Monday, December 29, 2014

Top 10 Recipes of 2014

It’s time, once again, to look back on 2014 to see just what your favorite recipes were.   Clearly you all love your sweets!  Here are the top ten for the year, in descending order.  You can click on the name of each for the recipe.
The deliciousness of a Twix bar in a chewy brownie form.
Try to stop eating them.
Think pumpkin pie in cake form.
A drop rather than roll-into-a-ball method; I love the ease of these.
Mr. O-P’s contribution, a white fruitcake as opposed to the dark molasses-based cakes that tend, in my opinion, to not be quite as good. It's an annual tradition in our house.
Potatoes, cream, and smoked Gouda.  Need I say more?
Nothing so easy should taste this good.
Toss out all other recipes, this one is authentic.
Double up on plums when you make this because you will want to make two.
The Everything Bagel in dinner roll form, you will wow your family with this one.

Here's to good eating in 2015!

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Magic Bars

I am petitioning in favor of the Post-Christmas Cookie.  You know, the one that you wanted to try, or that you really, REALLY, love to bake, but never had a chance to make during the season because you were just so darned busy/stressed/frazzled/overscheduled (please select one, or more, what the heck?).  Yes, if not for very generous bakers and their skilled offspring bringing me cookies, I wouldn’t have had a one.  So, after the day was over, I decided to bake a favorite recipe for bar cookies that dates back to my Home Ec days in high school.  They go by many names, Magic Bars, Hello Dollies, and a host of others, but whatever the name, no one is unfamiliar with this rich and chewy bar cookie.  I make mine a bit different from the original recipe in that I use both semi-sweet and milk chocolate chips.  I also like to make a richer nut mixture by using a mixed nut mix of pecans, cashews, macadamias, almonds, filberts, and Brazil nuts.

Why not join me in my post-holiday baking and give these chewy crowd pleasers a try?

Magic Bars

1 stick butter
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
(from about a pack and a half of graham crackers)
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped mixed nuts

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Now you have two options: spray a 9 x 13 pan with non-stick cooking spray, OR (as I did) line it with foil so that about 1-1/2 of foil hangs over the short edges, and then spray the foil with the non-stick cooking spray.  This will allow you to lift the entire thing out of the pan, slide off the foil (which is why it MUST be sprayed as well) and then make perfect little square cuts.

Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter.  If you buy graham cracker crumbs, just empty the correct amount into a medium bowl, drizzle with the butter, and stir until completely coated.  If using a food processor, break up a pack and a half of whole graham crackers, pulse until they become crumbs, and then pour the melted butter through the feed tube during the last stages of pulsing, and, Bob’s your uncle! 

Press crumbs and butter mixture into the bottom of your prepared pan.  Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over the crumb mixture.  Layer evenly with chocolate chips, coconut, and nuts.  Press down firmly with your hands (Sometimes it helps to lightly dampen your hands to keep the ingredients from sticking.).

Bake for 20-25 minutes until just browned.  Cool.  Firmly grasping foil overhang, carefully lift from pan and place on cutting board.  Peel foil away from the edges and slide it out from under the baked bars.  Cut in even squares.

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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Make Party Favors in Less Than an Hour

If you, like me, enjoy setting a tasty little morsel at each place setting for your dinner guests to take home and enjoy later, then this project is definitely for you.  If you also, again, like me (obviously we are soul mates), like to have something in hand when you go to holiday parties, this is also for you.  There is just one tiny problem.  It requires the buying of a candy mold.  Now, this is not a sponsored post, no one asked me to write this, or sent me this wonderful candy mold although, people at Wilton! if you are listening, I LOVE stuff like this!!  But I digress

Christmas Eve Day I took dinner to my dad, accompanied by my number two son and daughter-in-law.  I’m not gonna lie here, this has been a tough year and a difficult Christmas.  Despite the fact that this is the second one without my mom, there is still a giant void in both our lives and our celebrations.  To add to the angst, this year Mr. O-P is in the hospital as well.  I tried to make the dinner as festive as possible serving comfort food of Honey Baked Ham, Party Potato Casserole, Green Bean Casserole, salad, rolls, with luscious cupcakes for dessert provided by Andrew and Emma. 
As I was getting everything together that morning I knew something was lacking and that was in providing my usual favor.  Remembering that I had bought this mold, I grabbed it, washed it up, and followed the simple instructions. How cute are these?  And they are tasty, and they are so fast and easy that you will not believe it.
After the mold has been cleaned and thoroughly dried, place 30 candy melts in each section; I used both dark and light chocolate melts.
Pop the mold into the microwave and microwave for a minute at half power, then open the door of the microwave, give it a jiggle and microwave for an additional 30 seconds at half power.  Continue this process until the candy is melted and smooth.
Carefully remove to a flat surface and sprinkle the tops with colored sugar, toffee bits, nuts, coconut, dried fruit, or crushed peppermint (as I have done here).
Put it into the fridge, set the timer for 25 minutes and get something done.  When the 25 minutes are up, invert the mold and each candy will pop right out, resulting in crunchy peppermint on one side, and holiday greetings on the other.

Package them in clear cello bags, tie with a ribbon, and you have a cute, tasty favor in no time.  It’s too late for this year, but pin this to your Christmas 2015 Pinterest board so you’ll be ready well in advance next year.  Now don’t you feel organized?  You’re welcome!

Merry Christmas everybody!!

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ginger Cookie Strips

Let me tell you that these cookie strips are pure genius. I can say this without hesitation because the strip concept is not mine, but hails from the mind of Coffeehouse Mystery author Cleo Coyle.  Imagine getting all of the dough cut at once and not having to deal with willful cookie cutters that sometimes fail to release the dough creating a colossal mess. This easy cut method has changed all that.  Simply roll out the dough into a rectangular shape about 1/8" thick, trim off the ends to make them smooth, and then, using a pizza cutter (and a ruler, if you must) cut them into 3/4" wide strips.  If you roll the dough directly onto parchment paper, you can slide that onto your cookie sheet, and pop them right into your preheated oven to bake.
 Just remember to run the pizza cutter back over the lines upon removing from the oven, and allow them to cool completely before removing them from the cookie sheet.
My favorite recipe for gingerbread cookies goes back to, I believe, an issue of Good Housekeeping from 1984. As I recall, they were doing a feature on Christmas traditions of First Ladies. Mrs. Bush (Barbara, wife of George H.W.) provided this recipe. Her tradition was to make and ice gingerbread Santa cookies, package them up individually and hang them around the mantle for each guest to take upon departing a holiday dinner. It was pretty to look at, and a charming idea (that I have replicated numerous times over the years); the cookies are delicious.  Coyle suggests drizzling them with vanilla glaze, but I melted some white chocolate, and am exceptionally happy with my quicker choice.
Mrs. George W. Bush’s Ginger Cookies

½ cup Crisco
½ cup sugar
½ cup molasses
1-1/2 teaspoons vinegar
1 egg, beaten
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon salt

Bring shortening, sugar, molasses, and vinegar to a boil.  Cool; add egg.  Sift dry ingredients together.  Add to first mixture, mixing well.  Chill.  On lightly floured surface roll to about 1/8 thickness.  Cut as desired.  Place on greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 375°F 8-12 minutes.  Cool 5 minutes before removing from sheet.

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