Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Nutty Pear and Craisin Dip

This is a quick and simple party dip that I threw together for my family's get together on Christmas Eve. It was a big hit! I love that it's sort of unexpected as far as party dips go. Usually, you'd expected an herbed cheese or something savory, but this one is a little bit sweet and has a very light and fresh flavor. And when you serve it on regular Triscuits or Wheat Thins, you get a little salty hit that makes everything balance. So good! I also love that you can really taste each one of the ingredients, but everything comes together perfectly. Cool, huh? Hope you like it!

2 (8oz) pkgs cream cheese
2 ripe pears, any kind, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 cup craisins
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Salt and pepper to taste

Simply place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until nicely blended but still chunky. Serve with Triscuits or Wheat thins.

The key to this recipe's success is that none of the ingredients overpowers the others. Everything blends perfectly. But you're the cook! So if you'd like to add a few more craisins, or an extra handful of pecans, be my guest. Like my Mom always said, "do you like a lot? add a lot!"
If you want to use canned pears, don't put them in the food processor to mix them because they'll become too mushy. You really want them to be chunky just like the other ingredients. So just chop them up separately, then fold them into the mixture after you've pulsed everything else.
If the mixture if too thick, add a few drops of water to bring it to spreadable or dippable consistency. (Is dippable a word?? ) If you're using canned pears, you can add a little of the juice from the can.
For a little variation and a stronger flavor punch, try substituting half of the cream cheese with goat cheese or even bleu cheese.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Sweet Chicken Bacon Wraps

 Having a party? Not sure what to make??  If you're looking for a hot appetizer, then you simply MUST try this recipe. Easy to make, only a few ingredients, and you can assemble them in advance and then pop them in the oven just before your guests are due to arrive. It's the ideal party food because (as my sister Cathy would say) it's a "picky-uppy" thing. Mingling guests can pick one up with one hand while holding a drink in the other. Perfect, right? And let's be honest, is there ANYTHING that isn't better when it's wrapped in bacon????? Seriously. Miss Paula definitely got this one right when she was coming up with the recipe.
You should probably make extra because your guests will devour them!

1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts 
1 (1 lb) package sliced bacon 
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar 
2 tablespoons chili powder 

 Preheat oven to 350°F. 
Cut chicken breasts into 1-inch cubes. Cut each bacon slice into thirds. Wrap each chicken cube with bacon and secure with a wooden pick inserted on the diagonal starting where bacon seam overlaps. Stir together brown sugar and chili powder. Dredge wrapped chicken in mixture. Coat a rack and broiler pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place chicken on rack in broiler pan. Bake at 350°F for 30 to 35 minutes, or until bacon is crisp.

If you want to add a little extra heat, try adding a creole spice blend. The blend of hot and sweet and smokey is just heaven!
Btw, I used thick-cut bacon just because I like it, but feel free to use any kind of bacon you like.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Crock Pot Cinnamon Roll Casserole

Ok, so, Santa has just finished placing all of the Christmas gifts under the tree, it's now 3:00 am, the kids are gonna be awake in about 3 hours, and Mom and Dad are just going to bed. Sound familiar? Does anyone feel like getting up and baking cinnamon rolls? Probably not.
Fortunately, I have the answer for you! Why not make them in a crock pot?!!??
You just throw everything in, turn it on low, and about 3 hours later, you have delicious hot cinnamon rolls for everyone. How awesome is that????? And can I just tell you how HEAVENLY it smells while it's cooking?? Almost as heavenly as it tastes!!!!! No, this is not my own recipe. My friend John posted it on Facebook from a website called recipesthatcrock.com that shared a recipe from a cookbook called Slow Cooker Christmas Favorites by Gooseberry Patch. (did you get all that???)
 Even if you decide not to make this for Christmas morning, this one is definitely a keeper. It's REALLY delicious and comforting and warm and cozy. LOVE it.

2 12oz tubes of cinnamon rolls cut into quarters- divided
4 eggs
1/2 cup whipping cream
3 tbs maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Spray your crock with cooking spray.
Place a layer of cinnamon roll pieces to cover the bottom of a 6 qt slow cooker. (Reserve icing packets). Beat eggs, cream, maple syrup, vanilla and spices until blended well. Pour evenly over the rolls in the slow cooker. Place remaining roll pieces on top and spoon one packet of icing evenly over rolls. Cover and cook on low for 2½ to 3 hours or until sides are golden and rolls are set. Drizzle remaining icing over top and serve warm.

Be sure to spray the crock pot before you make it. You'll be glad you did!
It's delicious as written, but I think it needs to be just a tad sweeter. So I would add a little extra maple syrup and I definitely wanted MORE of the icing on top. The next time I make it, I think I might whip up some sort of cream cheese glaze to pour over the top. If you have a cream cheese glaze recipe, please share it with me!  Thanx!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles

 I first saw this recipe on Trisha Yearwood's cooking show. Frankly, I don't know anyone who doesn't like cookie dough, so I knew I would have to try it. Then when I went to look up the recipe, I found several different cookie dough truffle variations from several different websites. Hmm... do I stick with TY's recipe or try one of the others??? They all look pretty similar. I wonder what the difference is. I noticed that all the recipes had all the basic cookie ingredients but they all had something else instead of adding a raw egg (which is the reason everyone says not to eat regular cookie dough). So I decided to try a recipe that adds sweetened condensed milk instead of the egg. It was good, but you could definitely taste the creamy flavor of the milk. As much as I love sweetened condensed milk, it was not what I was hoping for in a cookie dough. So I went back to TY's recipe, which uses applesauce instead of the egg. THIS was the one. See? I should have just stayed with my original plan and made this one in the first place! The applesauce gives you the moisture and texture of regular cookie dough, but it doesn't change the flavor. Delicious!! I loved them so much, I had to make another batch! They're the perfect treat for gift giving or entertaining around the holidays. I'm sure your family and friends will love them too! 

2/3 cup (1 1/3 sticks) butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
Semisweet dipping chocolate wafers

In an electric mixer, beat the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, applesauce and vanilla together until smooth. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together, and with the mixer running, slowly add to the butter mixture. Mix in the chocolate chips. Scoop out the batter using a teaspoon or mini ice cream scoop and roll it into balls. Place the dough balls about an inch apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper and transfer them to the freezer for 30 minutes to let the dough set up.
While the dough is chilling, melt the chocolate wafers in a double boiler or a metal bowl over a pan of simmering but not boiling water. Remove the chilled dough balls from the freezer. Using two spoons, dip the balls one at a time in the melted chocolate, rolling them to coat fully. Returned the dough balls to the paper-lined baking sheet and refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes. Store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
As you're making these, keep in mind that you really want to make them very small. Basically you want to make them small enough to be able to just pop one in your mouth. I've found that most times, especially at a holiday party, people just want a taste, not a big honkin' CHUNK of cookie dough that requires several bites. If they want more, they can just have another one! Or three!
TY's recipe uses dipping chocolate mixed with almond bark for the dipping, but I just used the dipping chocolate, as I've listed above.
For a little variation, try dipping the truffles in white chocolate or milk chocolate instead of the semisweet. 
For a little extra touch, drizzle each dipped truffle with another kind of chocolate in a contrasting color. Drizzle a semisweet dipped truffle with a little white chocolate over the top. Or vice versa!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Eggnog and Cherry Trifle

 So you've been invited to a holiday party, and you want to bring a dessert. Surely there will be other desserts, such a cookie trays, etc, but you're hoping to bring something with a bit of a WOW factor, right? THIS, my friends, is definitely the recipe you should make. It screams holiday party, it's simple to make, it's absolutely decadent, and you'll be showered with OOOs and AAAHHHHs as soon as you enter the room! I made this for my family pollyanna Christmas party and everyone loved it! I think your family and friends will love it too!

3/4 cup cold milk 
1 package (3.4 ounces) instant vanilla pudding mix 
2 cups eggnog 
1/2 teaspoon almond or brandy or rum extract
1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped
1 loaf butter pound cake such as Etenmann's or your own (can also use angel food cake)
1 cup cherry preserves, thinned with 2 tbs water
fresh cherries, pitted and cut in half

  In a bowl, whisk milk and pudding mix until blended. Gradually add eggnog; mix well. Fold in extract and whipped cream; set aside.
 Cut cake into 1/2-in. slices; place about a 1/3 of the cake in a trifle bowl or a high sided glass serving bowl. Top with 1/3 of the jam and a handful of cherries. Spoon 1 cup of eggnog mixture over all. Repeat twice. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours. Garnish with whole cherries and sweetened whipped cream. Chill until ready to serve.

Before you make this dish or any other dish using fresh cherries, you MUST do yourself a favor a purchase a cherry pitter. It's a simple little gadget that kind of reminds you of an ear piercer, and it's absolutely essential! It makes life SO much easier and they're not expensive at all.
Not a fan of cherries? Try raspberries or strawberries instead! It'll still look beautifully festive!
Whenever I make a trifle, it's all about the presentation. You really want to see perfectly perfect layers. The best way to achieve this is to do each layer from the outside in. As you layer each ingredient, go around the perimeter first, and then fill in the center. It's so much prettier to be able to see each layer of cake, preserves, fruit,  and cream.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Brown Butter Brown Sugar Cookies

 Here's a recipe that I got from my niece, Kim, about a million years ago when she made them for a family get together. Like I always say, I have no idea where she got the recipe, and since she the one who gave it to me, then she's the one who gets the credit for it. To be honest, I can't even remember what the occasion was, but I do remember that everyone couldn't stop eating them!  Eh, what can I say, it was quite a while ago. Don't judge me. But omg wait'll you taste them! They're chewy and delicious and they're everything you'd want a brown sugar cookie to be. And the brown butter gives it a nutty flavor that is just HEAVEN.
 Definitely add them to your cookie repertoire! They're the perfect addition to any holiday cookie tray. But you don't have to wait until the holidays! Make 'em any time!
Thanx Kim!!

1 3/4 sticks (14 tbs) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/2 tbsp vanilla

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350ºF and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Allow to simmer until it starts to turn an amber color and smell nutty and fragrant. Remove from the heat to a separate bowl. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the browned butter and brown sugar until well-blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Add the egg and egg yolk to the butter/sugar mixture one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Mix the flour mix into the cookie dough, stirring until just combined. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and brown sugar. Scoop the cookie dough into balls using a 1 1/2 tbsp cookie scoop (or just scoop it into rounded tbs). Roll in the sugar mix and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining cookie dough, leaving 2 inches between each dough ball on the baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until starting to set around the edges. Allow to cool before serving.

Definitely be sure to use the parchment paper whenever you bake cookies. When the cookies come out of the oven, you can just slide the whole sheet off the try and onto the counter for the cookies to cool, and you can have another one ready to slide right onto the tray and back into the oven it goes. It really makes things move right along, especially if you have lots of cookies to bake!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Almond Shortbread

 Here's a quick and easy dessert that is extremely easy to make and is HUGE on flavor. I made thiese for a family event a while ago and everyone LOVED them! The recipe is actually Trisha Yearwood's Skillet Almond Shortbread, but I decided change the amounts in order to make them in a 9x13 pan and cut them into squares, instead of doing them in a skillet and slicing it like a pie. Worked perfectly! They're soft and chewy, and just the thing for a party or just to have with a cup of tea. Add these to your dessert tray for your next holiday gathering, and I bet you there won't be any left before long! And one other thing, I know I always say how great each recipe is, but seriously, this is one of the BEST recipes I've tried in quite a long time and will now be the standard against which all other shortbreads will be compared. It's just that good. DEFINITELY give it a try!

Parchment paper
nonstick cooking spray

2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 sticks butter, melted (1 cup plus 3 tbs)
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
3/4 cup sliced almonds with skins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
Spray a 9x13 pan with nonstick cooking spray. 
Line the pan with parchment paper with enough extra to hang over the sides.
Spray the parchment paper with cooking spray.
Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, stir 2 1/4 cups of the sugar into the melted butter. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Sift the flour and salt onto the batter. Add the almond extract and stir well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Top with sliced almonds and the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until slightly brown on top, about 35 minutes. Cool completely. Use the parchment paper as a sling to lift the shortbread from the pan in one piece. Cut into squares.

I always use this parchment paper method any time I ever make any kind of bars or squares in a 9x13 pan. It makes it easier to remove from the pan, it saves your pan from damage caused by your knives, and it also allows you to make nice even perfect cuts instead of trying to hack away at it inside the pan.
Normally when I use a 9x13 pan, I would cut it into 24 squares. but I wanted them to be more like little cookies, so I decided to cut it into 32.