining meat and/or veggies, scallions and cheese. Slowly pour remaining egg mixture over bread.

Let stand at least 15 minutes (cover and weigh down with a pot) or overnight.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Bake until custard is just set, about 55-60 minutes. Turn on broiler and broil for a few minutes until top of casserole has a spotty brown appearance. Watch the casserole so it doesn't burn.

Let sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting.

Pecan Squares

These squares from Martha Stewart fill the need for a pecan treat on a cookie tray. She says they are like pecan pie, but I think they would be more like pie if you substituted corn syrup for the honey.

Pecan Squares

Makes about 32 cookies.

18 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup light-brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup light-brown sugar, firmly packed
6 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups (8 ounces) pecan halves
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Place rack in center of oven. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

To make the crust: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix butter and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add salt, and mix to combine. Add flour 1 cup at a time, on medium speed, mixing until fully incorporated after each addition. Continue mixing until the dough begins to come together in large clumps.
Press dough about 1/4-inch thick into a 9-by-13-by-1-inch baking pan. Prick the pastry with the tines of a fork. Chill until firm, about 20 minutes. Bake until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

Reduce oven to 325 degrees. To make the filling: Place butter, brown sugar, honey, granulated sugar, heavy cream, and salt in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat; stir in nuts and vanilla.

Pour filling onto the cooled crust. Bake until filling bubbles, 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Run a paring knife around edges of the pan, and invert onto cooling rack, leaving the pastry on the rack. Invert rack with pastry onto a cutting board, leaving the pastry on the board, filling side up. Use a sharp knife to cut into 1-by-3-inch bars. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Cranberry Coconut Shortbread Cookies

I love these cookies, but I know that chocolate is a bigger draw to most people. I think cranberries belong on a cookie tray, though, for color, tartness, and tradition.

I have no idea where I found this recipe, but I've had it for years.

Cranberry Coconut Shortbread Cookies

1 1/2 cups butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon grated orange peel
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries (Craisins)
1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked dried coconut

1. In a large bowl, with a mixer on medium speed, beat 1 1/2 cups butter, sugar, orange peel, and vanilla until smooth.

2. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to butter mixture, stir to mix, then beat on low speed until dough comes together, about five minutes.

3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place about 2 inches apart on buttered or parchment-covered baking sheets.

4. Bake in a 350 degree oven until cookie edges just begin to brown, 8-11 minutes (shorter baking time will yield a chewier cookie, which I prefer). Let cookies cool on sheets for five minutes, then use a wide spatula to transfer to racks to cool completely.

Fleur de Sel Caramels

The sweet/salty combination is very addictive: think chocolate-covered pretzels, peanut butter and jelly, and kettle corn. I'd never made caramels before this year, but I was happy with these. They turned out quite chewy, not soft. I sprinkled them with sea salt before they set, which gave them an extra hit of saltiness and a crystal sheen. My father-in-law liked them before knowing they were a sea salt version, which make sense, because he likes salt so much that he thinks pizza isn't salty enough on its own!

The recipe is from Epicurious with my changes. I doubled it and used a 9x13 pan with no problem.

Fleur de Sel Caramels

1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or coarse sea salt, and more for sprinkling
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water

Special equipment: parchment paper; a deep-fat thermometer

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then lightly oil parchment.

Bring cream, butter, and fleur de sel to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.

Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel.
Carefully stir in cream mixture (mixture will bubble up) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248°F on thermometer, 10 to 15 minutes.

Pour into baking pan in one pour - don't scrape and add any caramel leftover in the pan, becaues it will harden on the top. Sprinkle evenly with sea salt. Cool 2 hours. Cut into 1-inch pieces, then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper, twisting 2 ends to close.

Yummy No-Bake Bars

No-bake bars are not very ususual, but these are a little bit special. They have a thin vanilla layer in between the peanut butter/chocolate layers. The recipe makes a huge amount, too.

A 15X10X1 pan is a jelly roll pan or a rimmed cookie sheet. You could half the recipe and make it in a 9-inch square pan, but really, why would you want to?

Yummy No-Bake Bars (source: BH &G)

1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. light color corn syrup
2 cups peanut butter
3 cups Rice Krispies
3 cups cornflakes
¾ c. butter
4 cups powdered sugar
2 4-serving size packages vanilla instant pudding (not sugar-free)
¼ c. milk
1 12 oz. package semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup butter

Line a 15x10x1 inch baking pan with foil, extending the foil over the edges of the pan.

In a large saucepan, combine sugar and corn syrup; heat and stir just until mixture boils around the edges. Heat and stir for 1 minute more. Remove from heat. Stir in peanut butter until melted. Stir in rice cereal and cornflakes until coated. Press mixture into the bottom of prepared pan.

For pudding layer, in a medium saucepan, melt the ¾ c. butter. Stir in powdered sugar, dry vanilla pudding mixes, and milk. Spread pudding mixture over cereal layers; set aside.

For frosting, in a small saucepan, combine chocolate pieces and the ½ cup butter; heat and stir over low heat until melted. Spread frosting over pudding layer. Cover and chill about one hour or until set. To serve, remove set mixture from pan by lifting foil. Remove foil. Place set mixture on cutting board; cut into bars. Makes 64 bars.

To store: Layer bars in single layer between waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store in refrigerator or freezer.

Meyer Lemon Ricotta Cookies

Here's another recipe I found on Cooking Light, but the original recipe is from the Wisconsin Dairy Board. I decorate them with sparkling sugar. They are a soft, cakey, very lemon-y cookies. I never can find Meyer lemons, but regular ones work fine. I read once that every Christmas cookie tray should have peppermint, lemon, spice, and nuts represented, and these fit the bill for me.

Meyer Lemon Ricotta Cookies


Cookies:1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
15 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract or 1 teaspoon lemon and/or tangerine baking oil
3 tablespoons Meyer lemon zest, freshly grated*
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Glaze:6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice

Decorating sugar, silver dragees (small silver balls), optional

*Meyer lemons are available mid-November through early spring in specialty food stores. You will need 2 to 3 medium-sized lemons. Regular lemons can be substituted.

Cooking Directions:Preheat oven to 350°F and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine butter and sugar in bowl; cream together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, ricotta, lemon extract (or baking oil), zest and juice; blend well.

Add 1 cup flour, baking powder and salt; blend to combine. Add remaining flour in two parts, blending to combine between each, until a dough forms.

Drop by rounded tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets. Bake until cookie edges are very light golden, about 12 to 15 minutes. Let cookies rest on baking sheet for a few minutes and transfer to wire cooling rack.

While cookies cool, prepare glaze by creaming together butter and sugar. Continue to mix, gradually adding juice until desired consistency. Decorate cooled cookies adding dragees or decorating sugar, if desired, before icing sets.

Gingerbread Playdough/Pumpkin Spice Playdough

These are not, obviously, cookie recipes, but they're great for this time of year. I got the idea from Jack's preschool teacher, Ginger. It's fun to make and give away to friends at Christmas, and it keeps forever in the refrigerator. Homemade playdough is more fun to play with than the kind you can buy, and it's oddly satisfying to cook over the stove and watch it come together.

Gingerbread Play-Dough

4 Cups flour
2 Cups salt
8 teaspoons cream of tartar
4 cups water
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
Spices--Cinnamon, Allspice, Ginger, Nutmeg (you'll use quite a bit)
Iusually add plenty of spice so it turns brown. However, you can also add red and green food coloring to make it darker.

1. Mix the dry ingredients together.Add small amounts of the spices to the paydough until it smells just how you want it to smell.
2. Mix water and oil together in a separate bowl.
3. In a small pot add the oil mix to the dry mix slowly stirring to mix well.
4. Cook the mixture for two to three minutes, stirring frequently.
5. Keep stirring until the dough starts to pull away from the side of the pan
5. Take the dough out of the pan, let cool a couple of seconds so you can handle it, and knead the dough until it becomes soft and smooth.
6. Store in an airtight container.

Pumpkin Spice Playdough

5 1\2 Cups Flour
2 Cups Salt
8 teaspoons Cream of Tartar
3\4 Cup Oil
1 Container (1 1\2 ounces) Pumpkin Pie Spice
Orange Food Coloring (2 parts yellow, 1 part red)
4 Cups Water
Mix all of the ingredients together. Cook and stir over medium heat until all lumps disappear. Knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Christmas Cookies - Mocha Truffles

I've been baking a lot this past week or so - I think I've gone through 4 dozen eggs! I brought trays of cookies to the teachers at Jack's and Ben's schools, and I'm in the process of making cinnamon rolls. I'm going to post some of my favorite cookie recipes in separate posts.

I love these Mocha Truffles - they are a cookie but truffle-like in texture. They are not the most beautiful cookies ever, but for pure chocolate-y goodness, they are hard to beat. This year I came up with a peppermint version that I liked a lot, too. I found the original recipe on the Cooking Light board, but I've changed it quite a bit.

Mocha Truffle Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour, all-purpose
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Melt butter and 1/2 cup chocolate chips over a double boiler or in the microwave, checking every 30 seconds. Add instant coffee and blend well. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.Add sugars, eggs, and vanilla to coffee mixture. Add dry ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips.Round into small one-inch balls and bake on greased cookie sheets.Bake at 350 degrees for six minutes.

Peppermint Mocha Truffles

Follow the recipe above, but add 1/2 t. peppermint extract with the vanilla and 1/2 cup crushed candy canes or pepper mint candy with the chocolate chips. When the cookies come out of the oven, gently press more crushed candy cane pieces on the tops. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.

Note: This year I doubled the original recipe, then divided the dough in half and added the extract and candy cane pieces. It was a quick way to make two different kinds of cookies!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mini Pecan Pies (tassies) and Mini Pumpkin Pies

I had this idea when planning my Thanksgiving menu - I would make some bite-sized desserts like pecan tarts, pumpkin tarts, and mini gingerbread cupcakes. That way people could have a taste of traditional favorites even if they were full, or they could have a bite of pumpkin pie along side a big slice of apple. The gingerbread cupcakes spread too much, and I ended up using them in a gingerbread pear trifle that was lovely - I will post it later. However, I thought the mini pies were very good, especially the pecan ones. You can make one big batch of dough and make half pumpkin and half pecan tarts.

Mini Pie Dough (double if you are making both pecan and pumpkin versions)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour

Beat butter and cream cheese until well mixed. Stir in the flour. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.

Mini Pumpkin Pies

1 recipe cream cheese pastry
1 egg
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, rounded
1/4 teaspoon ginger, rounded
1/8 teaspoon cloves
pinch salt

Shape the dough into 24 balls; place in ungreased mini muffin pans. Press dough evenly against bottom and up sides of each muffin cup.

Beat all remaining ingredients together. Fill unbaked crusts; bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Chill before serving. Top with whipped cream, if desired.

Mini Pecan Pies

1 recipe cream cheese dough
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cups chopped pecans
1/4 cup pecan halves (optional)

Grease mini muffin pan (the pecan pies stick if you don't grease the pan).

Form dough into 24 equal balls and press one into each tin so it lines the bottom and sides, like a pie crust.

In a medium mixing bowl, cream together 1/4 cup butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla until thoroughly blended. Stir in pecans. Fill each lined tin half full. Mixture will rise as it bakes. Place one pecan half on top of filling, if using.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool in tins, then use the end of a table knife to flip each tart out of its tin.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving - Cranberry Apple Salad

This is another Thanksgiving dish I've been making for almost ten years. My sister-in-law Beth named it, and I think I found it in Good Housekeeping. It's really easy to make if you have a food processor.

Cranberry Apple Salad

1/2 cup chopped pecans (more to taste)
1 bag cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 naval orange, peeled and diced
1 Gala apple, peeled and diced
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced

Put the cranberries in the food processor with the sugar. Pulse until chopped. You can also use a blender or chop by hand.

Pour the chopped cranberries in a bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Add more sugar if necessary.

Thanksgiving 2008

I'm going to do a long post or series of posts about this year's Thanksgiving menu. As usual, I'm trying a bunch of new recipes, so I'll post the new ones after the meal if I think they are worth recommeneding. For now, here's my menu!

Thanksgiving Menu

Pumpkin-shaped cheese ball with crackers
Pumpkin dip with gingersnaps and green apples
Chex mix

Main course
Turkey – 2 (one smoked, one traditional)
Stuffing (Mom)
Waldorf salad (Chris)
Jello salad (Chris)
Mashed potatoes
Whipped sweet potatoes with streusel
Cranberry Apple Salad
Cranberry sauce
Glazed pearl onions
Green Beans with hazelnuts
Parker House Rolls with cranberry butter

Mini pecan pies
Mini pumpkin pies
Pumpkin cheesecake
Apple Pie (Mom)
Southern Pecan cake (Chris)
Gingerbread pear trifle

Pumpkin Dip (from Cooking Light)

This dip is very good and looks great served in a bowl that is placed inside a hollowed-out sugar pumpkin. I usually make leaf-shaped gingersnaps to go with it, but that's a short-cut I'm taking this year! I'm doubling the recipe.

3/4 cup (6 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
2 teaspoons maple syrup (can sub with brown sugar or honey if you don't have any)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
24 green apple slices
gingersnaps (thin kind)

Place first 3 ingredients in a medium bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add syrup and cinnamon, and beat until smooth. Cover and chill 30 minutes. Serve with apple and gingersnaps.

Pumpkin-shaped Cheese Ball (from Southern Living)

Two 8-ounce blocks extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
One 8-ounce container chive-and-onion cream cheese
2 tsp paprika
½ tsp ground red pepper
1 stalk broccoli
red and green apple wedges

1. Combine cheddar cheese, cream cheeses, paprika and red pepper in a bowl until well blended. Cover and chill 4 hours or until mixture is firm enough to be shaped.

2. Shape mixture into a ball to resemble a pumpkin. Smooth entire outer surface with a frosting spatula or table knife. Make vertical grooves in ball, if desired, using fingertips.

3.Cut florets from broccoli stalk and reserve for another use. Cut stalk to resemble a pumpkin stem, and press into top of cheese ball. Serve cheese ball with apple wedges and crackers.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Roast Turkey

Almost ten years ago I started brining turkeys for Thanksgiving after I read about the process in Cook's Illustrated magazine. Brining has revolutionized turkey for our extended family. No longer is turkey the dry, chalky vehicle for gravy! We actually like it: it's juicy, flavorful, and seasoned enough to be interesting. There are dozens of turkey brine recipes, and you can even buy a premade mix. However, I haven't deviated much from the orginal recipe, which is just salt and water. Sometimes I do add a bit of sugar to enhance the browning. Here's how we make our turkey.

Roast Turkey (note: you'll need to start the day before Thanksgiving)

4 c. kosher salt or 2 cups table salt (note: Morton is much saltier than Diamond, but I use it)
1 turkey (12-14 pounds), rinsed thoroughly: innards removed
3 medium onions, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
6 sprigs fresh thyme
6 T. butter, melted

1. Dissolve salt in 2 gallons cold water in large stockpot or clean bucket. You can also use an XL storage-type ziploc bag. Add turkey and refrigerate or set in very cool spot (about 40 degrees) for 4 to 6 hours.

2. Remove turkey from salt water and rinse well under cool running water. Pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Place turkey breast-side up on flat wire rack set over rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan and refrigerate, uncovered, 8 to 24 hours. This will dry out the turkey and allow the skin to crisp.

3. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss 1/3 of vegetables and thyme with one tablespoon melted butter in a medium bowl. Fill cavity with mixture. Tuck wings behind back.

4. Scatter remaining vegetables and thyme in shallow roasting pan, pour one cup water over vegetables. Spray V-rack (or any other rack) with cooking spray. Brush breast with butter, then set turkey breast-side down on foil-lined V-rack; brush back with butter. Roast 45 minutes.

5. Remove roasting pan with turkey from oven; using thick wads of paper towels or potholders, rotate turkey leg/wing side up and brush with butter. If liquid in bottom of pan has evaporated, add 1/2 cup. Roast 15 minutes.

6. Remove roasting pan with turkey from oven, brush exposed surfaces with butter, and, using thick wads of paper towels or potholders rotate other turkey leg/wing side up and brush with butter. Roast for 15 minutes longer.

7. Remove roasting pan with turkey from oven; using thick wads of paper towels or potholders, rotate turkey breast-side up and brush with remaining butter. Roast until breast registers 165 degrees and the thickest part of the thigh registers 170-175 degrees (30-45 minutes longer). Move turkey from rack to cutting board and let rest about 20-30 minutes.

8. Carve turkey.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Update on 11/19/09: I just finished making these again for the boys' Thanksgiving feasts, and I wanted to add a few details. First, I can't triple the recipe in my Kitchen Aid mixer. Each batch makes about 20 good-sized whoopie pies.

Second, it's really hard to make these small. I used teaspoons (not measuring spoons) to make them about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. They were 3-4 inches in diameter after baking.

Also, I did make extra icing. They need a good amount because they are so thick. I'd double the recipe for the icing.

Bake the whoopie pies until they are just starting to brown on the edges. You don't want to underbake these because they'll be too sticky.

Finally, they do well wrapped or even layered in waxed paper.

Let me know if you make them and how they turned out!


Whoopie pies are very popular in New England and Pennsylvania. My mom used to make them for our class birthdays instead of cupcakes. The traditional ones are chocolate with a marshmallow frosting, but there are oatmeal ones, and my dad created a snickerdoodle one.

I really love this recipe for the pumpkin variation. The original recipe from King Arthur Flour cookies makes monstrously huge ones - great for a bake sale or for sharing among four people. I 've changed the directions to make them smaller, but they still end up about 2 -3 inches in diameter. I made them for Jack's and Ben's Thanksgiving feasts yesterday; the filling is a simplified version of the original. I tripled the recipe, and that worked fine.

I noticed in the paragraphs above that I keeps saying "ones" or "them" instead of "whoopie pies." That's probably because I've always felt silly saying their name! But it's true what they say - when you eat one, you say "Whoopie!".

By the way, an assortment of whoopie pies would be a great Christmas gift. Since they are so big, they are indulgent in a way that makes them a good gift. Also, unless you are from the Northeast they are slightly unusual. Finally, they are crazy expensive to buy (but not to make): Dean & Deluca sells a dozen for $55!

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

1 1/2 cups (15-ounce can) pumpkin
2 large eggs
2 cups (16 ounces) brown sugar
1 cup (7 ounces) vegetable oil
2 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) molasses or dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (4 ounces) cream cheese (reduced fat [Neufchâtel] or full fat)
2 1/4 cups (9 ounces) confectioners’ sugar (add more to taste)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two large baking sheets.

TO MAKE THE COOKIES: In a large bowl, beat together the pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, oil, and molasses. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl, then beat in the salt, spices, baking powder, and baking soda.

Add the flour to the wet ingredients and beat for 1 minute, until the mixture is well combined. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, then beat for a short time just to make sure everything is thoroughly mixed. Use two tablespoons to drop the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart to allow for spreading.

Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until they feel firm to the touch; a slight indentation will remain when you press your finger in the center. Remove the cookies from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool while you prepare the filling.

TO MAKE THE FILLING: In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add half the confectioners’ sugar to the butter/cream cheese mixture, beating well. Add the remaining confectioners’ sugar, mixing until blended.

TO ASSEMBLE: Spread the flat side of half the cookies with the filling, using 2 generous tablespoons of filling for each cookie. Top with the remaining cookies. For best storage, wrap each pie individually in plastic wrap.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Gooey Apple Sheet Cake

Every year during apple season, we go to Hillcrest Orchards. This year we went with Jack's kindergarten class.
The boys liked cheering for Elvis Pigsley in the hog races.

Sliding down the giant slide is always a highlight.

At the petting zoo, Ben cradles a tiny chick.
We came home with a 1/2 bushel of Rome Beauty apples and another bag of Honeycrisps, the best-tasting eating apple. Here is a great fall cake - I brought it to a church picnic last week and didn't bring any home. I found it originally on the Cooking Light site, but it's certainly not light. I changed the recipe slightly; I use lots more apples than it called for.
Gooey Apple Sheet Cake
For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup butter -- melted
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c buttermilk
4 c chopped apples -- (1/4-1/2 inch pieces)
1 1/2 tsps ground cinnamon
For the Topping:
3 cups powdered sugar
8 oz. lowfat cream cheese
2 eggs
1/4 c oats
Mix melted butter and sugar with a mixer. Add eggs and beat well. Combine the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, mixing well. Fold in the chopped apples. Spread batter into well greased (or sprayed) 13 x 9 baking pan. Mix topping ingredients and put over cake BEFORE baking. Bake in a 350ºF oven for 40-45 minutes. You can store this on the counter OR in the refrigerator.

Great Baked Beans

This recipe is adapted from Pam Anderson (no, not that Pamela Anderson!). They are a lot like Boston Baked Beans, which are based on molasses. This recipe makes a huge amount, and they are even better the next day. They are great with barbecue: pork or beef. Note that the cooking time is long, though.

Baked Beans

8 slices of bacon, halved
1 medium onion, diced
3 large cans (28 oz. each) pork and beans (you may find different sizes; anything close is ok)
3/4 cup barbecue sauce (cheap, thick sauce is best here)
1/2 c. molasses
1/4 c. white or cider vinegar
2 t. dried mustard or 2 T. Dijon mustard

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat overn to 325. Grease a 13X9 inch baking pan.

Fry bacon in a large deep skillet until it is partially cooked and has released 1/4 c. drippings. Remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towels. Add onion to drippings in pan and saute until tender about 5 minutes. Add beans and remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. (If skillet is not large enough, add beans and heat to a simmer, then transfer to a large bowl and stir in remaining ingredients.)

Pour beans into greased baking pan. Top with bacon and bake until beans are bubbly and sauce is the consistency of pancake syrup, about 2 hours. Let stand to thicken slightly before serving. This is a great ahead of time dish.

Mom's Potato Salad

This is my mom's recipe; she's been making it for as long as I can remember. I actually don't care for potato salad, but I'm posting this recipe here because people really love it. If I were going to eat potato salad, it would be this one: the Italian dressing and bacon make it more exciting than the typical kind.

Potato Salad

6 peeled baking potatoes, diced
1/4 c. Italian dressing
1/4 c. choped onion
1/4 c. chopped celery
1 t. salt
ground black pepper
1/2 c.+ mayonnaise
8 pieces bacon, chopped, cooked, and drained
Boil potatoes about 20 minutes or until tender. Drain thoroughly in a colander, and chill.

Put potatoes in a large bowl and gently toss with Italian dressing. Then add onion, celery, salt, and pepper. Finally, stir in mayo. Just before serving, top potato salad with bacon.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Secret Agent Briefcase Cake

I had a hard time trying to decide what kind of cake to make for Jack's secret agent party. The day before the party, I thought of a spy briefcase and I found a few ideas online. The cake is 11X17, with one chocolate layer and one yellow cake layer. The frosting is a chocolate buttercream, and I molded the handle, clasps, grappling hook, and snorkel out of fondant that I dyed. It ended up being a very big cake, which was good because we had a lot of guests. I'm very intrigued by fondant now and I'd like to try to working with it more.

You can find the recipes for the cakes and frosting under "dessert."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

If Life Gives You Bananas, Make Banana Cake!

I always have "brown" bananas in my freezer; once they are overripe, I just freeze them, unpeeled. Then when I need them, I thaw them for 30 seconds or so and use them to make banana crunch muffins or any one of a number of banana breads. If I need something for company, though, I make this cake. I made it for a potluck children's ministries meeting today, in fact. It has the familiar taste of banana bread with the decadent addition of cream cheese.

I love it when recipes have a "twist": this one has an unusual technique. Once you take the baked cake out of the oven, you put it in the freezer immediately for 45 minutes. You can also leave it in the freezer overnight and frost it in the morning.

Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from

1 1/2 cups bananas, mashed, ripe
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
2 1/8 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups buttermilk


1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 275°.
Grease and flour a 9 x 13 pan.
In a small bowl, mix mashed banana with the lemon juice; set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, cream 3/4 cup butter and 2 1/8 cups sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in 2 tsp vanilla.
Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.
Stir in banana mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for one hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Remove from oven and place directly into the freezer for 45 minutes. This will make the cake very moist.
For the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth.
Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed until frosting is smooth.
Spread on cooled cake.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ben's Birthday Bash

Ben turned three on Saturday, and we had a Diego-themed party. He had so much fun playing party games, opening presents, and blowing out the candles on his cake.
During the festivities, I had the Mexican Layer Dip on the island with some tortilla chips. You can find the recipe if you click on the appetizers tag. Since Ben loves fruit so much, I also put out watermelon, red grapes, purple grapes, green apples, red apples, kiwi, bananas, strawberries, honeydew, and canteloupe along with the three fruit dips you can also find under the appetizers tag.

We had 22 people at the party, all of them close family and friends, so we decided to serve dinner after the party. Mexican food lends itself to large groups and varied tastes, so we went with a taco bar. I wish I'd taken pictures of the toppings all laid out; my mother-in-law gave me a cool Tuscan serving set last Christmas that was perfect to contain the onions, tortillas, cheese, olives, pico de gallo, sour cream, jalapenos, and lettuce. You can sort of see it in the background of the cake picture. I also made cheesy refried beans and ground beef taco meat. My SIL makes ground beef in the crockpot, which produces fine-textured meat similar to many Mexican restaurants. Since I made just under 6 pounds of meat, the crock pot was much easier than using the frying pan! I also made taco seasoning instead of buying it. See the recipes below for more details.
The party was lots of fun, and I am so grateful to have friends and family members who help me clean up!

I made two cakes: a dark chocolate 9x13 for the base and an 8-inch round two-layer yellow cake. The chocolate cake recipe is on the back of the Hershey's Special Dark cocoa box, and the yellow cake recipe came from a friend of my mother's. The yellow cake is dense and very flavorful, and I love the dark chocolate cake, which is lighter.
Yellow Cake
Preheat oven to 350.
2 1/4 c. flour
3 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 3 oz. pkg. vanilla pudding
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 stick butter, softened
2 c. milk
1 t. vanilla
4 egg whites
Grease and flour a 13X9 pan or 2 8-inch cake pans.Mix together flour, baking powder, salt, and pudding mix in a medium bowl. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla. Alternate adding flour mixture and milk to the batter, ending with flour. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold into batter. Gently spoon into pan(s).Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes until golden and no crumbs cling to cake tester inserted in the middle.
Decorator's Buttercream
1/2 c. shortening
1/2 c. butter
1 t. vanilla
4 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 T. milk
Cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, beating well on medium speed. Will appear dry. Add milk - beat until light and fluffy.
Cheesy Refried Beans
1 8 oz. package cream cheese
2 cans refried beans
1 cup sour cream
3 cups shredded Cheddar or Mexican blend cheese (will mix up smoother if you grate cheese rather than buying pre-shredded)
1 package taco seasoning or 1/4 cup homemade taco seasoning
Mix 2 cups of shredded cheese with all other ingredients until smooth. Pour into 2 qt. baking dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup of cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips or as a side dish or burrito filling.
Crockpot Taco Meat
Put the desired amount of ground beef into a crockpot. Add a chopped onion or two, and pour about an inch of water in the bottom of the crockpot. Set on high for four hours, stirring occasionally. When meat is cooked, drain off most of the water and add taco seasoning (one packet or 1/4 cup per pound of meat). Leave on warm until ready to eat.
Taco Seasoning Mix - adapted from

2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2-1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2-3 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon seasoning salt (or use 1/2 teaspoon white salt)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional or to taste)
2 t. cornstarch
Mix all ingredients together. You can multiply the amounts by 5 or 10 and keep some in the refrigerator. I added some tomato paste to the taco meat because I thought it needed some tomato flavor.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Summer Corn Chowder and Grilled Corn on the Cob

We had some leftover grilled corn on the cob, and my favorite thing to do with that is make corn chowder. My mother had some and liked it so much that she asked me to post the recipe.

We make corn on the cob many different ways: boiled, steamed, microwaved, and grilled. Some people even bake it in the oven! There is a controversy when grilling corn over leaving some of the husks and soaking vs. peeling the corn entirely. This summer we've been making our corn like this, and we love it. Without any husks, the corn is truly grilled and not steamed.

Grilled Corn on the Cob

Shuck as many ears as desired. Mix together softened butter, salt, and pepper. Brush it lightly on the corn. Grill on medium, turning from time to time. It will take about 8-10 minutes to get tender and slightly charred. Some people eat it with additional butter, but I like it right off the grill.

Summer Corn Chowder (inspired by

6 slices bacon, chopped I always use center cut, which is less fatty
5-6 cups fresh corn kernels(cut from 6 to 8 ears)
1 1/2 cups chopped onion or leeks
1 cup sliced peppers - any colors
1 cup 1/2-inch cubes peeled russet potatoes
3 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or green onions
Optional: splash of cream or half and half

Sauté bacon in large pot over medium-high heat until crisp and brown. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Add corn, onion, peppers, and potatoes to drippings in pot; sauté 5 minutes. Add 3 cups broth and simmer uncovered over medium heat until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer 3 cups soup to blender. Holding blender top firmly, puree until smooth. (An immersion blender works great.) Return puree to soup in pot. Stir in milk and cayenne. Bring chowder to simmer, thinning with more broth if too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a splash of cream if using. Ladle chowder into bowls and sprinkle with bacon and chives.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Happy Belated 4th!

Cake: made by me, decorated by children

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cooking Week - Jack (and Ben) cook dinner

This week is Cooking and Science week at our house. I asked Jack what he wanted to learn to cook and he said, "Cookies. And bacon." Who could blame him? Well, today we started one science experiment (growing crystals on river rocks) and the boys made dinner. It was great!
Tilapia stuffed with lobster and breadcrumbs
Salty fingerling potatoes*
Mango-blueberry fool*
*recipe below

What, you don't wear a superhero costume when you cook?

Salty Fingerling Potatoes
Chez Carnes, we have a high tolerance for salty food. If you don't, these potatoes will probably be a bit much for you. You could probably increase the water or decrease the salt. Regardless, these potatoes are irresistible, even without butter. This is Alton Brown's technique.
1 1/4 lb. kosher salt (Morton is saltier than Diamond)
2 qts. water
2 lbs. fingerling potatoes, cleaned (I think small red potatoes would be great, too)
Put all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Cook until tender when poked with a fork, about 20-25 minutes. Immediately remove from water and place on drying rack. The excess salt will crystallize and look like frost on the potatoes. You can toss with butter, cheese, chives, pepper, etc., but they are delicious plain - very buttery tasting with salty, earthy skins.
Mango/Blueberry Fool
My boys and I love fruit. I was counting just for fun tonight and realized that just today they've had strawberries, bananas, grapes, mango, and blueberries throughout the day. When I took out some frozen mango chunks so we could make this dessert, they started eating them right out of the bag, despite how cold they were. When I finally closed the bag, Ben said, "Mommy, that's my favorite, favorite food."
This recipe is based on one from
1-2 cups mango chunks
2 T. sugar
2 T. lime juice
pinch salt
1/2 cup cream or milk or yogurt
1 1/2 cup blueberries
Blend mango chunks, sugar, lime juice, and pinch of salt until smooth. Add enough cream, etc., to create a pourable consistency. Pour mango mixture into bowl and mix in blueberries. Pour into 4-6 small glasses. Chill for half an hour and garnish with blueberreies and lime zest before serving.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pacific Northwest Gourmet Club

I mentioned in an earlier dinner club post that the night I hosted had a Pacific Northwest theme. While that was several months ago now, I've been wanting to post the details and a recipe.
(I can't figure out how to get my picture horizontal; it is before I attach it!)
I was inspired by a book, Timberline Lodge Cookbook, given to me by my brother- and sister-in-law a few years ago. It's from a lodge on a slope of Mt. Hood, Oregon, and it looks lovely. The food in the cookbook favors seafood, vegetables, berries, herbs, and hazelnuts. Here is our menu.

Pre-dinner: Tillamook cheddar cheese and grapes. My friend Kaeley from college was from Oregon, and she always raved about Tillamook cheese.

Amuse bouche: Shrimp with a remoulade sauce. The remoulade is not very Northwestern, but I like it better than cocktail sauce. I served two shrimp hanging on a shot glass filled with sauce. It was really cute; the shrimp make a heart shape, so it would be nice for Valentine's day.

First Course: Creamy Gazpacho. Wow, was this good! I think it may have been the hit of the night. I was so happy to have leftovers. It's a great warm-weather cold soup. The olive oil and sour cream make it more decadent than typical gazpacho. I served it in glass bowls stored in the freezer. Recipe below.

Main Course: Poached salmon with hollandaise and raspberry sauce, hazelnut wild rice pilaf, and glazed carrots. The carrots were cut matchstick sized and tied with a green onion into little packages, which added to the cute factor as well.

Dessert: Hood River Pear and Hazelnut Tart. This dessert was truly labor intensive but delicious. The tart pastry was lined with chocolate ganache, then layered with an almond paste/butter/egg/sugar/toasted ground hazelnut mixture, topped with poached pear slices and sugar, and glazed with hot apricot preserves. I seemed to have too much filling for my tart pan, so it wasn't as pretty as the picture, but it tasted amazing anyway.

It was a fun night! I think the four children took out every toy in the house while we were eating.

Here is the recipe for the creamy gazpacho. I'm going to make it again this weekend. I'll try half the oil this time, but most of the ingredients are so low-calorie that the overall profile isn't bad.

Sauvie Island Creamy Gazpacho

Serves 8

1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 green onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 bunch parsley or cilantro, chopped
1 T. honey
1 T. chopped fresh dill or 2 t. dried
4 cups tomato juice
1 c. sour cream or plain yogurt
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup olive oil
garnish with fresh chives
Combine all of the ingredients except the chives in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Garnish with chives. Serve very cold.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Chocolate Cake/Pond Cake

Last week was Pond Week at our house, and for the second year in a row, we had Pond Cake. I got the idea from a very old Woman's Day magazine. The magazine version was much more elaborate, but the boys like ours. I usually use Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake recipe for chocolate cake, but I only had brown sugar in the house. I used this Death by Chocolate cake from, and I thought it was very good with a few changes. The other components of the cake are white frosting to seal the cake for the "water" and blue jello for the water. I'm pretty sure only kids would like the taste combination of chocolate cake and jello!

Note: I always substitute coffee for water in chocolate cake recipes. It doesn't make the cake taste like mocha, but it adds a depth of flavor.

Death by Chocolate Cake

2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. shortening
2 eggs
1/2 c. cocoa dissolved in 1/2 c. boiling coffee
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1 c. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla
Mix brown sugar, shortening and eggs until very creamy. Dissolve cocoa in boiling water and add alternately with flour, beginning and ending with cocoa mixture. Dissolve baking soda with a few drops of water in bottom of measuring cup and add sour cream. Mix thoroughly. Add to batter and stir until mixed. Add vanilla. Bake in 8-inch round greased metal pan 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Remove from pans and finish cooling on racks.

Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake
2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling coffee
Directions:1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans. 2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling coffee (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans. 3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Frosting

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter or margarine
2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Mixed Antipasto

I've been making this recipe for years - it's another one that is great for a crowd. I also like it because whatever diet or eating plan your guests are following, they will almost certainly be able to find something in it that they can eat. I often mix the leftovers with pasta or bake it into a lasagna. The original idea came from, but I've lightened the marinade and changed the ingredients somewhat.

Mixed Antipasto


1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried orégano, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 cup olive oil

Mix all ingredients except olive oil in a bowl. Pour in olive oil slowly, whisking until emusified (mixture should be translucent, not separated). Set aside.

Fresh broccoli florets and baby carrots, blanched (boiled for a minute or so, then plunged into cold water)
Roasted red peppers
Sun dried tomatoes
Chunks of mozzarella cheese
Chuncks of provolone cheese (buy unsliced from the deli)
Stick pepperoni, cut into small chunks
marinated mushrooms
pepperoncini peppers or banana peppers
artichoke hearts

Chop all ingredients into bite-sized chunks and put in large serving dish. Re-whisk marinade and pour over ingredients; toss gently. Chill for several hours. Can serve cold or at room temperature. Set out toothpicks for guests to make their own combinations. Obviously, if you use large quantities of all the ingredients, you will need to make additional marinade.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fruit Dips

When we have a group of people over, I almost always serve some sort of fruit dip. They make a good predinner snack because they are not too filling; they are make-ahead; they are not starchy as many appetizers are; they look great; and children will eat the fruit if not the dip. Here are some of my favorites.

Caramel Dip

1 8-oz. package of cream cheese, regular or reduced fat, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 T. peanut butter

Mix all ingredients with beaters or a stand mixer until light and smooth. Serve with sliced apples (dip them briefly in regular Sprite to keep them from turning brown).

Marshmallow Dip

1 8-oz. package of cream cheese, regular or reduced fat, softened
1 7-oz. jar Marshmallow Fluff, or marshmallow creme
zest of one orange

Mix all ingredients with beaters or a stand mixer until light and smooth. Serve with sliced apples, grapes, melon, pineapple, clementines, bananas, strawberries, etc.

Strawberry Dip

1 8-oz. package of strawberry cream cheese, regular or reduced fat, softened
1 7-oz. jar Marshmallow Fluff
1 8-oz. container Cool Whip, thawed
1/2 c. strawberry jam

Mix all ingredients with beaters or a stand mixer until light and smooth. Serve with sliced apples, grapes, melon, pineapple, clementines, bananas, strawberries, etc.

Edible Arrangements

My sweet sister sent my mother and me gifts from Edible Arrangements for Mother's Day. My mom's was a beautiful fruit bouquet, with flower-shaped melon and chocolate dipped bananas and strawberries. I received a lovely red box with gorgeous strawberries dipped in chocolate and white chocolate. Some were also rolled in coconut or almonds! They were absolutely delicious. I highly recommend this company!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Cake

Here is a very different cake than the last one I posted. I made it for my brother-in-law's birthday last year, and it's quickly become a favorite. Some of the teachers at my mom's school tried it, and it took on a life of its own. The recipe looks intimidating, but it's really not that difficult - just time-consuming and dirty-dish-making. And it's a true crowd-pleaser! I made one for the teachers last week, and it was gone within half an hour.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Cake (adapted from Chocolatier magazine via

Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1/3 cup boiling coffee (the recipe calls for boiling water, but I always sub coffee in chocolate cake)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1 large egg

1/3 cup sour cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Crunch filling

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

1 1/4 cup toasted rice cereal

Chocolate Mousse

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Guittard bittersweet chocolate chips)

1/3 cup whole milk

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup heavy cream

Peanut Butter Mousse

1 cup heavy cream

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup confectioners sugar

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

Ganache Glaze

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (again, Guittard chocolate chips)

3/4 cup heavy cream


2/3 cup chopped roasted and salted peanuts

Make chocolate cake:Position rack in the center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom of a 9" springform pan and line the pan with parchment paper if you are going to try to take the cake off the bottom of the pan (I don't).

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.In another small bowl, whisk together cocoa powder and boiling water until smooth; set aside.In bowl of electric mixer, using paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar at medium-high speed until well blended and light, about 2 minutes.

Add egg and vanilla extract and beat until blended, scraping down sides of bowl with rubber spatula as necessary. Add flour mixture at low speed and mix until blended. Add cocoa mixture and mix at low speed until blended. Scrape down sides of bowl again. Add sour cream and mix until blended.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake cake for 18-22 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes. Butter sides of springform pan.

Make crunch filling:Place chocolate and peanut butter in microwave-safe bowl, covered. Heat on 1/2 power for about two minutes, stirring frequently, until melted and smooth. Fold in rice cereal. Spread filling over top of cake in pan just up to edge of cake. Refrigerate cake while you make mousse.

Make chocolate mousse:Put chocolate in food processor until finely chopped if you are not using chips and place in medium bowl.In a small saucepan, combine milk and sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves and milk comes to a boil. Remove from heat. (I usually do this in the microwave). Pour over until chocolate is completely melted. Scrape down sides of bowl and add vanilla; stir until blended. Cool for 5 minutes, until tepid.In bowl of electric mixer, using whisk attachment, beat cream until soft peaks form. Gently fold one-third of whipped cream into chocolate mixture. Fold in remaining cream. Remove cake from refrigerator and scrape chocolate mousse over crunch filling, letting it fill gap between cake and sides of pan.

Make peanut butter mousse:In bowl of electric mixer, using whisk attachment, beat cream until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to use.In another bowl of mixer, using paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and confectioner's sugar until creamy, about one minute. Add peanut butter and mix until blended, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Gently fold in whipped cream. Scrape peanut butter mousse on top of chocolate mousse layer, smoothing it into an even layer. Freeze cake for at least 3 hours, until firm.

Make Ganache:Place chocolate in medium bowl. In small saucepan, bring cream to gentle boil. Pour over chocolate and let stand for 30 seconds, to melt chocolate. Whisk until smooth.

Assemble cake:Run paring knife around side of pan to loosen cake and remove side of springform pan. Remove bottom of pan and peel off paper. Transfer cake to plate or cardboard cake round. Pour ganache glaze over top and sides of cake and spread using a small, offset metal spatula. Pat chopped peanuts onto sides of cake (or on top if you like). Refrigerate cake for at least one hour, until softened, before serving.To serve cake, use a hot knife to cut into 12 slices.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Beach Cake

I made this cake for the last day of school party for Jack's preschool class. I think it would be a fun cake for lots of summer events. It's actually quite easy!

I used a sheet cake because it needed to feed 16 children and some siblings and parents. I found the recipe here: It's really a delicous cake; sometime I'll try it with the frosting. In this case, I used buttercream frosting tinted blue and white for the water. The sand is graham cracker crumbs, and I used gummy candies and jelly beans to add more to the beach scene. Jack's Little People finished it off.
Beach Cake

1 cup butter, melted
1 cup water
4 tablespoons cocoa
2 cups white sugar
2 cups white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Put butter, water and cocoa in a large pan and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat and add the rest of the batter ingredients.
Mix with electric mixer until smooth.
Pour into an 11 x 16 x 1.5-inch jelly roll pan.
Bake at 350° for 20 minutes.
Cool. Frost cake with a thin layer of blue icing. Over 2/3 of the cake, frost with a thicker layer of icing and use an off-set spatula to create waves. On the peaks of the waves, use a small dot of white icing for a whitecap. Decorate with gummy sharks and life preservers, as well as speckled jelly beans for rocks.
Buttercream Frosting (I use about 1 1/2 recipes for this cake)
4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 t. vanilla
2 T. milk
pinch salt
Beat the softened butter with 3 cups of sugar. Gradually add the last cup of sugar, using a bit more or a bit less depending on preference. Add the vanilla and salt. Beat in enough milk to bring the frosting to spreading consistency.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Spicy Orange Beef

This recipe is from a surprisingly good cookbook, Weight Watchers Take Out Tonight. The cookbook attempts to recreate take out/restaurant food on a calorie budget. This is one of our favorites: it's delicious, lovely on the plate, and healthy. You can be a little more generous with the vegetables.

I'm not sure if she'd find it too spicy, but if not, it's a great meal served with brown rice for my sister, the Extreme Weight Loss Champion of the World! You can read about Kristen's amazing journey at

Spicy Orange Beef with Vegetables

3/4 pound beef top round, trimmed of fat, cut into thin strips cut against the grain
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
1/2 cup low-sodium beef broth
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce Sriracha is the brand to look for
4 teaspoons canola oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 pound green beans, halved crosswise
1 red bell pepper, seeded, cut into thin strips
1 carrot, cut into matchstick-thin strips

Combine beef, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and orange rind in medium bowl. Toss well to coat and set aside.

Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch, broth, orange juice, soy sauce, sugar and chili-garlic sauce in small bowl. Set aside.

Heat nonstick wok over medium-high heat. Swirl in 2 teaspoons oil. Add beef. Stir-fry until cooked, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to plate.

Swirl 2 teaspoons oil and add ginger. Stir-fry until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add vegetables, cook 2-3 minutes, until crisp-tender.

Add broth mixture, cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and thickens, about 1 minute.
Add beef and cook until hot, about 1 minute.

Serving: 1 cup Calories: 227

Monday, May 5, 2008

An Evening in Provence

My friend Catherine and I have a cooking/dining club that we started recently. The idea is that one month I will cook a meal from a specific region; the next month we'll go to a restaurant that is new to us; the following month she will cook; and then we'll go to another restaurant. In March, I made a meal from the Pacific Northwest that I will post about later. Last night Catherine, who is from Paris, created a wonderful Provençal menu that was absolutely delicious. She and her husband Brian made lovely menu cards with pictures from Provence and set the table with French linens and strewn fresh rosemary. I'll list the menu with my descriptions below. What a great night, and what wonderful food!

Amuses-Bouche & Entree
Clafoutis Provençal a luscious savory custard with goat cheese and chives
Tapendade sur Pain Grille finely diced kalamata olive spread with grilled bread and cucumbers
Cake Provençal baked in a loaf pan, the crumb was more like cake than bread, but savory with olives and ham

Plat Principal

Canard à l'Orange very flavorful roast duck served atop fresh linguine with a sauce made from orange curaçao-soaked raisins (flambéed), crème fraîche, and pan drippings
Ratatouille tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and smoky bacon


Profiteroles pastry puffs with both vanilla and pistachio ice cream, topped with dark chocolate sauce

Everything was outstanding! I loved the tapenade on the cucumbers, and the clafoutis was light and tangy. We all sighed with delight at the first bite of Canard à l'Orange.  Catherine made sure we knew profiteroles are not truly a Provençal dessert, but we all agreed we would substitute authenticity for such a wonderful taste!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Now, here's a muffin recipe for everybody. They use up those old bananas that have turned too black to eat, and they include the sacred marriage of peanut butter and chocolate. I use half whole-wheat flour for some added nutrition.

Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour (can use all white flour)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 ripe large bananas -- mashed
1 cup skim milk
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
1 cup chocolate chips

In a large bowl stir together flour, sugars, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In another bowl combine mashed bananas, milk, peanut butter, oil, vanilla and egg. Add to flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into two greased loaf pans or muffin tins. Bake at 350 F for 50 to 55 minutes (check at 40 minutes!) for bread or at 20 minutes for muffins or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Makes 2 loaves or 18-24 muffins.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sweet Potato and Zucchini Muffins

I found this recipe on the Cooking Light forums, which I read quite often. I was looking for some healthy muffins to make for playgroup when Jack was little. I still make these for the boys, and they really like them. I like their nutritional profile, especially after I made some changes to the recipe. I wouldn't say they are the most delicious muffins I've ever made, but they're for the children anyway!

My changes to the recipe are in parentheses. I highly recommend reducing the sugar. Adding dried or frozen berries is a nice change. I usually make these as mini muffins.

Sweet Potato and Zucchini Muffins my changes are in parentheses

2 cups all purpose flour (1 c. white and 1 c. wheat)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups sugar (1 cup sugar)
3/4 cup veg. oil (half oil and half vanilla yogurt)
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups grated zucchini (2 cups)
1 1/2 cups grated, peeled sweet potato (2 cups)
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (omitted)

Preheat oven to 350. Spray mini muffin tins with cooking spray. Sift first 4 ingredients into bowl (flour through salt). Beat sugar, oil, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla to blend in large bowl. Mix in zucchini and sweet potato. Add dry ingredients and walnuts and stir well. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake until tester comes out clean, about 12-14 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes in pans and remove. Finish cooling on baking racks. You can also bake this in a greased and floured loaf pan for 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Righteous Herb Cheese Spread

Make sure everyone eats this, because the flavors are very strong and you'll want everyone to smell like garlic! I've been making this for years, always on Thanksgiving but other times as well. It was named by my sister-in-law, Beth.

Righteous Herb Cheese Spread

This spread is great with crackers or vegetables. It also is good as a sandwich spread, especially with roast beef. Another way I serve it is in sliced cucumber rounds, about 3/4 inch thick. If you salt the cucumbers, let them sit in a colander layered with paper towels, rinse, and pat dry, the cucumbers won't "sweat."

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill weed (or 1 heaping T. dried)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (or 1 heaping T. dried)
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

Mix all ingredients together. Chill to let flavors blend.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Tortellini Salad Greek or Antipasto - your choice

This salad is actually something I came up with myself. It's more of an idea than a recipe, but I rarely create my own dishes; I usually adapt existing recipes. The dressing will make more than enough, but you can save the leftovers for a Greek (lettuce) salad or for remoistening leftover tortellini salad. I also make a antipasto variation with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, olives, and whatever else looks good.

Greek Tortellini Salad

1 16 oz. package of cheese tortellini cooked, drained, and cooled you can use fresh tortellini if the grocery budget allows; you can also add more tortellini if cooking for a crowd
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
1 package grape tomatoes, sliced in half
about 1/2 a red onion, chopped fine
about 1 cup of pepperoncini peppers, sliced and stems discarded
1 large cucumber, peeled, cut in half, and sliced - I like English cucumbers
about 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted

Mix the above together.

1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 lemons, juiced (1/4 cup of juice)
Salt and pepper to taste

Put the olive oil in a microwave safe bowl and add the garlic. Microwave for 30 seconds. Add lemon juice and whisk until dressing is emulsified (it should look opaque, not separated). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add dressing a few tablespoons at a time to pasta salad until salad looks evenly dressed. Mix gently and chill.

Antipasto Variation
1 16 oz. package cheese tortellini, cooked and drained
4 oz. prosciutto (can also substitute pepperoni - a stick, chopped up, is best, but sliced is ok)
pepperoncini peppers, stems cut off
kalamata olives
chunk mozzarella cheese, cut into cubes
red onion, diced
sun-dried tomatoes or halved grape tomatoes
sliced roasted red peppers


1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried orégano, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup olive oil

Whisk dressing until emulsified. The dressing will be opaque, and there will not be a separation of the oil and vinegar. Pour over all other ingredients mixed in large bowl. This keeps for several days.

Mexican Layer Dip

Everyone has a recipe for this, right? I like this one quite a bit because it is a little different, with a basic guacamole in the middle. The guacamole layer doesn't turn brown because it is covered by the other layers. I usually put the last layer of toppings in quadrants because the tomato-eaters may not like olives, and the olive-eaters may not want their breath sullied with raw onions!

Mexican Layer Dip

1 can refried beans
3 avocados
2 T. lime juice
salt and pepper
1 c. sour cream
1 taco seasoning packet
8 oz. shredded cheddar or Mexican-blend cheese
diced tomato
sliced black olives
diced onion
tortilla chips

Spread beans on a platter. Microwave one minute to make spreading easier.

Peel and mash avocados with lime juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Spread on top of beans.

Mix sour cream with taco seasoning. Spread on top of avocado mixture.

Sprinkle shredded cheese on top of sour cream. Scatter tomatoes, olives, and onions on top of cheese. Serve at room temperature with tortilla chips.

Carrot Souffle

This side dish is not a true souffle, but it's delicious anyway, fresh or reheated. I often make it along with roast chicken and potatoes when I make a meal for a new mom or someone who is ill. The recipe is adapted from Cooking Light. I thought the original was too sweet: carrots are quite sweet and don't need as much sugar as the recipe indicated.

Carrot Souffle

7 cups chopped carrot (about 2 pounds)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350°.

Cook carrots in boiling water 15 minutes or until very tender; drain. Place carrot in a food processor; process until smooth. Add granulated sugar and next 7 ingredients (granulated sugar through eggs); pulse to combine.

Spoon mixture into a 2-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until puffed and set.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Giant Cookie!!!

The boys around here prefer a chewy, oatmeal type of cookie uber alles, so much so that there's a mutiny if I branch out to say, a spicy gingersnap. This cookie is delicious and very, very large, and I've been asked for the recipe many times. I bake it in 8 inch round cake pans. At Thanksgiving time, I use Reese's Pieces and have Jack decorate it like a turkey for his teachers. The feathers say "I'm thankful you're my teacher." I think you could do a lot of cute things - use pastel colored M&M's and attach construction paper flower petals for a teacher thank you or Mother's Day gift, for example. It's really good, though - you don't need to have a reason to make it.

Giant Cookie
Yield: 3 8-in. cookies

1 c. butter
3/4 c. peanut butter
1 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 t. baking soda
3/4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 3/4 c. old fashioned oats
3/4 cup chocolate chips
3/4 c. M&M's or 3/4 c. Reese's Pieces, divided

Cream together butter, sugars and peanut butter. Blend in eggs. In another bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and mix well. Stir in oats, chocolate chips, and 1/4 cup M&M's. Divide dough in thirds.

Line 3 8-inch cake pans with foil and spray with non-stick spray. Spread dough to within 1 inch of pan's edge. Sprinkle each giant cookie with remaining M&M's and press them gently into the dough. Bake at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes. The cookies should be lightly golden brown. Cool 10 minutes in pan. Gently remove each cookie with foil liner onto wire rack. Cool thoroughly.

Cowboy Caviar

This is a recipe that is greater than the sum of its parts. I first heard about it from my mother, whose aide made it for a potluck at school. I adapted it for a Western-themed baby shower I planned. It is one of those things people cannot stay out of, and it's actually fairly healthy - a nice discovery for party/potluck food! Obviously, you can customize it to your preferences.

Cowboy Caviar

1 15 oz. can black beans, drained
1 15 oz. can black-eyed peas or field peas, drained
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
2 cups frozen corn kernels, no need to thaw unless you're eating it within a half hour
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/4 green or red bell pepper, finely chopped I usually use the whole pepper
1/2 cup chopped pickled jalapeno peppers the jalapenos do not make it overly spicy
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt I know: fresh is better, but it's overpowering in this dip
1 cup Italian salad dressing I like something with the word "zesty" in the title
3/4 cup chopped cilantro slide the leaves off the stems and chop
Tostitos Scoops for serving this is great with Scoops, but it's also good as a side dish

Mix together all ingredients except the dressing and cilantro. Add dressing and cilantro; toss to coat. Refrigerate for an hour or until ready to serve. You can make this up to one day ahead.