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.