Sunday, December 31, 2017

Joey's Sun Dried Caprese Dip

 Here's a really simple party dip that you can throw together in a snap. I made it for Tory and Ryan's house warming party and everyone gave it a big thumbs up! Basically, I wanted to make a quick dip, but didn't feel like going to the store. This is what I happened to have on hand, so here we are!
 Its brilliance is in its simplicity, really. It's pretty much one of those "how can this not be good" sort of dishes. And it only uses a few ingredients, so it's as easy as can be to throw together. Sometimes the simplest things are the best, dontcha think? Make this for your next party or casual hang.
This one's a keeper!

2 (8oz) pkgs cream cheese
1 cup Ranch dressing
1 small jar sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped
fresh basil

Using an electric mixer, simply whip together the cream cheese and ranch dressing. Spread onto your serving plate in an even layer. Top with sun dried tomatoes and ribbons of fresh basil. Serve with Triscuits or your favorite cracker.

Not a fan of ranch dressing? Use any other kind of creamy salad dressing you like! But seriously, who doesn't love ranch dressing??? That would be like not loving bacon. That just makes no sense to me.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Baked Eggnog French Toast Casserole

When my fabulous, gorgeous, talented, youthful, vibrant, funny, caring and all-around wonderful sister, Cathy, invited me to Christmas breakfast, I knew I wanted to bring something delicious and special enough for the holiday. Lately I've had eggnog on my mind, so I figured I'd do a French toast casserole. Who knew I'd find so many variations!! And then I found this one on a blog called Real Housemoms. Perfect! It's exactly what I wanted. It's basically just like any other French toast casserole, but it uses eggnog instead of cream. Simply brilliant! It doesn't even need syrup because it's already sweet and fabulous as it is. And the fact that you can do it ahead is a total time saver! Anytime you can do something ahead, do it!
So, thank you, Aubrey from Real Housemoms, for the fabulous recipe! I think this just may be my new go-to French toast casserole recipe!!
Merry Christmas!

7 large eggs
2 cups of full fat eggnog
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 loaf of french bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
3 tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

In a large bowl combine eggs, eggnog, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla. Toss in bread cubes and cover completely. Place in a greased baking dish evenly and pour any remaining egg nog mixture. Cover the dish and place in the fridge overnight or eight hours (see tips!). Mix brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl. Uncover French toast and sprinkle an even layer of cinnamon brown sugar on top. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 45 minutes uncovered.

 Instead of doing this the night before, you can easily throw this together on the morning of. I've often used French Toast recipes that say they need to be assembled the night before, but I've made them in the morning and they've always turned out fine. They really only need a a little while for the bread to soak up the custard. (Something to think about on Christmas morning, especially if you have leftover bread and eggnog from last night's Christmas eve party!)
I added chopped pecans. Why? because I like 'em! Feel free to add raisins, craisins, or any other add-ins you like!
Btw, I've seen other recipes that use frozen waffles instead of French bread. I'll definitely have to try that next time!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Crisp and Chewy Pumpkin Cookies

For years and years, I've wished for a pumpkin cookie that was more chewy than cakey. I mean, don't get me wrong, I do love the favorite pumpkin cookies, but they're very soft and cakey and frankly not very cookie-like.
 Then I happened upon a blog called Life Made Simple, and apparently she and I had the same wish! Thankfully, she figured out how to make a cookie and not a cakey! Who knew that using melted butter and corn starch along with limiting the eggs to just one yolk would do the trick? BRILLIANT!
So, thank you, Natalie from LMS, for solving this mystery.
This will now be my go-to pumpkin cookie recipe!

1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
6 tbs. pumpkin puree
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

 In a large mixing bowl of the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the melted butter and sugars for 2 minutes on high. Add the vanilla extract, pumpkin puree, and egg yolk, mix on low until just combined.
 In a medium size mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice. With mixing speed on low, gradually combine with the wet ingredients, mixing until a soft dough forms. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a baking mat. Scoop balls of dough using a standard size cookie scoop and place on the prepared baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown on the edges. The cookies will be slightly puffy but they will flatten as the cool. The longer you bake them the more crispy they will become. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes on the sheets before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely, about 5 additional minutes.

The original recipe included chocolate chips, but I prefer to leave them out. It always seems to me chocolate takes over when it's paired with another flavor, and I wanted pumpkin to be the star here. To be fair, I tried the recipe with mini chocolate chips and with pecans. I still prefer just plain pumpkin!
She also uses bread flour in the original recipe but stated that AP flour was also fine. Since I didn't have any bread flour on hand, I went with it and they turned out great!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Whipped Shortbread Cookies

  I was recently looking for a yummy shortbread cookie, but tbh, I wasn't really looking forward to the rolling and cutting or the cookie press that usually goes along with baking shortbread cookies. Then I found this Taste of Home recipe that simplified everything! You just roll the dough into balls, add a little sprinkle, and into the oven they go! Simple, right? And they taste delicious!! They're so buttery they just melt in your mouth! And they're so pretty they add a festive touch to any Christmas cookie platter! So if you're feeling like a little shortbread, but you're not feeling like the rolling and the cutting, definitely give this one a try!

3 cups butter, softened 
1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted 
4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
1-1/2 cups cornstarch 
Nonpareils and/or halved candied cherries

 In a large bowl, cream butter and confectioners' sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add flour and cornstarch, beating until well blended. With hands lightly dusted with additional cornstarch, roll dough into 1-in. balls. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Press lightly with a floured fork. Top with nonpareils or cherry halves. Bake at 300°F for 20-22 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. 

For extra flavor, add a tsp of any kind of extract you like. Vanilla, almond, orange, lemon, anything you like!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Pinwheel Cookies

There are many sugar cookie recipes out there, all of which claim to be the very BEST. Well, I guess one would have to taste ALL of them in order to come to that conclusion, so I'll just say these cookies are pretty darn good! Fair enough?  I was browsing on FB and saw a video of how to make pinwheel cookies. I figured, ok, that looks festive, let's give it a go! The thing is, you can really use any rolled sugar cookie dough, so I set out to find the right one for me. I decided I wanted one with almond extract in it (because that's a classic flavor when it comes to sugar cookies), and I found this one on a blog called The Slow Roasted Italian. They seemed very classic and homey and basic, so I went with it! They tasted exactly the way I hoped they would! Soft and chewy with rich vanilla and almond flavor, and they're pretty enough to jazz up any tray of cookies. They do take a little extra time, but you can do them a step at a time so it's really not that bad. When I made them, I mixed up the dough one day, rolled them into logs the next morning, and then sliced and baked them the following night. See? Easy! You can even roll the entire log of dough in colorful sprinkles or red or green sugar to add an extra little pop of color around the edges of your cookies. Also they don't spread out to much so you can literally bake an entire batch in one go. Definitely place a tray of these little gems in the center of your dessert table, and you'll surely get lots of OOs and AAHHs!

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3-4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
red and green food coloring

 In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar, on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).
Add the eggs, vanilla, and almond.  Beat until combined. Add the salt and 3 cups of flour; beat until you have a smooth dough. If the dough is sticky (meaning when you touch it and pull your fingers away the dough sticks to you), add more flour a tablespoon at a time until it comes together.
  Separate prepared dough into 2 halves. Add 1/2 of your cookie dough to a stand mixer and add red or green food coloring until your mixture reaches your desired color. You can also knead food coloring into dough until completely combined if you do not have a stand mixer. Wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about one hour or until firm enough to roll.

   Place red cookie dough on parchment paper. Roll out to about 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Set aside. Place plain cookie dough on a sheet of parchment paper. Roll out to about 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Stack cookie dough sheets on top of each other with the parchment on the outside. Remove the top parchment and roll over the dough gently with a rolling pin (to help the 2 doughs become one). Beginning on one of the long sides, roll the cookie dough into a log (removing the remaining paper as you go). If dough is too soft to work with, refrigerate for 30 minutes and then try again. Once dough is formed into a log, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate 3 hours to overnight.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Slice cookies and place on cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake 9-11 minutes or until the cookies feel set. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

It's your choice whether to make white cookies with a colored swirl, or colored cookies with a white swirl. Before you roll up the log, your dominant color should be on the bottom, and your swirl color should be on top. Savvy?
If you're not a fan of almond extract, use any kind of flavoring you like! I've used orange extract and also rum extract, you could use lemon extract, or just use twice as much vanilla. It will all work!
Be sure to give it time to chill in between steps. It makes it MUCH easier to slice when the log is completely chilled and firm. Also be sure to keep the log as round as possible, otherwise your pinwheel design will have flat edges.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Cocomia Cookies

 Many many years ago, I bought a Mrs. Fields cookie cookbook. I'm pretty sure I was at a mall doing some Christmas shopping and I happened to see the book on display at a bookstore. I figured, "well, obviously I deserve to buy MYSELF a present as well!" so I bought it. Now, one thing you may not know about me is that I LOVE to read cookbooks. Like, not just turn to whatever page to look for a specific recipe. I mean just like some people like to curl up on the sofa with a nice juicy novel, I like to curl up and read a whole cook book. What can I say? I like to learn the back story of a recipe, where it was developed, and what the inspiration for it was. I also like to read the recipes from beginning to end and look for interesting combinations of ingredients. It may sound silly, but you'd be amazed at how often I'll be looking for ideas and I'll remember seeing a recipe that paired two seemingly odd ingredients that you'd never think of putting together. (Pineapple Basil Jam, anyone?)
 Aaaaanyway, as I was reading through my brand new Mrs Fields cookie book, I happened upon this recipe for cocomia cookies, which is short for coconut macadamia nut cookies. I thought, "ok, THIS will be the first recipe I try!" and they've been my absolute favorite Mrs. Fields recipe ever since. Actually, if I'm being honest, there wasn't a single recipe in that book that I didn't love, but the cocomias were still my favorite! (Side note, this is also one of those recipes that I've used for years and years, and THOUGHT I had already posted it, but then when I recently went looking for it, I discovered that somehow it slipped by me! Ah well, better late than never!) Oh, and one other thing... Yes, yes, I know it's a bit of an investment to buy the macadamia nuts, but seriously, they're worth every single penny! This is DEFINITELY one to add to your holiday cookie repertoire. Bring a batch or two to your next holiday cookie swap! Come to think of it, you should probably make a couple extra batches because they won't last long! Not even kidding.

2 cups all-purpose flour                      
1/2 tsp baking soda                          
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup brown sugar                          
1/2 cup granulated sugar                
3/4 cup softened butter
2 large eggs                                           
2 tsp pure vanilla extract                  
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup macadamia nuts                       

Preheat oven to 300º F. 
Cream sugars with butter. Then add eggs and vanilla. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.
Mix flour, baking soda, salt together, then slowly add mixture to butter mixture.
Add coconut and macadamia nuts until just combined.
Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets, 2 inches apart.
Bake for 23 minutes at 300º F. Remove to a flat surface to cool.

There's really nothing I can add to this recipe because it's perfect just as it is. The one thing I will say, though, is to make sure you include the salt. I can't say enough about how much of a difference it makes to add salt to your baked items, especially ones that contain any kind of nuts. The salt is what makes it!! I use salted butter for everything, and I STILL add the salt listed in the recipe. It makes all the difference in the world!
 If you're just like me and you can't leave a recipe alone no matter how perfect it is, you can add a a few white chocolate chips to the cookie dough. I'm sure Mrs. Fields won't mind!