Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christmas and Fruitcake

I am soooo excited! We leave in a few days for a Danube River cruise in Germany and Austria to see the Christmas Markets! We fly into Nuremberg for 3 days then get on a Viking River Cruise from Nuremberg to Regensburg, Melk, Vienna and end in Budapest! Can you just imagine how beautiful it will be? We are hoping for snow! DH is keeping a close watch on the weather forecast and so far (fingers crossed) it looks probable! Yeahhhhh! And think of all the good food... street food at the outdoor markets... hot spiced wine, hot chocolate (is there anything better than European chocolate?), spiced cookies, gingerbread, sausages...... OH MY!

This trip has made forced me into high gear to get everything done for Christmas before we leave. We will be home for Christmas, but just barely! I've been checking off my list for weeks now. Christmas painting and cards finished, addressed and ready to mail. Presents bought online, shipped and wrapped (well.. most of them are wrapped!). Decorations... hmmm.... maybe we'll put up our pop up pre-lit tree one day this week? Baking.... one food gift finished and delivered!

Confession time: I LOVE fruitcake. It's one of those things that you either really love or really hate! I am sad to find that most of my young friends are in the latter category and thus I mourn the eminent demise of the Christmas fruitcake tradition. :(
Since I am in the minority in our family and since every fruitcake recipe makes SEVERAL cakes, I seldom bake fruitcake anymore but do love fruitcake cookies almost as much. I was thinking that this might be THE year to actually bake fruitcake... I could squeeze it in this week and let it steep in bourbon while we are gone to Germany.... hmmmm .... OH! NO! I still have NO OVEN!!!!!!!!!

I'm posting both recipes in case I have readers who also love fruitcake. This is a recipe I've made since the 1970's (OMG, am I REALLY that OLD?) and I'll post my favorite cookie recipe, too.
If you are a new reader, go back to the past couple of years to find LOTS of favorite Christmas cookies... Gingerbread Men, Chocolate Peppermint Cookies, Roll and Decorate Sugar Cookies, Spritz Cookies ... etc....

I'll be e-mailing (hopefully) daily journals from our trip. If you'd like to travel with us to the Christmas Markets, let me know and I'll add you to the list. Meanwhile, I'll be back with more Christmas recipes in a couple of weeks.
Happy Baking!!!

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 lb light brown sugar
1 lb butter
9 eggs
3/4 teaspoon of each: Ground cloves, nutmeg, mace
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 box golden raisins
1/4 lb citron (I ususally omit this!)
1/4 lb candied orange peel
1 lb candied cherries
1 lb candied pineapple
1 lb candied mixed fruit
2 quarts pecans, chopped
1 pint fig preserves (or blackberry)
1/4 cup sweet wine

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line loaf pans or tube pan with greased wax paper or parchment paper.

Chop the fruits and nuts and dredge in 1/2 of the flour in a LARGE container. Combine remaining flour and spices. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Add flour alternately with wine. Add creamed mixture to fruit mixture ( I mix with wet hands!).

Place a pan of water on the bottom rack of oven. Bake fruitcakes for 2 1/2 hours. Cool for 10 minutes in pan. Remove from pan . Store in airtight container wrapped in bourbon soaked cheese cloth. Every few days, sprinkle a little more bourbon over the cake.. keep in a cool, dark place.
Yield: 3 loaf pans or 1 tube pan and 1 loaf

Helen's notes: Start this cake early! It will get better, the longer it sits! IF I had an oven, I would make it this week for Christmas!

Rum Bars
These are almost as good as Fruitcake!

4 1/2 cups chopped pecans, divided
1 cup butter, softened
2 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
4 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups candied red cherries, chopped
1 1/2 cups candied pineapple, chopped
Light rum

Grease a 15x10-inch jellyroll pan. Spread 3 cups pecans in the greased pan. Set aside.
Cream butter and sugar; add eggs, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Gradually add flour; stirring well. Spoon batter into prepared pan.
Combine cherries, pineapple and remaining pecans. Gently press mixture into batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hr 15 minutes. Cool slightly; cut into 2x1-inch bars. Remove to wire racks to cool completely. Sprinkle rum over each bar. Store in  airtight container to allow to mellow.. 2 to 3 weeks.
Yield: 6 dozen

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Leftovers

It's the day before Thanksgiving and here I sit with no oven! Thankfully, our original plan was to go to our daughter's for Thanksgiving, but I still feel frustrated and out of sorts by not having an oven! To make matters worse, the Sears call center is obviously NOT in the US. Have you ever tried to explain Thanksgiving dinner to an Indian (?) woman? In addition, she couldn't understand my Southern accent and, needless to say, I couldn't understand much of her accent either! Then she spent 10 minutes rattling on and on about an extended warranty that I should purchase on the spot ($300) if NOT, I would have to pay for the service call...well, DUH. Stay tuned for the rest of the story next week when the serviceman ( hopefully) gets here. Grrrrrrr!!!

On to more exciting things! By the time most of you have time to read this your turkey dinner will be history, but you will probably be blessed with plenty of leftovers. I'm posting our family's favorite leftover recipe. I hope you will like it as much as we do. It is super quick and easy and It also freezes well. So, make a double batch and freeze in meal size portions for later... like while you're decorating the Christmas tree!

Quick Turkey (or chicken) Tetrazzini
8 oz. thin spaghetti, cooked and drained
1 pkg sliced mushrooms, sautéed in butter or 1(8oz) can mushrooms, drained
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 cups diced turkey
2 cans cream of chicken soup
16 oz sour cream
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (reserve 1/2 cup for topping)
1/4 cup Sherry or white wine, optional

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl ; spoon into a 3-quart casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly.
Sprinkle with reserved cheese. Bake an additional 5 minutes.

To freeze: combine ingredients and spoon into freezer container. Thaw in refrigerator before baking. I line a baking dish with foil, spoon the mixture in, wrap in foil and freeze. When it's frozen, remove from dish. Then to serve, thaw, remove foil,place in same dish and bake!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thanksgiving Extras

Last November I shared our family's favorite traditional recipes. (If you missed it, search the blog for November 2011.) Today I thought you might enjoy a couple of variations on the traditional. The recipe for Broccoli Rice Casserole is an old one, but low fat and a good alternative to high fat side dishes (and leaves room for rich desserts). Even the kids might be persuaded to eat veggies this way.
Don't faint when you see the ingredients.. I really DO occasionally make this, even with the nasty cheese product! Absolutely anyone can make this recipe - no cooking skills required.

The next recipe is Frozen Pumpkin Pie. I've had this one for ages and ages. I was even featured in the Florida Times-Union food section MANY moons ago with this recipe. I've kept it over the years because it's a nice change from Libby's Pumpkin Pie (straight off the pumpkin can!). And on those years when we have a really warm Thanksgiving, it is refreshing. This is also a great make-ahead.

Low Fat Broccoli Rice Casserole
1 (20-oz) bag frozen chopped broccoli (or 2 (10-oz) boxes), cooked
2 cups cooked rice
1 can low fat cream of chicken soup
1 (8-oz) container light Cheese Whiz
1/4 cup chopped onion, optional

Mix all ingredients. Pour into a 2-quart greased casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees until it bubbles.

Frozen Pumpkin Pie
1 1/2 cups crushed pre-sweetened cereal (Frosted Flakes)
1/3 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Mix together and press into 9-inch pie pan. Chill one hour.

1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 gallon vanilla frozen yogurt or ice cream (or Butter Pecan and omit extra pecans)
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon grond nutmeg
1(8-oz) container Cool Whip, thawed

Combine ingredients in mixer. Mix until well combined. Spoon into pie crust. Freeze for 8 hours (or overnight). Top with Cool Whip before serving.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Chocolate Comfort Cookies

My house smells like a chocolate shop! These cookies have just come out of the oven and although it is early in the day, they are very tempting! This has to be my very favorite cookie of all time. I really think I've shared this recipe in the past, but if I can't find it on the blog, I'm afraid you might not be able to either and I would really HATE for you to go through life without having eaten these triple chocolate cookies! The great thing about them is that they never dry out. You can keep them for weeks (ha! ha! NOT likely to happen!) and they will still be soft and chewy. SWOON!

The recipe calls for dried cranberries, toasted nuts (pecans) and chocolate chunks. You can omit the cranberries, but I have to tell you that they add a nice "bite" of tartness to the cookie. I use toasted, chopped pecans but you can use walnuts, macadamia or hazelnuts. I generally make them with Ghiradelli dark chocolate chunks. I do believe the dark chocolate makes them better, but use semi-sweet if you would like.

Today, I had 1/2 of an 8-oz block of cream cheese (leftover from another recipe) so I used the entire 4 ounces. I have a "thing" about wasting even 1 oz of cream cheese. If I did not have this leftover, I would have bought the 3-oz size as the recipe states. I can't tell any difference at all in the results!

If a recipe says "softened" butter, etc it sould be the consitency of playdough. Does that help?
Spray the measuring cup with Pam before measuring marshmallow creme.

Give this one a try and I think you'll agree.. the BEST chocolate cookie EVER! Let me know what you think!

Chocolate Comfort Cookies
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 (3-oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk ( I used 1/2 and 1/2)
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa ( I used Guittard from Wms Sonoma)
1 cup marshmallow creme
1 cup chopped, toasted nuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 pkg (2 cups) chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking pans with parchment paper.

Cream butter, cream cheese and sugar in large bowl of electric mixer. Add egg and beat until well combined. Beat in vanilla, milk and melted chocolate. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and unsweetened chocolate in large bowl; whisk until well combined. Add to creamed mixture and mix until the dry ingredients are no longer visible. Add marshmallow creme and mix until the white disappears! Stir in nuts, cranberries and chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoons onto baking pans. Bake for 13 minutes. Cool on pans for 2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Yield: 4 dozen.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

We must be getting closer to the (eating) holidays. I have a sudden urge to bake - more than ususal!I've become a big King Arthur flour fan and I must tell you about my baking experience with them.
You probably already guessed that I'm not a big fan of mixes. "From scratch" simply tastes better.
BUT, I have come to love the King Arthur scone mixes. In particular, the Cranberry Orange Scone mix. Late last summer I decided to branch out (After all, Cranberry Orange is somewhat of a fall flavor, right?) and ordered the Almond Cherry Scone mix. I was terribly disappointed! The flavor was -- well, there was NO flavor. Unfortunately, we had house guests when I made this awful discovery! They were good sports and ate the scones, but I was sorely disappointed! I stewed over it for weeks, then finally wrote an e-mail to the King Arthur Customer Service Dept. I just wanted them to know what a disappointment it was. I expected nor asked for anything in return/exchange.

The nicest e-mail from Mary Jane arrived with apologies, questions and offers of replacement products. I assured her that I was not just some crazy consumer who complained at the drop of a hat (and gave her my foods resume). She was most gracious, insisting on sending "goodies" and connecting me with their blog relationship manager (what a different business world we live in!).
End of story, I received a "goodie box" with my favorite Cranberry Orange Scone mix and a Cheesecake Bar mix to try. Then the media person asked if I would sample and report on their new self-rising flour. So, today, a 5 lb bag of flour arrived! How nice of them! Now I am REALLY a big fan. I will be trying out the flour and let you know how it bakes. I suspect it will be wonderful! But, I did warn them that I have a LONG term relationship with Martha White flour! Goodness Gracious, it's Good! (Tennessee Ernie Ford, ads on the Grand Ole Opry  - for you young kids!)

Meanwhile, in addition to the baking bug, I've also been thinking about pumpkin... canned pumpkin!
This muffin recipe sounded much better than a bowl of cold cereal. It was a winner in our house!
I made half of the muffins without cranberries. If you like chocolate chips and pumpkin, add them instead of cranberries. If you don't have all the spices, use Pumpkin Pie spice. Add nuts, raisins, etc.... this is an easy recipe to alter. And the best news - it's low fat! (Of course, SOMEONE in this house slathered his theirs in butter!)

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/4 cup sugar ( I used half white sugar, half brown sugar)
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup buttermilk (or plain yogurt or sour cream)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Make a well in center of the ingredients, add remaining ingredients except cranberries. Stir to combine, making sure all ingredients are wet. Fold in cranberries. Spoon batter into greased muffin pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack.

Helen's Tips: Do NOT overmix muffin batter. It will make tunnels in the texture and mountain peaks on top of the muffins! Stir only until dry ingredients are wet. If you use cupcake papers in the pan, spray them with Pam.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sweet and Savory Kale

Fall and winter give us so many different vegetables that I am always finding something that I want  to try. Variety is nice and this week I chose to try a new kale recipe. I grew up in Alabama on turnip greens and occasionally mustard greens mixed in, but not collards! Mama said they smelled up the house! I agree. But, kale is relatively new to me. I worked with wedding caterers on weekends at one point in my single mom life and shudder to think of the bushels of kale that we threw away after a reception. We used it as a base for fruit and veggie displays. What a waste! I wish I had been more adventuresome then or had more time to experiment.

This was a no brainer especially since I had a half bag leftover from the Minestrone Soup. What else could I do with it? Well, as is so often the case, right on the bag was an interesting recipe. We had it last nite with Herbed Braised Chicken Thighs (recipe in past posts) that includes potatoes, onions and carrots. The kale was a nice change from green beans and we liked the taste combination. Thankfully, my DH is adventuresome when it comes to food!

Sweet and Savory Kale
 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sugar (I added just a little more)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 (1-lb) bag chopped Kale
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup sliced almonds, optional ( I left these out)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large stock pot. Add onion and garlic; saute until onion softens, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Stir in mustard, sugar, vinegar and broth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add kale, cover and cook 5 minutes stirring often.

Add cranberries and continue to cook on medium heat, stirring often. The liquid should reduce to about half and the cranberries will plump in about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.