Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sweetly Re-Done


During this time of the year, when you see that word it brings to mind the sweet crunchy treat made with butterscotch chips and crispy Chinese noodles.  My grandmother would make both chocolate and butterscotch "Haystacks" and I always wondered where the brown hay came from!

As with every other tradition, I made the butterscotch Haystacks every year.  They were usually the last thing left on the goody trays and were eaten as a last resort.  Something about them just didn't appeal to this new generation of sweet eaters.  Time to re-think and re-do those Haystacks!  Don't worry, they're just as easy as before!

Butterscotch Drops

1 pkg (11 oz) butterscotch flavored morsels
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
5 1/2 cups Special K Vanilla Nut cereal

Line 2 baking sheets with waxed paper; set aside.
In a large microwave safe bowl, melt the butterscotch morsels, uncovered, on medium-high, for 1 minute.  Adjust time accordingly until morsels are just melted.
Stir in peanut butter until smooth.  Add cereal and stir until coated.
Drop by rounded tablespoons (or use small cookie scoop) onto prepared baking sheets.  Refrigerate until firm.

See, they're just as easy as before!  Actually even easier because you don't need to chop any nuts! 

Let's see what else I can come up with today!  I get to pretty much stay in the kitchen again all day so I can get the goody trays made up.  So far today there's the smell of Blondies, Sweet & Savory Chex Mix and Nut Clusters.  Okay, Nut Clusters don't smell much but they sure are pretty!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Old Favorites

I can't remember the first time I made Toffee.  I know I was a child because the first time I made it I used the cookbook I got for my 7th birthday!  Although I've streamlined that recipe and made it as simple as it can be I remember standing on a step stool over the stove to stir it continuously while it boiled.

Now I only manage to make it around the holidays and every time I do I wonder why I don't make it as a special treat throughout the year.  I always have the ingredients on hand, it just never enters my mind.  Maybe now with the picture flashing by in the corner of my blog I'll provide a special treat more often.

1 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Butter a square pan, 9x9x2 inches.  Sprinkle the pecans evenly over the bottom.
Heat the sugar and butter to boiling in a 1 quart saucepan, stirring constantly.  Boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 7 minutes.  Immediately spread mixture over pecans in prepared pan.
Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the hot mixture and place a cookie sheet over the pan until the chips are melted.  Spread the melted chocolate over the candy.
Refrigerate until the chocolate is firm then break into desired size pieces.

What I've learned over the years:  don't substitute anything for the butter; boil for exactly 7 minutes and not a second or two longer; once it starts boiling and you're on medium heat don't turn it up or down during the 7 minutes; run water in the pan immediately to prevent a hard and laborious cleanup; use a light weight wooden spoon to stir, you'd be surprised how heavy that spoon gets after 5 minutes!

Although simple in ingredients and preparation it seems that something invariably goes wrong with at least two batches a year! Not bad when I make anywhere from 10-15 batches! So far this year I've made five and only one had a little snafu. Not sure what happened but the sugar crystallized and it became soft toffee! Every morsel of that soft old favorite was eaten!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Special Requests

Writing this blog is like my food journal.  I started it for two reasons:  1) putting my recipes in a place where they won't get lost and 2) giving my friends access to some of my favorite recipes.  When a friend asks for a specific recipe it sure does validate that second reason!

Barry put on his facebook status today something about having Salisbury Steak for lunch.  That was dinner last night and I usually make sure I make enough so he has leftovers the next day for lunch.  Especially when it's a "Man Dinner" like Salisbury Steak!

Not only is Barry smiling with a satisfied tummy, I'm smiling because a friend has asked for a specific recipe!  This one's for you Kim!

Salisbury Steak and Potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
2 lbs ground beef (96/4)
2 garlic bulbs
4 slices turkey bacon, crumbled
2 tsp steak seasoning
3 pkgs brown gravy mix, prepared
7 medium russet potatoes
1/2 cup cream cheese, fat free
1/2 cup half & half, fat free
2 tbsp butter

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Slice the top off the garlic bulbs so every clove is exposed.  Place on a small square of foil and drizzle with olive oil.  Fold edges of foil together making a sealed bundle.  Bake 30-40 minutes depending on the size of the bulb.  When cool enough to handle remove the cloves by gently squeezing the bulb.
Add 2 tsp of olive oil to a skillet on medium-high heat.  Once hot, add the chopped onion and cook until tender, about 5-6 minutes.  Set aside.
Peel and boil potatoes.  When soft, drain and add cream cheese, half & half and butter.  Mash until creamy.  Cover and keep warm.
Combine the ground beef, bacon bits, onion, roasted garlic and seasonings.  Form into oval shaped patties.  Add 1 tbsp olive oil to the skillet.  Once hot, add the patties and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side.  Place in a warm oven while preparing gravy.
Add 2 tsp olive oil to the skillet.  Add the mushrooms and let them sit, without stirring or flipping, for 3-4 minutes.  Flip the mushrooms and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes.  Add the prepared gravy.

There are also some little tricks and ideas that I do different depending on my mood.  For instance, if I have some red wine on hand I'll deglaze the skillet after browning the mushrooms...  what am I talking about, I always have red wine on hand!!  Of course if I haven't been to the grocery store specifically for this recipe I make the gravy from scratch (1/2 cup flour to the mushroom pan, add some beef stock, a little worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and the red wine).  Not to mention the order of the recipe...  it's hard to put it into recipe form but really you have to do all of it all at the same time!  While the potatoes are boiling make the patties and start cooking them and while they're cooking you drain the potatoes and while those are draining....  aw heck, you get the idea!

Any other special requests?


I love trying new things during the holidays!  This year I have an extra special reason to try some treats from afar - Hannah!  Hannah is from Norway and is spending the school year with us while participating in the Aspect Foundation Exchange Student program.  From the day we picked her up at the airport she has been a natural addition to our family.  What better way to say "I love you" than to bake something special just for her!

Norwegian Butter Squares

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
Raw sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Chill a baking sheet in the freezer.  Do not grease or line the baking sheet.  Blend the butter, egg, sugar and salt together until it is creamy.  Add the flour and vanilla and mix using your hands until the mixture holds together in a large clump.  Still using your hands, press the dough out onto the chilled baking sheet until it is even and 1/4 inch thick.  Dust the top evenly with raw sugar.  Bake at 400F until the edges turn a golden brown, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before cutting into squares.  Place on a wire rack to cool.

I was surprised how simple they were to make!  In fact, they were so easy I put them in the oven and whipped up a batch of toffee at the same time!  The toffee needs to cook, stirring constantly, for 7 minutes so it was perfect timing.  Poured the toffee, pulled the squares out of the oven and there you have it, two Christmas goodies simultaneously!

Taking the picture on the pot holder Hannah brought me from Norway just seemed like the natural backdrop!

Today I am being productive!

Friday, December 9, 2011


Mom always said the best things come in small packages.  I think the same can be said for food - sometimes the tastiest nibbles are the simplest of ingredients.  Simple is good!  Especially during the holidays when there are so many traditional treats that generally take a lot of preparation to make it just like grandma did.

I found a new treat this year that will definitely be on the goody trays from now on.  Simple!

Chocolate & Peanut Butter Bugles
1 bag of Bugles
1 bag of milk chocolates (I used Bliss)
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp milk
Colorful Sprinkles (optional)

In a small bowl combine the peanut butter and powdered sugar.  Add the milk and stir until smooth.  Let the mix sit for 1-2 minutes then stir again and add more milk if necessary.  Using a piping bag, or ziploc bag with the edge snipped off, pipe the peanut butter mixture into the bugles.  Unwrap the chocolate and melt for 1 minute on 50% power.  Stir and repeat until chocolate is melted.  You may want to do the chocolate in small batches so it doesn't become hardened to quickly.  Dip the peanut butter end of the bugle into the melted chocolate then into the sprinkles and set on a wax paper lined baking sheet.  Place in the freezer until set.  Store in an airtight container or ziploc bag to prevent bugles from getting stale.

That's it!  Once you do a few of them you get the hang of the piping and dipping and you'll have a pile before you know it.  Well, as long as you can keep from munching on them as you go along!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Time To Play

It's now the time of year to PLAY in the kitchen!  I call it playing because it's all about pleasure and fun, sweets and candy, all the "good stuff"!  I start out the first week or so of December making samples of the goodies I will put on the Christmas Gift Trays.  This year has been no different even with the huge 50th Birthday Party and the Master Chef audition!

I started with possibly the best cookie I've ever made in my life!  And I've made a lot of cookies!!  The flavor is spicy and warm, the texture is chewy and crispy and trust me, you can't eat just one!  Rachel said they are perfect Christmas cookies because they sparkle like they have snow on them!

Ginger Cookies
1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the egg and molasses and mix until combined.  Add the dry ingredients and mix until well blended.  Form, or scoop, balls the size of a walnut.  Roll in granulated sugar to coat.  Place on a parchment lined baking sheet 2" apart.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Everybody took one bite and started grabbing more - I couldn't make them fast enough!  This recipe doesn't make very many either, depending on your scoop size, so you may want to double it right from the beginning. 

Be prepared to bite into the best cookie you've ever made!

Party Food

I need to start dropping recipes on here like there's no tomorrow! I have so many and I'd like to have a place to go to review and find them all besides my jumbled up messy binder! This is a much better place and they're in neat little categories that I get to pick!

So here's one that's become a favorite of everybody's since Halloween. The Pirate party this year led to some creative and fun food that I'll get on this blog eventually!  This stew was exceptional though, I even took it with me for the Master Chef casting call. Guess it wasn't "fancy" enough for them but it sure is for us!

Salmagundi (Pirate Stew)
1 lb bottom round, cut into 1" chunks
1/2 lb hard salami, cut into 1" chunks
12 medium shrimp, raw
6 cups beef broth, fat free (approx.)
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 parsnips, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup cream (optional)
1tbsp salt

In a large skillet, sear the meat in 1 tsp oil.  Place the meat in a stockpot when seared.  Add one cup of the broth to the skillet to deglaze.  Pour the broth into the stockpot with the meat, adding more broth if needed until the liquid is just below the surface of the meat.  Bring it to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, add 1 tsp of oil to the same skillet.  Add the vegetables and cook until the onions are completely translucent.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Season with salt.
After the meat has cooked one hour, add the vegetables to the stockpot, adding more broth to cover.  Simmer uncovered for another 45 minute until the meat is very tender and falls apart when prodded with a fork.  Add the salami, shrimp and wine.  Simmer another 10-15 minutes until the shrimp is cooked through.  Add additional salt if needed.  Optional:  add cream in the last 5-10 minutes of cooking.  This dish serves about ten 1 1/2 cup servings and provides 9 WW+ points.

Now of course pirates served this with Sea Biscuits (hard inedible pieces of dough) but we landlubbers prefer a nice soft buttermilk biscuit or sourdough bread to sop up all those wonderful juices.  And don't forget the orange slices to prevent scurvy!  Arrrrgggghhhh!!

While the judges at Master Chef weren't impressed with this creation, you will be!  The hard salami adds a depth of flavor that you don't find in any other stew.  Enjoy!