Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best of 2014

At the end of every year, I like to look back at the year's work and decide what have been my best, most impressive, tastiest, or prettiest creations of the year. Here are the items that made the list for 2014. I'm sorry I did not provide the links for them, but just type the name in the search bar in the top left-hand corner of this blog and the items should pop up!

Bars: Cookie dough brownies, Brookies, Blueberry banana bars, Kriebel cake, Pumpkin pie streusel bars. 

Breads: Soft pretzels, Soft white dinner rolls, Traditional panettone.

Breakfast: Sunny morning pancakes, Banana nut overnight oatmeal, Apricot hazelnut energy bars, Pumpkin pancake. 

Cakes: Luigi cake, Calculator cake, Hummingbird cake, Confirmation cake, Grad cake, Newspaper cake, 60th anniversary cake, Camera cake, Christmas layer cake.

Cupcakes: Horse cupcakes, Nautical cupcakes, Easter cupcakes.

Cookies: Ultimate m&m cookies, Peanut butter spider cookies, Lemon Whoopie Pies.

Chocolate: Box of chocolates, French chocolate cake, Chocolate mousse overnight oatmeal, Chocolate shell cake.

Dessert: Truffle torte, Croquembouche, Valentine parfaits, Grad caps, Spicy eggnog cream pie.

Main Courses: Fall vegetable curry, Moroccan vegetable tagine, Homemade noodles.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas Gifts 2014

Last year I had a very cupcake Christmas - as in the vast majority of my presents were cupcake themed in some way, shape, or form. Well, that wasn't the case this year, although I did receive a few more cupcake things. However, because I love cooking and baking and everything food related and am in the food industry, I still do receive many food related gifts. Here is just a taste of some of the foodie gifts I got this year.

Pictured here (clockwise from 12:00):
A set of dish towels and flour ornaments and a purple plate arranged to look like a cake, a milk frother, a new French cookbook, an "I Love Chocolate" mug, a Christmas catalog from one of my favorite bakeries, a cupcake novel, black forest cake tea, a decorated gingerbread cookie, coconut oil, and Lebkuchen. 

More foodie gifts I got that are not pictured here include:
A cupcake apron, dishtowels, a tablecloth, a Brie baker, a cupcake ornament, a cookie ornament, a culinary hoodie, cookies, a decorative food angel, a cookie notebook, and of course, chocolate. 

And you may be able to see in the background - more cupcake wrapping paper!!!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Garlic Butter

Garlic Butter
1/4 cup salted butter (or use unsalted and season with salt as desired)
3 cloves garlic
6-8 black peppercorns
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

Leave the butter at room temperature briefly to soften.
Finely mince the garlic cloves. Then use the back of a spoon to mash it up until softened and no longer crunchy.
Crush the peppercorns with the back of a knife. 
Beat the butter in a small bowl until pliable. Add in the garlic, peppercorns, and rosemary. Beat until combined. Taste and adjust - if it isn't garlicky enough for you, add more garlic. Add more pepper or rosemary if desired. Salted butter should provide enough salt, but add a touch more if you wish.

The butter is now ready, but I recommend transferring it to another serving dish for presentation. I pressed a flour design into my butter. Alternatively, if really soft the butter may be piped with a pastry bag into rosettes, or the butter can be scooped with a melon baller. The butter can be stored in the refrigerator for at least a week. It is best served at room temperature, but will readily melt if spread onto warm bread. Use the amunt of butter for the amount of garlic butter needed, and adjust seasonings accordingly. This butter is excellent for making garlic bread, spread on any type of rolls, or even to season and cook meats. Homemade garlic butter is so easy to make - and better-tasting and better for you than commercially produced varities. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Soft White Dinner Rolls

Tonight for dinner, to go along with our lasagna, I made soft white dinner rolls and homemade garlic butter, instead of the typical garlic bread we usually have. Normally I am a huge fan of whole wheat and multigrain breads and rolls - but this is one of the exceptions. These rolls are the softest, fluffiest, most moist and buttery dinner rolls I have ever had and in order to achieve this, they must be made with white flour. Sometimes, you just have to have a little treat like these little gems. You know those soft white rolls people always pick up at the grocery store bakery to have on hand as a side dish for meals and potlucks? Well these are at least ten times better. That's not surprising, since they are homemade, but what is surprising is that these rolls are not difficult to make at all. They don't take up too much time either, most of the time in this recipe is spent waiting for the rolls to rise. Nevertheless, you can start now and enjoy hot, buttery rolls in three hours.

This recipe came from the same book at the revised panettone recipe, a book I am definitely beginning to love, as every recipe seems to turn out to be outstanding. In addition, the recipes are easy to follow, use common ingredients, and are things you have always wanted to make. I really enjoy making rolls, I love rolling them and delicately brushing each one with egg wash and butter. These rolls really don't need anything - but some plain butter or homemade garlic butter as I did go really well. Of course the rolls are best fresh from the oven, but they are almost as good cold or reheated the next day. The freeze really well too. Try them with dinner or for breakfast with jam or peanut butter.

The process for making these rolls could not be easier - it is the straight dough method where you throw all scaled, room temperature ingredients in a bowl and mix, then knead for ten minutes or so until smooth. Let it rise for an hour until doubled, form into 35g rolls, and proof for half an hour or so until doubled again. Brush them with egg wash, bake at 400F for 12-15 minutes, brush the warm rolls with melted butter, pull apart, and inhale!

I just formed these into round rolls, but there are a few different things you can do to make them fancier. If you place them really close together on the baking sheet, they will bake together into pan rolls. You can use a pair of kitchen scissors to make different types of cuts into the rolls or alternately use a stamp or press to add designs. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Traditional Panettone

This year, I decided to try a new recipe that I found in a reputable baking textbook. No other recipe from this book had failed to disappoint me, and I had tried several, so I decided to go with this one. This new panettone, although a bit heavier than the old recipe, was certainly richer and moister. It is made by the enriched straight dough method for yeast breads. It was also chock-full of plump, delicious fruit and flavor. The new recipe uses only egg yolks and a large quantity of butter for richness. It is flavored by vanilla extract and lemon and orange zest. It uses bread flour for a higher gluten content and more structure. Instead of making three or four smaller panettones, I made two larger ones and baked them in a bundt pan and a tube pan. 

There are a few major differences between this panettone recipe and the one I used to use. The old recipe was less traditional, and used cherries as fruit and also contained the addition of a little rum for extra flavor and keeping qualities. This new recipe uses more traditional fruits - simply raisins, golden raisins, and candied orange peel. The new recipe contains both lemon and orange zest, where the old recipe used the flavorings of lemon zest and anise extract. Both are yeast breads that are formed into small round loaves and baked either free-form or in panettone molds or similar pans. 

I definitely like this new recipe better though, and if I make panettone next year, I will be using this recipe again (unless I find an even better one).

Friday, December 26, 2014

Panettone Revamp

Panettone is a traditional Italian fruit bread that appears around Christmastime. You can get some really good store-bought ones, with simple ingredients and good flavor, however they are still full of preservatives (they last about a year) and just do not beat homemade! I have been making homemade panettone breads for the past three or four years. Before then, my grandmother and my father had always bought some panettone each Christmastime to enjoy, but I decided I could try making some myself. Now I like to give some out as gifts at Christmastime, and share some with family members.

The past few years I have been using the same panettone recipe I found in one of my mother's bread cookbooks, which usually makes 3-4 smaller loaves. It turned out really well the first year, but in the next two years I noticed several areas for improvement. 

I found this recipe a bit dry, lacking in fruit, and not quite as rich and buttery as it needed to be. Although I always found the fruit difficult to knead into it, I found the final product didn't have quite enough fruit. The flavor was there, but not quite strong enough. And the loaves were small with an uneven shape and appearance. Although I tried a few changes to the recipe myself, I decided to try a brand new recipe this year, and I will share the results of that trial tomorrow.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Seasons Greetings!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Seasons Greetings! This is the one day of the year where I really take a break from food blogging, set an automatic update, and just post a quick little message to wish everyone a great day! Enjoy time spent with loved ones, and some great feasts. Whether you opt for the traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings, or a different family tradition, something unconventional, or even a really good pizza - enjoy it along with some great desserts and great memories made with loved ones. 
PHOTO CREDIT:"images" Mudgee Fine Foods, n.d. Wednesdayday, December 24, 2014.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ginger Cake

Ginger Cake
2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 teaspoon each; ground cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup molasses
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup hot water
2 teaspoons baking soda
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line a 9x13 inch rectangular pan.
In a large bowl, place the first eight ingredients. Stir the soda into the hot water until it bubbles then add to bowl. Mix well until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Here is a really quick gingerbread cake recipe that is a real saver at Christmastime. It is basically a one bowl recipe for a nice gingerbread, with a cake-like texture. It is baked in a long rectangular cake pan and is easy to serve. It is great warm or old as is, or with ice cream, whipped cream, a dusting of icing sugar, or a sauce - caramel, eggnog, spiced, crème anglaise, or a spiked sauce such as brown sugar rum, bourbon butterscotch, or a simple hard sauce. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Gingerbread Cupcakes

Gingerbread isn't just for cookies or cakes - it can work for cupcakes or muffins as well! These gingerbread cupcakes my mother made are moist and sweet enough to be cupcakes, but we eat them as muffins. If you would like them to be cupcakes, I would recommend a cream cheese icing, brown butter icing, or salted caramel buttercream. An eggnog flavored frosting would be nice as well. 
Gingerbread Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line a twelve cup muffin pan.
In a medium bowl, stir together the first six dry ingredients. 
In a separate large bowl, whisk together the last six wet ingredients.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until fully incorporated. 
Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake for abut 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Gingerbread Train 2014

Last year, we went with decorating a gingerbread train instead of a gingerbread house, to try out a new gingerbread kit. This year, we made both a gingerbread house and a gingerbread train. We had bought a reduced gingerbread train at the end of season last year, but forgot about it. So we bought a house this year, because although the train is cute, the house seemed cuter and more traditional. While we were putting out Christmas decorations this year, we found the gingerbread train set, and decided to put that together as well. So here is this year's gingerbread train, displayed on the shelf below our gingerbread house.

The houses for the past few years can be found at these links: 2011 and 2012.
Here is the link for last year's gingerbread train: Train.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Gingerbread House 2014

In keeping with the tradition of constructing a family gingerbread house each year, here is the 2014 edition. Unfortunately, this year it was only my parents who were around to decorate the house, but I think they did a great job! Although we get pretty much the same, or a very similar, house every year, it always ends up being decorated differently, or we trade which parts each person decorates. These kits never seem to include enough candy to mimic the fancy designs given on the box as suggestions, and they never account for the small little candies that roll away - to be found later in the day. I particularly like the wreath on the front of this house, I think it is quite creative. 
I am happy and thankful to be home with my family now in order to celebrate the holidays.
Happy Holidays to all!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Miniature Gingerbread Cookies

Here are some more gingerbread cookies! I made these one miniature for some bite-sized cookies. What I like about these cookies is they are so small and extra crisp - almost like crackers - so you can eat a bunch of them. You can also make so many more different shapes, and you get way more cookies from one batch of dough. Also since they are so tiny, they really don't require any decorating. though they would probably be really good in a dip - try a sweet frosting, cream cheese, and eggnog dip, etc. Pictured here are two different angel shapes, a candy cane, and a star.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Fudgey Cranberry Dark Chocolate Brownies

This is one of the ultimate brownie recipes for brownie and chocolate lovers (me). Even those who are not in love with brownies will enjoy these. Since they are not mixed much, and ingredients are folded in, this creates a very fudgey and dense brownie. Yet these brownies definitely hold up well. This batch makes a big panful of tall brownies, so you get a lot from one batch. They contain some dried cranberries to give them a little festive feel, but these can be omitted or replaced with chopped nuts, or chocolate chips for a double chocolate brownie. The cranberries do not impart a strong flavor or texture though, they sort of "melt" into the chocolate. I often use whole wheat flour for chocolaty items such as brownies because you cannot detect the difference and it makes them slightly more nutritious. These need no icing, but an icing colored with cherry juice would add even more festive color to these and make them sweeter. 

Fudgey Cranberry Dark Chocolate Brownies
300g dark chocolate, chopped, use as dark as you wish, depending on your personal preference (I used a mix of 90%, 72% and caramel 60%)
200g butter, cubed
1/4 cup dark chocolate syrup, optional
8 large eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated (white) sugar (may want to scale this up or down depending on the type of chocolate used)
1 Tablespoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch salt
2 cups sweetened dried cranberry, dusted lightly in flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line a 9x13 inch pan.
Bring a small pot halfway full of water to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Place the chocolate and butter in a heat-proof bowl that will fit the pot, and melt, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula. Once melted, stir in the chocolate syrup and cool slightly.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until smoothly blended. Beat in the sugar until thick and dissolved, do not overbeat. Beat in vanilla. Temper this mixture with some of the chocolate, then fold all of the chocolate in.
Fold in the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Then fold in the cranberries. Do not overmix.
Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake for about 30 minutes, until edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Layer Cake

Christmas will soon be here, and I was feeling quite festive and inspired the other day. So I made a Christmas themed cake. The red and green colors showing through the cake and the red and green sprinkles give a very festive appearance. The trick to get the red and green in the cake is actually quite simple, the same technique I used at Halloween (see {Orange Poke Cake}). This also makes the cake extra moist! 

Christmas Layer Cake
2 round white cake layers, baked (cooled, optional)
1 package green instant gelatin mix (lime)
1 package red instant gelatin mix (cherry, raspberry, or strawberry)
2 cups boiling water
2 packages instant whipped topping (or use real whipped cream)
1 cup cold milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
Christmas sprinkles

The cakes need not be cool, but should be removed from pans and placed on plates. Pierce the cakes all over with a fork.
In small bowls, dissolve each of the gelatins in one cup of boiling water. Whisk until dissolved. Carefully pour one over each cake. Cool.
A few hours later, whip the topping mix with the milk and vanilla. Spread half of this one one of the cakes. Top with other cake. Spread top with remaining topping. Garnish with sprinkles. 

You may use a boxed mix, purchased cakes, or your own homemade cakes for this recipe, however white cake must be used in order for the colors to show through. You could decorate the cake with any type of frosting instead of cream or whipped topping, but I like the texture and light, fluffy appearance of the topping, almost like snow.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Chip Squares

Christmas Chip Squares
1 cup butter or hard margarine, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups Christmas chips (like chocolate chips, but red, white, and green colored)
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line a 9x13 inch pan.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the granulated sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the chips.
Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until lightly browned. 

This square recipe is really just chocolate chip cookie dough baked in a pan and eaten in bar form. They are made festive by the use of colored chocolate chips, which are not chocolate flavored, but are still sweet and tasty. For the off-season, just replace with your favorite type of chips - milk chocolate, dark chocolate, butterscotch, peanut butter, mint, etc.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Spiced Eggnog Cream Pie

This is a Christmas pie recipe I came up with while staring at a jug of eggnog in the fridge. It is an easy way to make a simple cream pie, but had the Christmas flavors of eggnog and spices. I also found some cute little gingerbread man sprinkles to garnish it, though whipped cream would work as well. I like to use one of my favorite pie crust recipes, and oil-based pastry which is lighter and easier than a traditional pie crust. A shortbread or graham crumb crust would also be nice, but a prepared frozen or refrigerated pie shell could be used as well.
Spiced Eggnog Cream Pie
1 prepared pie crust, baked and cooled 
(I used {Oil-Based Pie Pastry})
2 cups eggnog
2 packages (4 serving size) instant vanilla pudding mix (no cook)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
gingerbread man sprinkles (or desired garnish, optional)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggnog, pudding, and spices for approximately two minutes until thickened. Spread mixture evenly into prepared pie shell. Garnish as desired. Chill before serving.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Gingerbread Shapes

Gingerbread cookies are definitely one of my favorite Christmas cookies. I love the soft texture, and the molasses and spice flavor of these cookies. I seem to make them every year, but I always seem to use different recipes. Not that I haven't found a good recipe, I just like to try different ones I guess. This one makes a fairly large batch - anywhere from three to six dozen, depending upon size.

Gingerbread Shapes
1 cup butter or hard margarine, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup molasses
2/3 cup water
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line cookie sheets.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the molasses, then slowly beat in the water. 
In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining dry ingredients. Stir into butter mixture until combined. This dough may seem dry at first, but will turn into a soft and sticky dough. It should not need to be chilled before rolling, but it can be.
Roll dough out to desired thickness (about 1/4 inch) and cut with floured cutters. Bake for about 10 minutes until beginning to turn golden around the edges.
These cookies can be decorated by pressing candies, chocolate chips, sprinkles, or dried fruit into the dough before baking. Alternately, brush the cookies with warmed corn syrup to attach decorations after baking, or decorate with icing.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Chocolate Crispy Christmas Squares

This is a spin on the traditional crisp rice cereal squares. Extra texture comes from the addition of oats and coconut. The squares are given a holiday theme by using colored shredded coconut and crisp rice cereal, both are available in red, green, and white colored mixes for the holidays. Of course you can use regular as well, especially if it isn't Christmas time. These squares also have a mellow chocolate flavor. 
Chocolate Crispy Christmas Squares
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine
4 cups miniature marshmallows
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 cup shredded, colored coconut
1 1/2 cups Christmas crisp rice cereal
1/4 cup semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips

In a large saucepan, melt the butter and marshmallows until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients. Press evenly into a greased 9x13 inch pan. Let stand briefly to firm up before cutting. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fruit Squares

Fruit Squares
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups red and green glacé cherries, chopped
3/4 cup chopped dates

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line a 9x13 inch pan.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until light colored and thick. Beat in the sugar, then the vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt, followed by the fruit. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan.
Bake for about 25-30 minutes until set and light golden.

Some people love fruitcake, some don't, and others find it too much of a bother to make. This square recipe combines some of the flavors of fruitcake into a handy little bar. It is not quite as dense and dark as a regular fruitcake would be, but more light, refreshing, and chock full of fruit. A perfect addition to a tray of holiday sweets.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cranberry Sparkle Muffins

Cranberry Sparkle Muffins
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup oil
2 cans wholeberry cranberry sauce
4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
3 Tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
softened butter, for spreading
granulated sugar, to sprinkle

Preheat oven to 400F. Grease or line muffin cups.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Beat in the milk, oil, and cranberry sauce. 
Fold in the dry ingredients. Bake for about 20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Spread each muffin with a little butter and sprinkle with sugar. Makes about 30 muffins.
What do you do with that leftover cranberry sauce you have from the holidays? Well, you can use it up to make a tasty batch of muffins. Less labor intensive than using fresh or frozen cranberries, as they do not require chopping, draining, or defrosting. Since cranberry sauce is sweetened as well, this muffin contains less sugar in the formula, but is still plenty sweet to contrast those tart cranberries. You also get a ribbon of yummy cranberry filling throughout each bite of the muffin.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Buttertart Bars

Rich, sweet, buttery buttertarts are great all year round, but they seem to be especially popular around holiday times. Though buttertarts are not particularly difficult to make, the forming of each individual tartlet can be tedious and time-consuming. These bars are a great way to get all of the flavor of buttertarts in a convenient, handheld bar. The crust is a rich and buttery shortbread crust instead of the typical pie crust, which I think pairs even better with the filling.
Buttertart Bars
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 cup golden corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons all-purpose (plain) flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/3 cups raisins

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line a 9x13 inch pan.
CRUST: Crumble all ingredients together well. Press evenly and firmly into prepared pan.
FILLING: Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. beat in the corn syrup and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Sprinkle the raisins evenly over the baked crust. Pour the filling over top. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until almost set. Cool until set before cutting.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Macaroni Beef Casserole

This is a big batch of an easy casserole I made. Of course it can easily be varied by: type of pasta, type of meat, vegetables, sauce, spices and seasonings, add-ins (cheese, sour cream, etc.), but here is what I did:

Cook two bags of macaroni pasta in boiling water until tender.
Meanwhile, cook one package of ground pork in a little oil in a large saucepan until fully cooked. Stir in two large green peppers, diced, one package of sliced button mushrooms, and one can of seasoned diced tomatoes (with juice). Add in three packages of chili seasoning and bring mixture to a boil. Simmer for a few minutes until vegetables are tender.

Pour the drained pasta into a large casserole dish, pour meat mixture over top. Stir in a couple cups of tomato sauce of choice. Mix well. Top with cheese if desired. Bake immediately to heat through, or cover and place in the fridge until ready to bake later.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Boiled Fruit Cake

Here is a really speedy and easy fruitcake recipe - good to have on hand if you have forgotten to prepare your homemade fruitcakes well in advance. All you have to do is boil some ingredients together, then once cooled, stir in everything else and bake. The boiling process helps to caramelize the sugar, soften the raisins, and intensify the spice. You can use your favorite fruits in this cake - substitute currants or chopped dates for some or all of the raisins, and use any kind of glacé fruit or peel you wish. You can add some nuts into this as well if desired. The fruitcake can be enjoyed immediately, frozen for long term storage, or soaked in liquor and well wrapped to age. 
Boiled Fruit Cake
2 cups water
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 butter or hard margarine, cut into cubes
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups raisins

4 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups chopped mixed fruit

In a large saucepan, bring the first eight ingredients to a boil. Boil for five minutes, then cool to lukewarm. 
Preheat oven to 325F. Grease a ten inch tube pan.
Gradually beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the remaining ingredients until well combined. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. Bake for about an hour until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool slightly before removing from pan. 

Monday, December 08, 2014

Ginger Muffins

Ginger Muffins
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine, softened
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup hot water
3 1/2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease or line muffin cups.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs until well combined. Beat in the molasses, then the water.
Sift together the remaining dry ingredients and stir in until just combined. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake for about 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Makes about 20 muffins. 

These ginger muffins remind me of gingerbread in a convenient, individual size perfect for breakfast or snacks! Great for the holiday season. 

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Almost Mom's Trifle

I call this almost mom's trifle, because when I made it, I took inspiration from the trifle my mother always made. There are so many variations on trifle you could do - even with this recipe you could use any type of cake, pudding, pie filling, and garnish. But my mother always used white pound cake, cherry pie filling, and chocolate pudding. No matter what, it is delicious and foolproof. This is a quick and easy version, but if you want a from-scratch version, use homemade cake, fresh fruit, and homemade pudding or custard. Here is Mom's real trifle: {Trifle}.

Almost Mom's Trifle
one prepared 9x13 inch cake, I used a vanilla boxed cake mix
it can be two round cakes, one bundt cake, whatever one recipe makes
one can cherry pie filling
one package instant chocolate pudding mix, prepared
one container frozen whipped topping, thawed
sweetened cocoa powder for garnish
Cut the cake into small cubes. Layer half of these cubes in the bottom of a large bowl or glass dish. Spoon half of the pie filling over top. Spread with half of the pudding. Repeat layers. Spread with whipped topping. Sprinkle with the cocoa powder. Chill for a few hours before serving. Trifle is even better the next day once the flavors blend together. 

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Easy Shortbread Cookies

Christmas is coming - here is a quick and easy, buttery shortbread cookie recipe. 

Easy Shortbread Cookies
2 cups butter, softened
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
3 1/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1/2 cup cornstarch

Preheat oven to 300F. Grease or line cookie sheets. 
In a large bowl, cream butter until very soft. Cream in the sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the flour and cornstarch until thoroughly combined, dough will be stiff and dry. 
Roll into small balls and place on prepared baking sheet. Press lightly with a fork. 
Bake for about 20-25 minutes until lightly browned. Makes about four dozen cookies. 

Friday, December 05, 2014

Date Muffins

Date Muffins
1 1/2 cups chopped dates
3/4 cup boiling water
2 large eggs
1/4 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Place the dates in a bowl. Pour the water over top and allow to stand until softened and cool.
Preheat oven to 400F. Grease or line 12 muffin cups.
Meanwhile, beat the eggs until frothy. Beat in the oil and vanilla, then the sugar. Stir in the dates with the liquid.
Fold in the dry ingredients. Scoop batter into prepared muffin tins and bake for about 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Chocolate Cream Pie

Cheater Chocolate Cream Pie
1 prebaked pie shell - you can use a refrigerated or frozen pie crust, dock it, and bake it yourself; use a prepared graham crumb or chocolate wafer crust; or make your own crust of choice
scant 2 cups milk
1 package (4 serving size) instant chocolate pudding mix
prepared topping - you may use frozen thawed whipped topping, a can of whipped topping, a prepared package of whipped topping, real whipped cream, or prepared frosting

Place the milk in a bowl. I like to use a little less than the two full cups of milk called for to make a slightly thicker cream pie filling. Pour in the pudding mix and whisk for two-four minutes until thickened. Spoon into prepared and cooled crust. Use the cream or icing to pipe swirls onto the pie to decorate. Refrigerate until firm. 

I am usually not one to use prepared and convenience products, but this is a really easy and foolproof recipe for inexperienced bakers to make in a pinch, and it is easy to produce in large quantities as well. 

This pie recipe can easily be transformed to any flavor cream pie. Try any of the following combinations:

Crust: flaky pie dough, mealy pie dough, butter pie dough, shortbread, chocolate, chocolate wafer, graham crumb, cornflake crust, crisp rice crust, vanilla wafer, zwieback crust, phyllo crust, puff pastry crust, ground nuts, etc.

Filling: any pudding mix, chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch, caramel, pistachio, lemon, lime.

Topping: Flavor the cream or icing with any extract (vanilla, lemon, almond, butter), or a little bit of alcohol, a sprinkle of ground spice, or cocoa powder.

Garnishes: nuts, chocolate, cookie pieces, candies, fresh fruit. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Turnip Fries

The other day I wanted to cook myself up a vegetable side dish, but I wanted it to be a little something different instead of simply a steamed vegetable, and I wanted to use something in season. So I spotted a nice looking locally grown turnip while shopping the other day, and decided to do something with that. I got my inspiration from the home fries my parents and I often like to make as an easy tasty side dish with meals - baked potatoes cut in fry shapes. I have heard of carrot, sweet potato ,and parsnip fries and decided to try turnip fries as well. The concept is the same - cut into thin strips and bake at a high temperature until tender and crisp. Season with salt, pepper, herbs, spices, and drizzle with oil as desired. The taste is definitely not the same as potatoes, but of all these vegetables, turnips and parsnips are not too far off, and the texture is surely similar and satisfying.

To make these turnips fries, I placed them on a baking sheet lined with foil with a little bit of oil, curry powder, paprika, and ground black pepper. Then I baked them at 425F for 30 minutes, flipping them every ten minutes or so, until tender and crisp. Dip 'em in ketchup and you won't even notice the difference! 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Simple Brown Sugar Sauce

This sauce recipe is one of the quickest and easiest cooked sauces, and a classic flavor that goes well with a variety of desserts. Everyone loves a sweet, rich butterscotch flavored brown sugar sauce. A few crucial things: the brown sugar must be whisked until smooth to avoid a lumpy or grainy sauce. To cut the sweetness slightly, add a pinch of salt. To make a thicker, richer sauce, use milk or cream in place of the water, just be careful not to burn it during cooking. For a more flavorful sauce, add a teaspoon of vanilla or rum flavoring, or stir in a tablespoon of your favorite type of liquor, and either boil the liquor off or add it in at the end for even more flavor. 

Simple Brown Sugar Sauce
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose (plain) flour
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a small saucepan, whisk together the brown sugar and flour until no lumps remain. Whisk in the water and vanilla. Bring mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Cook until of desired consistency

You can make this sauce as thick as you wish by boiling it longer. For bread pudding, as in yesterday's post, I like to keep the sauce on the thinner side so it spreads over the pudding and doesn't just land in one large clump. Keep the sauce thinner for things like ice cream, cakes, and pies. Make it a bit thicker for items such as squares and cookies. The sauce will thicken slightly upon cooling as well, and can be served either warm, cold, or at room temperature. It reheats as well. 

Monday, December 01, 2014

Whole Wheat Bread Pudding

Old-fashioned bread pudding - an ingenius way to reglorify old bread and make a delicious dessert at the same time. In this case, I have simply used the 'heels' or crust ends of loaves of whole wheat sandwich bread I had leftover from making a lot of toast and sandwiches. You don't even notice the fact that the bread is whole wheat, making this dessert slightly healthier. Bread pudding is a satisfying, yet not overly sweet dessert, made with good, old-fashioned ingredients such as milk, eggs, and butter. I like to sprinkle mine with cinnamon sugar for a little more flavor, texture, and appearance, but it is optional. I also love to serve bread pudding with a sauce, especially if it is a more dry bread pudding rather than a custardy bread pudding such as this one. I made a brown sugar sauce to go with this batch, which I will feature tomorrow. If you would like, substitute some of the milk with a little alcohol for your bread pudding (do not heat the alcohol if you really want the flavor to come through) and spike your dessert sauce as well. My favorite is brandy bread pudding with Bailey's butterscotch sauce. 
Whole Wheat Bread Pudding
8 cups whole wheat bread, cubed (I used all heels)
8 cups milk
1/2 cup butter or hard margarine
2 cups raisins
8 large eggs, beaten
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
cinnamon sugar (1/2 cup sugar + 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, mix together)

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a large casserole dish or baking pan.
Scald the milk, then stir in the butter until melted, then the raisins. 
Meanwhile, beat the eggs with the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt until thick. Temper this mixture with the milk, then stir it all into the milk mixture until smooth. Pour over the cubed bread in a large bowl. Let mixture stand for at least a few minutes to give the bread a chance to absorb the liquid. 
Pour the mixture into the prepared dish, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake for about an hour until firm and set, and no longer liquidy. Serve warm or cold with a sauce of choice. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Big Batch Lasagna

I grew up helping my father make lasagna. Whenever we had lasagna at our house, we always made two 9x13 inch panfulls and ate it for a few days, or froze extras. It was also a favorite dish to have when company came over. If you are going to go through all that trouble, you may as well make two big lasagnas and get more than one meal out of it. Also, the lasagna noodles fit larger pans better and one container of cottage cheese was always enough for us to make two lasagnas. We always made one meat lasagna and one vegetarian - I did the meatless and my father handled the meat. We would work side by side, I preparing the cheese and sauce, and eating the broken noodle pieces, and my father cooking up the meat. At work recently, I made one really big lasagna in a much bigger pan. It was definitely a different recipe than my father and I always made together, but the techniques were the same and it certainly brought back memories, especially since I didn't have a helper and was making this all by myself. 

This lasagna consists of a spicy meat tomato and pepper sauce, four layers of noodles, a layer of cottage cheese mixed with spinach, and a top layer of shredded mozzarella cheese. I like how lasagna can be prepared in advance, stuck in the fridge, and baked shortly before serving. Pictured here is the unbaked version. I also love the layering process and don't find it to be tedious at all, as long as you have all your mise en place in order beforehand. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Berry Cobbler

Berry Cobbler
2 cans berry pie filling (use a single berry pie filling or a mix of berries, or mix two different cans)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold butter, cubed
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425F.
Mix the filling, lemon juice, and almond extract together in a 9x13 inch rectangular pan. Place in the oven to heat up while preparing topping. 
Meanwhile, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter until crumbly. Stir in the milk to form a soft dough. Drop by spoonfuls over the hot filling.
Bake for about 20-25 minutes until biscuit topping is golden. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Peanut Butter Marble Cake

I made a cake recently, but I wanted to do a little something different with it. I wanted a cross between a sweet cake and a snack cake, so I didn't want to use an icing and piping on it - I wanted something quick and easy. I began with a simple marble cake. The classic flavors of chocolate and vanilla swirl. 
 Then while the cake was still warm, but not hot, I spread smooth peanut butter on top, which melted slightly over the cake. This added another depth of flavor to the profile.  Then I sprinkled chocolate chips over top to add a little more chocolate flavor. Then I stuck the cake in the fridge briefly to allow the topping to set. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hearty Vegetable Soup

Hearty Vegetable Soup
3 small white onions, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 small eggplant, diced
3 small potatoes, diced
stalk of choice, to cover
1 can yellow wax beans, drained
1 can green wax beans, drained
1 can stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 cup cooked, chopped carrots
salt, spices, and seasoning as desired
2 cups cubed leftover cooked meat, if desired
approximately 1 cup leftover seasoned mashed potatoes

Heat a little oil over low heat in a large pot. Add the onion, celery, zucchini, eggplant, and potato and allow the mixture to "sweat" for twenty minutes or so to marry the flavors together. Stir in the stalk and heat to a boil. Stir in the beans, tomatoes, carrots, seasoning, and meat. Boil until vegetables are tender. Stir in mashed potatoes and heat to thicken. 
The snowy, cold days approaching are the perfect time to enjoy bowlfuls of warm, hearty, delicious soup. With imprecise soups such as vegetable, no recipe is needed, but here is a formula for a very flavorful and nutritious soup I came up with that is quick and inexpensive to make, and a great way to use up some leftovers. Switch it up as you please. This makes a large batch that can easily be saved and reheated. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Roast Turkey

This past weekend I cooked something I have never cooked before, which actually happens quite often considering I always like to try new things; however this is something I am particularly proud of. I prepared, roasted, and carved my very first turkey! Of course I have had turkey before, and maybe even helped in preparing it, but I have never made a whole turkey from start to finish. To do this, I placed a medium-sized turkey, about six kilograms or so, in a large roasting pan, and poured in a little bit of chicken stock and cranberry juice for moisture and flavor. Then I seasoned the turkey liberally, with salt, ground black pepper, thyme, sage, and whatever other ground spices I happened to find that appealed to me. I just sprinkled them all over the top of the turkey, like a dry rub. Then I cut up two onions into small wedges, and put them in as well. I then covered the roasting pan in tight plastic wrap and foil. The turkey didn't take too long to bake, only a few hours, and then of course it must rest in the pan, outside of the oven, before carving. Slice it tenderly, and then it can be put back into another pan with the juices and heated gently again to be really hot. Be sure to use some of the pan drippings for a rich gravy, and save some of the onion to eat as well - it is tender and flavorful. A bit of the spice flavor comes through the turkey and the turkey is moist and juicy, either white or dark meat, but the turkey is not overly spicy. Of course it is great served with carrots, peas, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, and to make it extra special like Christmas dinner, stuffing!
Unfortunately, I forgot to snap a picture of the whole turkey after baking, but here it is all carved up!