Christmas Pretzel Salad

I’m not a big fan of pretzels. Never have been. And Jello, well, that’s never been on my list of dessert options either! So naturally when I was first served this pretty concoction, and told what was in it, I was a bit hesitant to try it. But my mother and my aunt both assured me it was delicious.

And  it did have strawberries and cream cheese in it, so what could be so bad?

And ever since that first taste, it’s become a staple on our Christmas dinner table. It’s tasty, and the color is perfect to match the festive red and green of the season. In fact, some of our guests have said it’s too good to be served as a salad, and actually prefer it as a dessert.

I will warn you though, it’s a bit tricky to finish making, because you have to be absolutely sure the strawberry mixture is cooled and won’t melt the cream cheese mixture. Cream cheese and Jello soup is NOT what you’re attempting to make!

But it’s well worth the extra time it takes to create it. Be sure to make it a day ahead to give it plenty of time to set properly.

And it looks really pretty cut into squares and served on a Christmas plate decorated with sprigs of holly! Silk holly, preferably!

 

Christmas Pretzel Salad

2 c crushed pretzels
3/4 c butter, melted
3 tbl sugar

Stir together and mix well. Press into bottom of 9×13 baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes til set. Set aside to cool.

1 – 8 oz pkg cream cheese, softened
1 c sugar
1 – 8 oz container Cool Whip

Mix together cream cheese and sugar; fold in cool whip. Spread mixture over cooled crust.

2 – 3 oz pkg strawberry Jello
2 c boiling water
2 – 10 oz pkg frozen strawberries

Dissolve Jello in boiling water. Stir in strawberries and allow it to set. When mixture is about the consistency of egg whites, pour and spread over cream cheeses layer. Refrigerate until set.

Serve chilled.

Christmasy Snowball Cookies

I love the look and taste of those Russian tea cookies, especially for Christmas. They look so much like miniature snowballs, sitting on a Christmasy plate or in a crystal bowl decorated with a sprig of holly, just waiting to be enjoyed.

Most of the recipes I’ve seen are pretty much the same…flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, finely chopped nuts, baked and rolled in lots of confectioners’ sugar.

However, I always felt something was missing in them, and as a huge fan of chocolate (I don’t know too many people who aren’t), I finally figured it out. And adding miniature chocolate chips to them makes all the difference in the world! It’s like finding a sweet hidden surprise when you bite into them! And who wouldn’t want that?!

chocolate-chip-snowball-cookies-1-of-4And I’m also thinking about what else I could put in them to make a bit more of a surprise?! Maybe some finely chopped candied cherries, chopped pieces of candy canes, or other assorted baking pieces you find in the store this time of year.

Now here’s an idea I’ve always thought about doing; making them in different sizes, stacking 2-3 snowballs together, and anchoring them together with frosting so you’d have a round cookie snowman! You could use dots of decorating gel for eyes and buttons, and can you just imagine the cuteness!? It’s certainly something I’m going to try when our granddaughter is a bit older. How fun will making those be??

But for now I’ll continue to bake them as usual and just enjoy eating them one by one. In a few years though, who knows…??

Frosty the Snowman may make his appearance!

 

Christmasy Snowballs

3 sticks butter, softened
3/4 c confectioners’ sugar
1 tbl vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
3 c flour
2 c miniature chocolate morsels
1/2 c finely chopped pecans
Additional confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Beat butter, sugar, vanilla, & salt until creamy. Gradually beat in flour.

Stir in chocolate morsels and nuts. Shape into 1 1/4″ balls. Place on ungreased baking sheets and bake until lightly browned.

Sift (not roll!!) confectioners’ sugar over HOT cookies while on baking sheet. Cool for 10 minutes and then remove cookies to wire racks to cool. Sprinkle with additional sugar if desired. Store in airtight container.

Tip: Combine 1/3 c confectioners’ sugar and colored sprinkles together in plastic freezer bag. After cookies are baked, gently roll and shake cookies in mixture for a festive look! Serve on serving platter with springs of holly and a Christmas ornament or two for decoration!

Red Velvet Christmas Cookies

Last week I mentioned my red velvet Christmas Cookies in my Christmas fudge blog. Well, I had a lot of requests for the recipe, so after making a batch of them this week, and sampling far too many of them, I decided I needed to share the recipe so you can enjoy them as much as we do!

The recipe isn’t original. I found it on several websites as well as quite a few Pinterest boards. But one thing is totally true; they are delicious!! Yes, I modified them just a bit, but the end justifies the means, as the saying goes. In fact they’re so good my best friend (who does NOT like cooking in any way!) asked me to show her how to make them for their church cookie exchange!

red-velvet-crinkle-cookies9-editsrgbRed velvet is a special taste, although many people say they can’t tell the difference between red velvet and chocolate. Perhaps it’s the red color, or perhaps it’s just what the name seems to imply; a richness that you can’t get just anywhere, or in any other recipe.

I will warn you, rolling them into balls to put on the cookie sheets will most definitely turn your hands red! No matter how chilled the dough is! It also helps to rub confectioners’ sugar on your hands (instead of flour) during the process so the dough won’t stick quite as much. But the finished product is worth it. If you love red velvet desserts as much as we do, that is!

So here is the recipe we used. Feel free to enjoy And a word of advice from my husband; they’re even better warm from the oven and served with vanilla ice cream!

 

 

Sinful Red Velvet Cookies

8 oz cream cheese, softened (the last time I made them I had to run to store to get the cream cheese before we went to dinner and ended up bringing it inside the restaurant in my purse to soften while we ate!)

1 stick butter, softened (I never use anything but real butter)
1 egg, room temperature
1 tbl vanilla
18 oz box red velvet cake mix
3/4 c white baking chips

Beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla.

Beat in cake mix. Blend in chips by hand.

Cover mixture and chill at least 2 hours until easy to handle.

Roll into tablespoon size balls and roll in confectioners’ sugar. Place 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheet. I usually make a slight thumbprint on each one before baking.

Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Cookies will be soft and gooey. Sprinkle with more confectioners’ sugar and red sprinkles for a festive touch.

Remove to wire rack and let cool. Store in airtight container.

And watch them quickly disappear!

What’s So Special About Christmas Cookies?

I admit that cooking is not my most favorite pastime. You can ask my friends, and especially my husband, and they will quickly agree.

They’ll also tell you that I’m not a bad cook at all, when I really decide to do it.

However, there’s something about this time of year…the Christmas season…that actually makes me want to venture into the kitchen, pull out all kinds of wonderful ingredients and recipes, and begin to put my creative talents to work.

You see, there’s one type of food I really truly enjoy making…Christmas cookies!!!


There’s just something special about creating these sugary delights, loaded with chocolate, cherries, colored sugars, colorful icings, and of course the calories are removed just for the Christmas season!

You didn’t know that? Well yes, they are! Santa Claus takes care of it, because after all, he has to eat some of all the cookies those thousands of children leave out for him on Christmas Eve, and if he didn’t remove the calories, well, he’d probably end up very sick and so overweight he couldn’t ride in his sleigh ever again! How does he do it? Well, I’ve been told by a reliable source that he breaks them in half and the calories fall out! Wonder if that’ll work for us!?

Although I have a collection of favorite cookie recipes I make every year, each new year I greedily go through the Christmas issues of my favorite magazines to see if there are any new cookie recipes that are just screaming out to “try ME this year!” And of course, there usually are.

The pictures are gorgeous in those magazines. And the finished products look so delicious I sometimes want to run to the store, grab the ingredients, and whip up a batch, not caring that it’s almost midnight and I should be in bed!


Of course, the cookies I bake never seem to look quite like the ones in the magazines, or in the pictures on my Cookie Pinterest board. But they sure taste good!

I think it’s an obsession. And I have no idea how it started, although I do have vague memories of being in the kitchen with my mom at a very young age decorating cutout sugar cookies in the shape of stars and reindeer. But I just know that every year I go through this, and end up making at least a dozen different kinds to share with family, friends, and co-workers.

Last year I shared some of my Christmas cookie recipes with you. Goodies like my Grandmother’s Fruitcake Cookies, Ben’s Lemon Drops, Candy Cane Snowballs, and Orange Kool-Aid cookies. This year I’ll try to add a few more, along with the Christmas Fudge recipes I already posted; in between my baking marathon, that is.


For now, enjoy the pictures of these wonderful culinary delights, and then try your hand at baking a batch or two. And share your pictures if you’d like.

What’s so special about Christmas cookies? Try making a batch or two, and you’ll find out for yourself! Even if you’re not known for your culinary talents, you may surprise yourself!

Happy baking! And happy eating!

Disclaimer: All content posted here is assumed to be in the public domain. If you find one of your images here and wish it to be removed please contact me.

Photo Sources: 1st Row: bakingbites.com; lilluna.com; onelittleproject.com; 2nd Row: sweetpeaskitchen.com; tasteofhome.com; tasteofhome.com; 3rd Row: keeppycome.com; gimmesomeoven.com; bettycrocker.com; 4th Row: recipelion.com; yesiwantcake.com; bettycrocker.com

Christmas Fudge

One of my mother’s favorites to make for Christmas was chocolate fudge. Along with her Christmas cookies, of course. And she made it every year. It was devoured within a few days.

There’s just something about that smooth, chocolatey sweetness that just screams Christmas! Especially if you add a few shopped candy canes on top of it for decoration. My mother didn’t do that, but if I’m going to cook, I have to put my own touch on whatever I make.

I remember my mom standing in the kitchen, patiently stirring and testing the consistency to make sure it didn’t get grainy or scalded. There is a trick to good fudge making, you know. And with the recipes I have, you really need to use a candy thermometer.

And you also have to remember NOT to try to taste the chocolate mixture as you’re putting it in the pan, because it’s hot and will DEFINITELY burn your mouth! No, I didn’t try it, but just don’t ask who did…..

So I’m happy to share my mother’s fudge recipe with you, as well as a couple others that you may want to try. Yes, you can buy fudge already made, cut apart, and boxed, but this time of year, there’s just something about making real homemade candy and cookies.

Even for someone like me who doesn’t really cook that much!

So here is my mother’s fudge recipe. Feel free to try it, and see how you like it!

 

fudgeRachel’s Chocolate Fudge:
3 c sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 c milk
1 c. light syrup (she used Karo syrup)
3 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 1/4 c butter (real butter, not margarine)

Combine ingredients and cook on low-medium heat until it reaches soft ball stage. Use a candy thermometer unless you want to drip a little bit of candy in a cup of cold water to see if it forms a soft ball. Personally, to be safe, use the candy thermometer!

Remove mixture from heat and stir in 2 tsp of vanilla. Cool for 25 minutes, then beat with a large spoon (not electric mixer) until it thickens.

Spread into lightly buttered 8x8x2 glass baking pan. Let cool, and then cut into squares.
Mom always made two batches; one with nuts, and one without, since I’m not a fan of nuts in cookies or fudge. Try it whatever way you like!

I’ve also included two other recipes here that I’m going to make this year. Please note they are not original creations, and the creators are noted. Please also feel free to visit their websites for more yummy creations!

 

red-velvet-fudge-taste-of-homeRed Velvet Candy Cane Fudge – Taste of Home (recipe created by Crystal Schlueter)
(I love red velvet cake, and I have a red velvet cookie recipe, so I am SO going to try this one!)

2 pkg white baking chips, divided
2/3 c semisweet chocolate chips
3 tsp shortening, divided
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 ½ tsp red paste food coloring
4 c confectioners sugar, divided
6 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp peppermint extract
3 tbl crushed peppermint candies

Line a 13×9″ pan with foil; grease foil with butter.

In large microwave safe bowl combine 3 ¼ c white baking chips, chocolate chips, and tsp shortening. Microwave on high, uncovered, 1 minute. Stir. Microwave at additional 15 sec intervals until smooth. Stir in milk and food coloring. Gradually add 1 c confectioners sugar. Spread into prepared pan. [Sounds easy so far! – Deb]

In another large microwave safe bowl, me; remaining white baking chips and shortening. Stir until smooth. Beat in cream cheese and extracts. Gradually beat in remaining confectioners sugar until smooth. Spread over red layer; sprinkle with crushed candies. Refrigerate 2 hours or until firm.

Using foil, lift fudge out of pan. Remove foil; cut fudge into 1” squares. Store between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container.

Visit Taste of Home for more recipes!

 

mint-chocolate-chip-fudge-recipe-chocolatechocolateandmore-60aMint Chocolate Chip Fudge – Chocolate, Chocolate and More©
(Since I really like chocolate mint chip ice cream, this one really looks good!)

3 ¼ c white baking chips
2 tbl butter
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
2-3 tsp mint extract (not peppermint)
Green food coloring as needed
3/4 c mini chocolate chips, divided

Line an 8x8x2″ pan with foil and lightly spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a microwave safe bowl, microwave white chips and butter on high for 60 seconds. Let rest one minute and check to see if melted. If needed, microwave further at 15 second intervals. Stir until all lumps are gone.

Stir in milk, and extract. Add food coloring to desired color. Let cool for a few minutes and fold in ½ c mini chocolate chips.

Press fudge into prepared pan. Sprinkle remaining mini chocolate chips on top and gently press into fudge. Refrigerate a minimum of 2 hours to set before cutting into squares. Store between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container.

Visit Chocolate, Chocolate and More© to view this recipe and more!

So are you ready for holiday candy making? Let the fun begin!

4th of July Goodies

In celebration of the 4th of July, we always had family cookouts when we were growing up. Along with fireworks my uncle set off in the field beside our house. When fireworks were legal, of course, way back long ago!

I can still remember the Roman candles he’d set off, making sure we kids were well out of their range, and carefully aiming them away from anything that could catch on fire. (In case you’re wondering, my mother’s house was just outside the town limits, so we didn’t have to worry about any restrictions.) We also had strings of regular firecrackers, cherry bombs, and colorful sparklers that we loved to swirl and make designs with in the air, long before it became fashionable to use them for weddings! And of course, there were those round snappers we threw on the sidewalk so they’d make a sharp “bang”, leaving a tiny trail of smoke.

Oh, the fun we had…..!! And none of us got hurt, thank goodness! Would we do this for our kids now?! Heck, no!

But first of all we’d eat our dinner of charcoaled burgers and hot dogs, with my mom and my aunts contributing homemade potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw and of course potato chips and baked beans, with an occasional plate of freshly deviled eggs! What a treat it was, especially combined with Mom’s homemade iced tea punch that I’ve forgotten (sadly) how to make. Although I think it included grape juice…maybe I’ll attempt it if none of my fellow Eastern Shore friends have a similar recipe they can share.

Anyway, nothing could compare with those burgers cooked on that old charcoal grill. It was a great taste treat, with just the tiniest hint of a bit too much lighter fluid thrown on the charcoal briquettes, which somehow always added to the taste to the meat.

Dessert was usually fresh homemade ice cream, the kind you could get a massive brain freeze from if you ate it too quickly. And we usually did! With plenty of strawberries thrown over that pile of frozen vanilla goodness!

119601For years my mom used an old wooden ice cream freezer to make her homemade ice cream. I’m not sure, but it must have belonged to her mother at one time, because even back then, its once bright green paint was almost gone. The inside can had a wooden paddle inside, and we used to argue over who would get the chance to lick that paddle once the ice cream was finally frozen! We’d fill the bucket with rock salt and ice, and turn the handle, only stopping when it would barely turn any more, which meant it was finally ready! There have been many times I’ve wished for that old ice cream maker, because even using her recipe, the ice cream just doesn’t taste the same in the newer, modern appliances.

There’s just something to be said about some of those old vintage products!

Yes, those were the days, as the saying goes! And sometimes I long for those days, to just be able to re-live a few of the good times, to see if they really were as good as we remember them!

So in celebration of this year’s 4th of July, I’m sharing our family recipe for homemade ice cream. Just remember, it may not taste the same if it’s not made in that old wooden ice cream maker, but since most of us don’t have one any more, let’s just see if we can bring back a little of the old time memories, and calories, just for old times’ sake!

Mom’s Homemade Ice Cream
15 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 c. thin cream
1 c. cold water
1 tbl vanilla
Dash of salt

Mix ingredients together. Fill inner metal container about 2/3 full of ice cream mixture and place paddle in the middle; cover tightly so rock salt (ice cream salt) won’t leak inside.

Pack alternate layers of ice and rock salt around the metal container until the bucket is almost full. As ice melts, replace if necessary, adding any necessary salt to the mixture. Turn the handle and crank away. (It’s a good idea to have a helper or two lined up in case you get tired!)

When handle will barely turn any more, it’s ready! Remove the handle, carefully remove the cover on the inside can, and place paddle in a bowl to be enjoyed by the kids! Place ice cream in freezer until ready to serve.

Note: This makes a wonderful vanilla, however, if you wish, you can add crushed fruit of your choice, but we usually ate it with the fruit generously spooned over it.

Enjoy!

Happy July 4th!

BBQ – Chicken Eastern Shore Style

Summer is finally here! Thank GOODNESS!!! It’s been ages, at least.

Which means backyard pool parties, trips to the beach, grilling out as much as possible, lazy evenings on the porch, and lots of family, friends, and fun!

When I was growing up we had lots of family cookouts every summer. Of course we used charcoal grills, since the propane ones weren’t around yet, and I have to say that for burgers and hot dogs, and steak, charcoal far surpasses the gas grills in flavor!

But barbecued chicken is great on either grill type…especially with this recipe!

Growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I seriously never had any other kind of barbecued chicken except with this recipe. My mom or one of my aunts would make up a huge batch of it, and one of my uncles would tend the grill out back, constantly turning the pieces and basting continually until they were blackened and done! Sitting down to eat this culinary delight with homemade potato salad, macaroni salad, and fresh tomatoes was a treat beyond compare! Followed by fresh homemade ice cream, of course!

Oh, the wonderful memories….

When I first met my husband and took him to the Shore for a family cookout, I told him we were having barbecued chicken. He was anticipating the kind he grew up with in Kansas City, with their traditional red sauce, and what a surprise he had! But Ben, who could honestly eat chicken every day, actually liked it, even though he continually says, “it’s not barbecued!”

Yes it is. And every summer the highways all over the Eastern Shore are filled with BBQ Chicken fundraiser meals to go, made with this same style of sauce. It’s a tradition, and I have to say, those roadside meals are out of this world!

So here it is….there are slight ingredient measurement variations in each Shore family’s recipe, but they all taste pretty much the same. So kick off your summer grilling and enjoy a new treat! Or, if you’re from my area, see how your recipe varies from mine and throw some chicken on the grill.

Happy Eating!

1 1/2 c apple cider vinegar
3/4 c vegetable oil
1 egg
1 tsp pepper
3 tbl salt
1/2 tbl poultry seasoning

Mix all ingredients and either shake well, or blend with an egg beater. If not being used immediately, refrigerate til ready to grill. (Any leftover sauce can be refrigerated, but use within two days.)

Place chicken pieces on grill and baste continually with sauce, turning every 5-7 minutes, basting as they’re turned.

Enjoy!

Baby Shower Treats

You read a few weeks ago about my being a frustrated baker. Well this frustrated baker was busy again last week “baking” up goodies for our daughter’s baby shower. As well as actually concocting a few edible goodies as well.

My basic philosophy on doing special parties is, if you’re going to do it, make it special, and make it memorable. Pinterest is certainly one of my favorite inspirations, and I scoured through many, many different ideas before deciding on what to finally do…..

Since our Saturday blogs are usually about food, I’m not going to dwell on the decorating aspects. But I do have to say this “frustrated baker” had a great time creating edible as well as non-edible culinary delights! With a little help from a few friends with the actual REAL cakes!

In planning the shower, one of the first things I needed to decide on was how to make the food fit with the theme. And since the mom-to-be’s theme was “beach princess” it gave me a bit of a challenge to come up with the right names for the food. After all, you can’t just call them sandwiches and chips!

So the chicken salad croissants became “crabby croissants” with the addition of some handmade crab eyes. Gummy worms, one of the mom’s cravings, became gummy eels. Dipped pretzel sticks became pretzel fishing rods. Colored chocolate drops became sea pearls. And chips and dip…well, “take a dip” signs were very appropriate! Along with a bowl of goldfish crackers. The steamed shrimp, well that didn’t need a label! Homemade sand dollar cookies were also one of the desserts.

 

We were also blessed with two very special and delicious cakes! The beach princess cupcake dress was complete with a beachy mermaid crown, starfish tiara, and burlap shell and pearl sash, all of which will be utilized in Baby Rachel’s first photo shoot. The two-tiered beach cake made by one of the mom-to-be’s friends featured real painted shells, and a very special beachy hair bow, all of which we were careful to tell her NOT to eat!

 

But the two main non dessert items that this frustrated baker contributed were a fabulous (if I do say so myself!) four-tier diaper cake, as well as an array of diaper and onesie cupcakes.

I will share the “recipe” for my diaper cake below, but please, if you’re going to attempt one, don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it right the first time. It took me a few attempts to master the art. Feel free to email me if you have questions.

Recipe for Ashley’s Diaper Cake

90-100 newborn diapers
Paper towel roll (empty)
Curling ribbon
Decorative hat pins with colored heads
Decorative 1-1 ½” wide grosgrain ribbon
1 cake-shaped bank (from Target)
6-8 pacifiers in colors to match shower theme
Decorative baby socks, floral headbands, assorted ribbon flowers or silk flowers
String of decorative pearls (from craft store – I got mine from Hobby Lobby)
Paper crinkles
Clear plastic plate to “serve” cake on

I arranged the diapers in the bottom three tiers of a set of four tiered cake pans. Place ov2012-04-17_23-19-09_206erlapping diapers, 40 in bottom pan, 30 in next, and 20 in the next one. If you think you need a few more, add those as well. Tie tightly together with the curling ribbon so that when you “dump” them out, they won’t fall apart. As you take them out, place them on the cake plate with the paper towel roll in the middle to hold them together. You should easily stack three layers around one roll. For this particular cake I added a second roll, cut it the proper height, and stuck it in the other one. Be sure to use double sided tape on the bottom of the cake plate to attach the layers or it’ll slide off!

The floral bank was the top layer on this one, and I was able to stick it on the paper towel roll because of the hole in the bottom for the money. For the bank topper I’d found a princess tiara crown on a headband, and stuck the band part through the money slot on top. But you can be creative and find something equally as great.

Now that it’s assembled, decorate as desired. Use the grosgrain ribbon to wrap around the layers to hide the curling ribbon. Pin it together in the back of the cake with the colored pins.

Decorate with the pacifiers, socks, headbands, silk flowers, etc. Place the paper crinkles as “icing” between layers and around the base of the cake. Drape the decorative pearls in each layer, stuffing a bit of them between the layers to hold them in place.

Be creative! It’s fun! And if you need more help, there are lots of videos on line to assist you. And if you do make one, please let us see it!

Here are just a few more decorations! (Sorry, couldn’t resist! Remember, it’s our first grandchild!)

Homemade Hot Cross Buns

There are a number of special food delights associated with Easter. Certainly chocolate bunnies, Cadbury crème eggs (be still my heart!), those sugary marshmallow peeps, jelly beans, and the chocolate covered Easter eggs we discussed last week are some of the first to come to mind.

You can also find a lot of cute Easter treats to make for kids on Pinterest*, one of my addictions, such as rice krispie “nests” filled with jelly beans or peeps, creatively decorated coconut cakes made in the shape of bunnies or even decorated with more peeps….you get the idea!

But one particular item I’ve always enjoyed at Easter is the Hot Cross Buns. My mother would buy them every year, as soon as they were in the grocery store, which was usually about a month before Easter Sunday. And as soon as Easter was over, once the stock was sold out, you couldn’t find them again until next year.

5ecf625ec1bf91acb4247c48f2cfb15fIt’s funny how my mother, who was a wonderful cook, never tried to make them herself. Most likely it would’ve been fairly easy, especially using her special cinnamon bun recipe.

Next year I’m most likely going to be trying all kinds of those creative treats I mentioned before, because we’ll have our granddaughter next Easter, since that’s what grandmothers are supposed to do. But for right now, I’m going to try this recipe that I found years ago and just filed away in my “things to make sometime when I have the desire” recipe box. It sounds good, and it also sounds fairly easy. And I like both! And don’t be put off by how long the directions seem to be. They are very similar to how we make my mother’s cinnamon buns, and those are easy!

Homemade Hot Cross Buns

1 pkg active dry yeast
3/4 c warm milk, divided
3 1/4 – 3 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/4 c sugar
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1/4 c butter, softened
2 eggs, room temperature
3/4 c dried fruit (combination of currants, and chopped candied citrus peel – and yes, I’d add a bit extra!)
2 tsp grated orange zest

In bowl, mix together 1/4 c of warmed milk and 1 tsp of sugar. Sprinkle yeast over the milk and let set 5-10 minutes, til foamy.

In large bowl vigorously whisk together 3 c flour, salt, spices, and 1/4 c sugar.

Make a well in the flour mixture and add yeast mixture, softened butter, eggs, and remainder of milk. Mix ingredients until well blended (will be “shaggy” and sticky). Add fruit and orange zest.

Slowly sprinkle in remaining flour, 1 tbl at a time, kneading after each addition, until mixture is no longer completely sticking to your hands. Form dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap for 2 hours, or until doubled in size. (Be sure to put in a warm spot in your kitchen)

When ready, take dough, and roll into a log shape and cut into two halves, leaving one half in bowl until ready to use. Cut dough you are using into 8 pieces. Take dough and form into mounds, placing them 1 1/2” apart on baking sheet. Cover mounds again with plastic wrap and let rise again until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

orange-hot-cross-buns-su-xPreheat oven to 400. Whisk together 1 egg and 1 tbl milk. Score tops of buns in cross pattern with a knife (deeply cut so that the cuts will stay visible after baking). Brush egg mixture on top of dough. Bake on middle rack in over 10-12 minutes til lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool in pan for a few minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

When buns are totally cooled whisk together 1 tsp milk and 3-4 tbl powdered sugar, adding sugar until you get a thick consistency. Place in plastic bag and snip off corner to make pastry bag. Pipe lines across the top of each bun to make a cross.

*If you want to visit my personal Pinterest board to see the Easter goodies I’m talking about, here’s the link: https://www.pinterest.com/bdnewell/easter-ideas

Chocolate Easter Eggs

I admit I absolutely love those chocolate covered eggs sold this time of year. When I was little I couldn’t wait to get in my Easter basket, grab the big chocolate coconut egg, and take a huge bite out of it! And were they ever delicious!

They still are. And I still have to have one every year!

However, it’s become quite popular now for people (not me yet) to make their own chocolate covered Easter eggs. A lot of organizations sell them as fundraisers. The hair salon where my mother used to go sold them every year, and I’m sure they still do.

One thing I’ve never tried to do, though, is make my own. But I thought just for the fun of it, I’d try to see how complicated they are to make. So I paged through all of my mom’s old church cookbooks as well as recipes she’d cut out of the local newspapers, and came up with a couple of recipes!

easter egg2I doubt I’ll have time to try them this year, but next year, since we’ll have an almost year old granddaughter at Easter, well, I’m sure there will be lots of new things made that I’ve never tried before!

I’ve not made candy before. And I confess I haven’t tried this recipe, but it sure sounds easy enough. Maybe next year I’ll attempt it. But if you try it, or have other similar recipes you’ve tried, let me know. I’m always interested in new ideas!

Chocolate Easter Eggs

½ c butter, softened
1 tsp salt
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla or 1 tsp almond extract (I’d probably try coconut extract as well)
2 ¼ lb fine confectioner’s sugar
1 ½ lb semisweet baking chocolate, melted

Decorative icing, sprinkles, or cake decorator candy flowers

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Gradually beat in milk and extract. Slowly beat in confectioner’s sugar until well blended. (Note: I’d probably try to add some finely shredded coconut in this mixture, because my favorites are the coconut cream eggs.)

Knead with hands until mixture is soft and easy to shape. Form into egg shapes. (This is where I would say a bit of skill and ingenuity comes in. Probably mine wouldn’t look as close to an egg shape as I’d like, but we shall see…)

Place eggs onto tray or cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Cover and chill for 4 hours or until firm.

Place each egg on a fork and dip into melted chocolate, letting excess drip off. Place back on tray, cover, and let stand until firm. Refrigerate for best results.

easter eggsWhile still most, you can decorate with colored sprinkles, or add the candy flowers. I would wait an hour or so to add the decorative icing, but remember, I haven’t tried these yet, so it’s a matter of trying it out to see which works the best.

I would probably display or serve these in decorative cupcake cups, especially the ones that are shaped as flowers. You might even want to put them in an Easter basket if they turn our really nice!

Happy candy making!

Homemade salt water taffy

I love salt water taffy! Especially when I can go to Ocean City and get it at Dolle’s! Best ever! I’d love to try making it sometime, but for now, I’ll just look at the pictures, read the directions, and be glad that someone else can do it! And if someone wants to make it for me, I’ll be happy to accept it!

Little House Bliss

Homemade Salt Water TaffyThere are a couple of foods that I always associate with trips to New England and the beach.  The first is Campbell’s classic chicken noodle soup (not sure why?), and the other is salt water taffy.  I love the big boxes of mixed flavor salt water taffy, but it never seems to last long enough ( really, is there such a thing as lasting long enough when it comes to salt water taffy?)  Turns out, it’s not that hard to make, and now I can have salt water taffy any time I want, not just every few years on vacation.  And I know that I could probably buy it at Walmart, but it’s just not the same.  Somehow making it at home doesn’t wreck the nostalgia factor like I know buying taffy from a big-box store would.

This is a great recipe to make if you have a husband or other…

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Back in Grandmom’s Kitchen

Grandmom’s kitchen was always a special place to be. I can still remember what it looked like, although I doubt it was really as big as it is in my mind. After all, the last time I was in it I was only eleven years old. There were actually had two separate “rooms” to her kitchen; one where she actually did most of her work, and the other being a huge pantry, complete with sink, electric stove, and numerous cabinets full of all kinds of cookware as well as the typical baking and similar goodies. Canned goods and vegetables were stored in her “root cellar” which you could only access from outside the house (and as a kid, I didn’t venture down there; it was dark and musty-smelling, and just looked scary!). That pantry was also where my mom and my aunts would help out with the family meals while Grandmom worked in the main kitchen.

But what I remember most about Grandmom’s kitchen is the big old woodstove she had against the middle of her back wall in the main kitchen area. The pantry room had been added on many years after the original house was built, but Grandmom’s original kitchen was the heart of her home. And that old woodstove was the heart of her kitchen. I cannot even imagine how many meals she cooked on that stove.

And the stories that old stove could’ve told…..

wood stoveWhen my mom and her four brothers and sisters were growing up my grandfather was working his farm every day, and had several hired hands helping him. In those days, the farmer’s wife cooked and served lunch for everyone. My grandmother was no exception, and although I don’t really know how many men Granddaddy had working for him, I’m sure that on most days there were at least four or five extra mouths at that lunch table, so that woodstove got a workout!

I can’t even begin to imagine how many huge kettles of jams and jellies were made on top of that stove. How many “messes” of turnip greens were cooked up. Plus I’m sure there were lots of cast iron skillets full of cornbread baked in that oven. And, since they were a farming family who raised hogs and chickens along with corn, potatoes, and soy beans, this memory wouldn’t be complete without mentioning how my grandmother used to fry up the pigs’ ears and pigs’ tails for my youngest aunt when she was a little girl. To me it sounds awful, but my aunt said they were delicious! I’ll just take her word for it.

woodstoveI cannot imagine the skill it took to prepare a meal on a woodstove. There was virtually no way to control the amount of heat, either on the top burners or in the oven. How in the world my grandmother managed to bake pies, cakes, and cookies without burning them up or ending up with a glop of under-baked dough, I have no idea. But I’m sure that’s why a lot of her handwritten recipes that I still have don’t have an oven temperature on them, or a cooking time! She just knew what to do. How she was able to fry chicken and pork chops and have them turn out juicy and golden brown, I cannot say. (I can’t get them to turn out well on a modern gas stove!) Roasting a turkey or a chicken in an oven where you can’t control the heat? I have no idea how she did it, but she did!

And this made me start thinking even further. How in the world do you actually manage to cook a meal on a wood stove? You can’t just turn on a burner and cook some vegetables or scramble some eggs. The fire has to be started, stoked, and established. Depending on what you wish to cook, you have to somehow adjust the heat accordingly. Not an easy thing to do, since it’s very difficult to control a constant temperature. Wood needs to be added continually or the fire will go out. It’s a matter of trial and error guesswork, in all honesty.

Grandmom didn’t use that stove very much by the time my cousins and I were growing up, since she had her other one, and the woodstove was quite a bit of work to keep operating. But we always begged her to make us toast in it when we came to visit. That stove made the very best toast I’ve ever had! There was just something so special about the flavor of sliced bread toasted in that oven and then slathered with real butter; I can’t describe it. I’ve tried to duplicate it many times, but you just can’t re-create the flavor that came from that wood fire.

Unfortunately Grandmom’s woodstove was sold along with the house and farm after my grandfather died and my grandmother came to live with my mother and me. I hadn’t thought about this in years, but now I’d really like to know where it went. Not that any of us in the family would have used it as a stove, but wouldn’t it have made a wonderful conversation piece in someone’s family room?

Oh, the memories…..