Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Toffee Bars

Around here, the way that I determine the true success of a recipe is by how quickly the finished product disappears. Using that standard, I must say that these Toffee Bars have surely been one of my most successful in a rather long time. After making, cooling, and cutting the cookies, I created a rather impressive, pyramid-shaped display. My plan was to wait for good light and take some pictures. As the day progressed the pyramid started to look a little shabby. I thought it was just my imagination until I took a closer look and found that, Jenga-style, parts of it had been carefully removed. Bear in mind that I had set some aside for tasting, but one glance at that plate showed that only crumbs remained.  If you are looking for a crowd-pleasing cookie for the holidays that is easy to make and can be cut into small squares for a larger yield, your search is over!

Toffee Bars
(As seen on Positively Splendid)

1 cup butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup almond brickle pieces

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9"x13" pan; set aside.*

Beat 1 cup butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until combined. Add egg yolk; beat well. Stir in flour and salt, mixing well to combine. Spread dough evenly in prepared pan. Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until light brown. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine condensed milk and 2 tablespoons butter. Microwave in 1-minute intervals until thickened and bubbly, stirring after each interval, about 4 minutes total. (Mixture will part well with a spatula when it is ready.) Stir in vanilla. Spread milk mixture evenly over baked cookie layer. Place in oven and bake about 12 minutes, or until top layer is golden.

Sprinkle baked layers evenly with chocolate chips. Place in oven for 1-2 minutes, or until chocolate is glossy and melted. Spread chocolate evenly over baked layer, and then top with an even layer of brickle chips. Place pan on a wire rack and allow cooling a bit before covering and placing in the fridge to chill until the chocolate is set. Cut into squares and store, covered, in the refrigerator.

*I sprayed my pan with a light misting of PAM and then lined it with foil, allowing the foil to overlap the edges.  When the bars have cooled, the entire slab can be lifted easily from the pan and sliced into nice squares.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Sugarfire Smoke House Coffee Barbecue Sauce

It was picnic supper night tonight, meaning that I wasn't about to cook after such an exhausting day, so chose my favorite barbecue spot to pick up a bit of dinner. I feel fortunate that I live in an area of great barbecue joints. Now, I'm not picky when it comes to barbecue, I pretty much love it all, but there is one sauce that surpasses every other and that is the coffee barbecue sauce from Sugarfire Smokehouse in St. Charles, MO. The first time I tasted it I was in heaven. I liked it so much that I wrote the food editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asking that she try to get the recipe from the owner. Within weeks my prayers were answered and the recipe appeared in the paper (You can read the entire article here.). The special seasoning called for in the recipe is available at their restaurants, and I bought a large container. I realize that the majority of you can't do this (although, trust me, it's worth the trip), so my experimentation finds that it is similar to Emeril's seasoning used in his coffee barbecue sauce, and can be found here. I keep a bottle of this barbecue sauce in the fridge at all times, using it in place of ketchup in almost every instance. It is oh, so yummy! 

Sugarfire Smoke House Coffee Barbecue Sauce

1½ cups ketchup
½ cup tomato sauce
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup Worcestershire
½ cup honey
½ cup strong dark-roast coffee
2 tablespoons brewed coffee grounds
2 tablespoons Sugarfire Smoke House rub
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Notes: For ketchup, Sugarfire uses a West Creek product labeled 33% ketchup thats not available to consumers. It tastes a lot like Heinz mixed with some portion of tomato sauce. For tomato sauce, Sugarfire uses a West Creek product labeled fancy tomato sauce.

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 15 minutes until slightly reduced and the sauce coats the back a spoon.

Refrigerate to store but rewarm to serve. Yield: 4 cups

Recipe adapted for home kitchens by the Post-Dispatch.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Brown Sugar Sugar Cookies

For me, Christmas cookie baking season doesn't officially begin until the day after Thanksgiving, but that doesn't mean that I'm not making a cookie or two ahead of time just to have something sweet to munch on during afternoon tea. Recipes for sugar cookies always catch my eye, causing me to wonder if there is a better version than my own personal recipe, Sistine Chapel Sugar Cookies. To date, I have found that there isn't and mine are undoubtedly the best, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of close seconds, and this is one of them. An adaptation of a recipe from the Taste of Home website, the brown sugar gives these a bit of a richer taste than those made with all white sugar. It also makes a smallish batch, so you won't be rolling dough into balls all day (regular readers of this blog know how much I hate that).

Brown Sugar Sugar Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 extra large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Additional white sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter, shortening, sugars, egg, and vanilla until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Stir in flour, soda, cream of tartar, and salt, beating until just combined. Shape into large marble-size balls (or, do as I did and use a cookie scoop). Roll in sugar and place on ungreased baking sheets. Top each with about a half teaspoon of additional sugar (to get that crackled look). Bake for 8-10 minutes or until done. Cool. Yield: 3 dozen.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Chicken and Mushroom Crepe Casserole

As you may be saying to yourself while viewing the above picture, casseroles are not pretty, and you would be right. But there is something so taste-tempting and delicious about casseroles, not to mention nostalgic and comforting. That's a big return from one simple dish. This one, I think, is particularly good. I adapted it from one found in the Oprah magazine, adding a bit more taste and texture with scallions and fresh mushrooms, and making it much more flavorful by substituting the suggested Swiss for Smoked Gouda (oh, yeah!).  I also made it a heck of a lot simpler by using a rotisserie chicken (be sure to save the rest for making stock) and a package of premade crepes from Melissa's Produce (once you try these you will never make crepes again). The filling can be made the day before, and everything can be rather quickly assembled just before baking. Enjoy it with some fresh green beans and relax in the comfort of your culinary talents.

Chicken and Mushroom Crepe Casserole

3 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1/2 cup roughly chopped crimini mushrooms
2 scallions, white and green parts, diced
1 cup Smoked Gouda cheese, grated, plus extra for topping
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated, plus extra for topping
1 (10 oz.) can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 clove garlic, cut in half
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350º F and rub halved garlic all over the inside of 9x13-inch baking dish. (See NOTE)

In a large bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, mushroom soup and cheeses.  Stir and fold in shredded chicken, scallions and mushrooms. and season with salt and pepper.

Spoon 1/3 cup of mixture into each crepe and roll it up like a burrito.
Cut crepes in half (or into thirds if they’re large) and carefully transfer to baking dish. Place them close together so they stand upright.

Sprinkle extra cheese over the top of casserole.

Put baking dish in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Remove from oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

NOTE: I used a dish significantly smaller than the one suggested.  I divided the mixture equally among the 10 crepes in the package and cut them in half.  They were a bit taller than the casserole dish, so I slanted them a bit.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cranberry Orange Cream Cheese Spread

When it comes to packaged English Muffins, I'm pretty much a Bay's brand girl. That said, I really have to hand it to the Thomas English muffin people for coming through this holiday season with, first, pumpkin spice, and second, cranberry. These two are mighty tasty, and put a whole new spin on breakfast for me. No, this is not a sponsored post. No, I did not get these for free. This is just a heads up about seasonal deliciousness and a clever segue into the cranberry-muffin-inspired cream cheese spread that I whipped up this morning and want to share with you.

Having recently made Spirited Cranberry Sauce as a part of my early Thanksgiving prep (into which I stirred a quarter cup of Calamondin Marmalade -- delish), I decided to combine each of these components with some toasted chopped pecans and softened cream cheese. Talk about breakfast heaven, and so simple. Imagine how wonderful this would be for Thanksgiving breakfast.  Imagine how impressed your guests will be when presented with this lovely, light meal to enjoy while you're slaving working away in the kitchen.

Spread it on a muffin, slather it on a bagel, or spread it onto a slice of bread with which you plan to make a turkey, chicken, or ham sandwich. It is wonderful, and wonderfully easy.

Cranberry Orange Cream Cheese Spread

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons (1/8 cup) whole cranberry sauce
2 tablespoons (1/8 cup) orange marmalade
1 tablespoon finely chopped, toasted pecans

Place all ingredients into a medium mixing bowl.  With a hand mixer, beat at high speed until ingredients are thoroughly blended, 1-2 minutes. Serve with bagels or English muffins.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Holiday Baskets make the perfect gift!

My mother used to start her Christmas shopping in June. She loved to do it, and would spend a lot of time shopping and looking and shopping some more in order to get the best, most appropriate, and thoughtful gifts for everyone. Me?  I start my shopping in November and, unlike my mother, I'm not a particular shopping fan, so I do a lot of mine on the Internet. I also tend to opt for a family gift rather than small items for each person who, these days, pretty much seems to have everything. A great place for this type of shopping is melissas.com. You read that right, Melissa's Produce, the people who bring the absolute best in organic produce to you via your local market. 

Melissa's has an extensive line of gift baskets in all price ranges and to suit absolutely everyone from the
oenophile to the gourmet to the junior chef. Want a gift of healthy snacks for the big game?  Melissa’s has you covered. Does winter weather have you longing for some remote tropical locale?  They can help with that as well with this Exotic Tropical Fruit basket. Imagine giving a gift that is at the same time nutritious, delicious, educational, and fun to boot. Imagine giving a gift that will bring joy and good health to people. Other than Legos (and the health aspect here is questionable), can you think of anything else that can fill such a large bill? Nope, me neither.

 My favorite is the Grande Medley. A variety of cuisines can be made from this fabulous assortment. Here is a listing of some of the items contained in this sturdy, reusable basket (if the item is highlighted, clink on it and it will take you to a recipe that employs its use):
Raspberry Dessert Sauce
Sun Dried Roma Tomato Pesto
Peeled Baby Red Beets
Organic Grinder Italian
Roasted Red Bell Peppers
Dried Ancho Chiles
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Roasted Sweet Corn
Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
Crystallized Ginger
Tamale Kit
Soy Nuts
Basmati Rice with Wild Rice Pilaf
Dried Strawberries
Dried Mango
Dried Bing Cherries
Dried Cranberries

All of this and a basket that you will use again and again. What other gift can provide such a diverse and healthful experience?
I highly recommend the Grande Medley gift basket. Give it as a gift, or treat your most deserving self. For other gift basket options look here, and start shopping!
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Disclaimer:  I was provided with this gift basket from Melissa’s Produce in exchange for a review.