Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Gingerbread & Caramel Almond Squares

I can't say enough about these gingerbread cookies. In the past I've always had hard, over spiced gingerbread cookies, but one day I found this recipe on kraftfoods.com and I've been making it every Christmas for the past five years! They are so soft and the flavor is delicious. I altered the recipe to make it into a drop cookie so I didn't have to spend the time to roll and cut, but I'll include both versions- the roll out and the drop. In the pic the gingerbread cookies are on top, I drizzles icing over them and sprinkled with red and green sugars.

Gingerbread Cookies

3.4 oz. box Instant Butterscotch pudding
14 Tbs. butter, softened (3/4 c. plus 2 Tbs. is what it ends up being)
3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbs. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350.
In a large bowl beat together the pudding, butter, and sugar until smooth. Stir in the egg. Add the baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and flour.
Bake for approximately 12 minutes.

*For roll out version change the butter to 3/4 c. and the flour to 2 c. After combining all ingredients, cover and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour until firm. On floured board, roll out dough to about a 1/4 inch thickness, cut and bake for approximately 10 minutes. Bake just until the middles of the cookies puff up. They should not be browned on the edges if you want chewy cookies.

Caramel Almond Squares

My mom found this recipe and I love it because it is so quick and they are SOOOO good!

1 bag pretzel squares (at our store they are Snyder's brand)
1 bag Rollo candies, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 350.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or aluminum foil. Place pretzels all over pan and add a Rollo on top of each one. Place in oven and cook for 3 minutes. Remove and press one almond down in the center of each candy. Let cool and harden. Delicious and highly addictive!

Fantasy Fudge

I love this recipe because it turns out great every time and it's pretty easy to make. I like adding pecans or walnuts to it.

3 c. sugar
3/4 c. margarine (not butter!)
5 oz. evaporated milk
1 pkg. semi sweet chocolate chips
1 7 oz. jar marshmallow cream
3/4 c. chopped nuts
1 tsp vanilla

Line an 8X8 pan with aluminum foil and grease, set aside.
Place chocolate and marshmallow cream in a large bowl, set aside.
In large sauce pan combine sugar, margarine, and milk. Bring to a full rolling boil over medium heat (not medium high, or high, just medium). Immediately turn your timer on for four minutes. Place your candy thermometer in the pan and cook until 234 degrees or for 4 minutes, whichever comes first. Immediately remove from heat and pour over marshmallow and chocolate. Stir until thoroughly combined. Stir in nuts and vanilla. Pour into pan and place in refrigerator until hardened, cut into 1" squares and serve!

Homemade Caramels

Yum, this is my favorite Christmas treat to make! It's soft and chewy and exactly what a caramel should be, I love them. They are fairly easy to make, you must have a candy thermometer though! :) Trust me, if you try to make them without one you will cry, pull your hair out, and have a Christmas baking mental breakdown (I know, it happened two years ago, and then I bought a candy thermometer and I've been good since!) Every Christmas these are the most requested, and the first to go.


2 c. heavy whipping cream
3/4 c. Karo light corn syrup (must be Karo, generic brands don't turn out as well)
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, sliced

Line an 8X8 inch pan with aluminum foil. Grease with butter, set aside.
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan (I use the largest one in my pan set)
Bring to a rolling boil over medium heat (not medium high or high, just medium, be patient this can take a little while)
Plop the candy thermometer in and cook until the mixture reaches 245 stirring frequently, remove IMMEDIATELY and pour into prepared pan. Let sit until hardened, I always just let it sit on the counter overnight.
When cooled and solid, remove from pan and cut into 1/2"-1" squares depending on how big you want them. Wrap in wax paper and they are ready to eat!
Now, if for some reason they did not turn out here are some helpful hints for the next time you make them:
If they are light in color and too soft, or if they stick to the wax paper, you did not cook them long enough.
If they are darker and hard you cooked them too long. You still may be able to use them if you put the pan in the oven for a few minutes to soften it up, and then you can cut them.
As long as you stir frequently and watch the temp they should turn out perfect!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Chicken Bell Pepper Chowder

This recipe came from Paula Deen and it is soooooo good! It's silky smooth and packed with chunky vegetables and chicken. I served this with sourdough bread slices brushed with olive oil and put under the broiler until they were lightly browned, so yummy! (Sourdough bread makes anything good though!) I know there are lots of ingredients, but is really worth the effort, from start to finish it took me about an hour to make this and it made lots of soup, a whole large stock pot full. I would say it would serve 6-7 adults. (My husband loves pepper, that's why the soup in the pic has pepper all over it!)

Chicken and Bell Pepper Chowder

1/4 c. olive oil
3 large carrots, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 sweet onions, cut into 1/2 inch dice
5 stalks celery, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 green bell peppers, sliced into strips
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp dried Thyme
1 Tbs. chicken bouillon granules
4 cans chicken broth
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
3 cups diced grilled chicken
1/2 c. butter
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp hot sauce, or more to taste
1 c. heavy cream

Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the carrots onions, celery, garlic, peppers, salt, white pepper, cumin, and thyme. Saute for 7-8 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften. Stir in the the chicken bouillon. Add the chicken broth and cilantro, and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until the carrots are tender. Stir in the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is heated through. In a skillet melt the butter and add the flour, stir for about 3 minutes, do not let brown! Ladle one cup of the soup mixture into the flour mixture, whisk to combine. Gradually add two more ladles full of soup. Pour back into soup pot and stir to combine, let cook for approximately 3-4 minutes until thickened. Remove from heat and add hot sauce and heavy cream, serve hot with some good bread!

Cookie Exchange Party '08!

Happy Holidays Everyone! I am sorry it has been a couple of weeks since I posted anything, I have been so busy! Every year I have a cookie exchange party, and I look forward to it all year! I love cookies and I love to party! :) This year I made appetizers, and then we played some fun games, had an ornament exchange, and then got to take home 6 dozen cookies, Yum! Here are some of the recipes from the party:

Brie Bread Ring
I love this! It is so yummy and easy, it's a great holiday appetizer.

1 round of Brie cheese
2 tubes Pillsbury refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (not the flaky kind)
1/2 c. butter
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. fresh Thyme, finely chopped
2 Tbs. fresh Parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp dried Oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 350.
Scrape/cut the rind off of the top of the Brie (only the top, the side and bottom rind hold the melted cheese in!), set aside.
Cut buttermilk biscuits into quarters and place in large bowl.
In saute pan melt butter and olive oil, add herbs and garlic and saute one minute (do not brown garlic). Pour over rolls and toss to coat rolls thoroughly. This time I used a large square pan to bake this in, but in the past I've used a round pizza pan and formed a ring around the Brie with aluminum foil to keep the rolls together.
Place the Brie in the middle and layer the rolls around the Brie, try to only go two rolls high or it will take a long time for the bread to cook.
Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until rolls are browned and Brie is melted.
To serve you can either let your guests break off rolls and dip in cheese, or you can put a spoon in the cheese for them to put on their plates.

Holiday Cheese Ball
This is absolutely the best cheese ball I have ever had! My sister Becky gave this recipe to me last year, I love the combination of flavors. I'm sure you've all tasted some nasty cheese balls in your time, but I promise you will love this one! :)

12 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 Tbs. finely chopped onions
2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 c. coarsely chopped craisins
2 c. finely grated cheddar cheese
1 c. chopped pecans (I toast mine on the stovetop with a couple of teaspoons of sugar)

Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add onions and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in craisins and cheddar cheese. Shape into a ball, roll in chopped pecans. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least three hours. Serve with crackers or pretzel sticks.

Phyllo Wrapped Asparagus
I have to admit I've never worked with Phyllo dough before, so you won't be surprised that I accidentally bought Puff Pastry instead of Phyllo, Ugh! Thanks Emma for all of your help with this recipe!

8 asparagus spears
1/2 pkg. (16 oz) Phyllo dough sheets, thawed
1/4 c. butter, melted
1/4 c. finely grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 375. Break off tough end of asparagus spears.
Cut Phyllo dough sheets in half lengthwise, (you'll only be using half the package). Place dampened cloth over Phyllo dough. Remove one piece at a time and brush with butter, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and place two asparagus spears at end. Roll up jelly roll style. Place on baking sheet seam side down. Brush with more butter and sprinkle with more parmesan cheese. Repeat with remaining asparagus. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden and crispy.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars
This is a just a quick and easy Betty Crocker recipe that I love!

1 pouch Betty Crocker Peanut Butter cookie mix
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 Tbs. water
1 egg
1/2 c. Reeses Peanut Butter Chips

1 container vanilla frosting (not whipped)
1 Tbs. milk
1/4 c. creamy peanut butter
1/4 c. seedless raspberry or strawberry jam

Spray bottom of a 13X9 pan with cookie spray.
Combine cookie mix, vegetable oil, water, and egg, stir in peanut butter chips.
Press dough into bottom of pan using floured fingers. Bake 15-18 minutes until lightly browned. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

In small bowl stir frosting, milk, and peanut butter until smooth. Spread over base. Stir jam and drop by teaspoonfulls onto frosting. Swirl jam for a marbled design with tip of knife. Refrigerate for at least one hour, store in refrigerator.

Brownie "Trees"
I was really proud of myself for coming up with this idea! I used a large star tip to make the "tree" and a small star tip to make the "star".

1 Betty Crocker Fudge brownie mix
1 container vanilla frosting
green and yellow food coloring

Line 13X9 pan with foil and coat with cooking spray. Prepare and bake brownie mix according to box directions. Let completely cool.
Remove from pan and using a small round biscuit cutter, cut the brownies into little circles. Pipe frosting on top to look like trees.