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.

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!

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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!

What to Do About Thanksgiving?

Some families have the same traditions year after year. There’s an established routine that just doesn’t change. Everyone gets together at a particular person’s home to celebrate together. It’s been that way forever; no need to change it, right?

Everyone brings their favorite dish to share. You may not like Aunt Bessie’s collard greens, or Aunt Cora’s onion cheese casserole, but they’ve always made it, and it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without them, whether you eat those dishes or not!

When I was growing up we always had certain dishes on the Thanksgiving table that made the meal complete. Especially my mom’s special cinnamon buns, my aunt’s oyster dressing, and my grandmother’s pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving wasn’t complete without them. And yes, if you click on the links, you can find the recipes! I don’t mind sharing!

But Thanksgiving isn’t all about the food traditions. It’s certainly a big part, but it’s also about family and friends getting together and enjoying a special time of fellowship.

But as the years go by, families are sometimes separated; by miles, by careers, or even worse, by family conflicts that have occurred and festered over the years…conflicts that just can’t be suddenly fixed by getting together around a dining table for one day and pretending everything’s okay. But that’s a story in itself, and one to be told another time.

Thanksgiving is hyped in the media, in the newspaper and radio and TV ads, as a magical time of family reunions with everyone sitting down together in their best clothes and being a part of a picture perfect display.

Is your Thanksgiving like that? Is anyone’s really like that?

Certainly no one I know.

Ever since my mother died ten years ago, Thanksgiving has never felt right. We lost the stability of a place to call our Thanksgiving home. We went a different place each year, joining friends’ celebrations, but it just didn’t feel right. We were there, but we weren’t family, and we couldn’t share in the reminiscing about other holiday memories, because we hadn’t been there with them. As nice as it was to have our friends include us, it just wasn’t “home”.

Even the last few Thanksgivings spent with our daughter’s husband’s family still didn’t feel right. Because it wasn’t OUR family. And as much as they wanted us to feel comfortable and fit in, we always felt like that piece of a jigsaw puzzle that looks like it should fit in a certain spot, but no matter how you try to force it. It just doesn’t quite work.

What to do this year?

We have choices.

Some of our friends are going to a restaurant with their extended family and their kids. We tried that one year. And we won’t do it again. It didn’t feel like Thanksgiving. The food was good, but not the home cooking we were used to. There were a lot of dishes to choose from, but you can’t take a bag of leftovers home from a restaurant. Plus it was a bit expensive, because after all, it was a holiday.

We talked about just going away somewhere. Renting a cottage on the beach or somewhere in the mountains. Or finding a bed and breakfast for a couple of nights. After all, we haven’t had any kind of vacation in several years. But then we probably wouldn’t have the kids with us, and I’d miss the Black Friday shopping that Ashley and I traditionally do every year.

But this year will be different anyway, because we are now blessed with our first grandchild, and even though Rachel Isn’t old enough to eat regular food, we want to start our own traditions this
year. Traditions that can be carried on year after year, with just a few new additions as she gets older, and is hopefully joined in a few years by a brother or sister.

So this year we will have Thanksgiving dinner at our daughter and son-in-law’s house. Chris will deep-fry the turkey, and Ashley and I will do the rest. She’ll make her grandmother’s special cinnamon buns, that she’s so good at doing. I’ll make oyster dressing for Chris, since he and I are the only ones who like it, and we have to continue a few of my family traditions! We’ll eat at their dining room table with Rachel in her high chair watching us. And I’ll wish my mother were still here to meet her great-granddaughter.

We will have created our own tradition that in years to come Rachel will remember and one day duplicate in her own way when she’s grown and married. It won’t be the same as we’ve done in the past, but I’ve come to realize that sometimes traditions must change with the times, and with growing families. And it will be perfect.

So what are you doing about Thanksgiving this year?

Learning to Cook

Since many of my friends have teased me about the Saturday recipe blogs, although many of you seem to enjoy them quite a bit, I thought I’d take the time to explain some of the history behind this. (Plus, I couldn’t decide what recipe to post today, so it’s a perfect time for this story!)

Back when I was growing up as a teenager in the 60’s, we had a class called Home Economics. We started taking it in seventh grade, and believe it or not, since I have a reputation among my friends for trying NOT to cook more than trying TO cook, I was actually one of the student assistants for the seventh and eighth graders during both my junior and senior years.

A good reason for that is probably because I used to sew quite well (probably still can if I really tried, but I gave it up years ago), having been taught by my mother who had won a few local awards for her abilities as a seamstress.

cookie makingBut part of Home Ec, as we all called it, involved cooking, which I’d never really had a lot of interest in. I remember my mother introducing me to rolling out biscuit and cookie dough when I was really small. I actually remember being in our pantry and standing on a stool my father had made so I would be tall enough to reach the counter and help cut out the pieces of dough with cookie cutters my mother let me use. I think there’s a picture somewhere, but I haven’t been able to find it.

And yes, I did eat some of the raw dough, just like I’ve always told my own daughter not to do when she helps me. The difference is, I learned early on that not listening to my mother wasn’t the smartest thing I could ever do!

I don’t remember what those first cookies I made looked like, or even tasted like, but I can assume that my mother told me they were the prettiest ones she’d ever seen…the best she’d ever had. After all, that’s what most mothers do! I’m also fairly certain they were NOT the best she’d ever had! And probably not very pretty, either.

Several years later I got some kind of baking set for either Christmas or my birthday. It came complete with little mixing bowls and individual cake mix and icing mixes. This was before those Easy-Bake ovens, because I remember my mom helping put the little bowls in her oven and waiting expectantly for my cakes to cook. I also remember how delicious that chocolate cake mix was after all the ingredients were added, and how sick I got after eating almost a whole package of it.

hot chocolateThat was basically my cooking experience until I found myself in my first Home Ec class. I thought I would do great until I discovered the first unit was cooking…good grief, no! I had no idea what to do! We had to make hot chocolate. From scratch. Using a recipe. No instant packages! Fortunately we were in teams. Unfortunately my teammates knew about as much of what to do as I did. We put the ingredients together, cooked it, and somehow managed to burn the milk, and it tasted awful. In fact, I think most of us in that class had the same “success”.

There were two other dishes we had to prepare. One being corn chowder. How many of you have ever had corn chowder? I hadn’t. But I have to say it was actually fairly decent after we made it. These days I’d add some potatoes and a bunch of clams and some macaroni and tomato, and turn it into clam chowder. Now THAT would be good! The other dish? Good old fashioned green bean casserole…who doesn’t know how to make that? Well, I didn’t at the time, but I excelled in that one! And I actually still make it quite a bit.

And how funny is it that I won the Betty Crocker Homemaker Award when I was a senior! I don’t remember what I had to do, but I can guarantee it was probably from taking a written test, and possibly submitting some of the clothes I’d made. Not for my cooking abilities! And yes, my husband still shakes his head over that one.

2016-02-18 20.34.39Now for the truth….while I like to tell people I don’t cook unless I’m forced to, I actually do cook. Not every night, and nothing near as elaborate as I used to “back in the day” when I had more time. I do fix huge holiday dinners, and love to make cookies and key lime pie! I also have a rather extensive recipe collection, and sometimes even use some of them.

And yes, most of the recipes I’m using on the blog are from our family cookbooks! I have to put them to use for something!

Chocolate in My Chili

January usually means cold weather. Blustery winds and snow. Of course right now that’s not the case here in Virginia Beach, but I’m sure it’s coming. And as much as I say I really don’t want the snow, just a little bit would probably be nice.

And with that cold weather comes a lot of hearty soups and casseroles and of course everyone’s favorite (almost everyone-our daughter doesn’t like it at all) chili. Add a thick slice of piping hot buttered cornbread and you’ve got a great meal! Especially during those playoff football games!

Somehow I missed out on enjoying this great delicacy when I was growing up on the Eastern shore of Maryland. I guess we were too busy enjoying the steamed crabs, fresh fish, and fried chicken the area is known for.

I don’t remember when I first started making and enjoying chili, but I’m sure glad I did! I’ve made a lot of it, and played around with a lot of ingredients, but I’ve finally found the combination I like the best, and decided to share it for the new year!!

Before I give the recipe though, just remember, this should be used as a guideline for experimenting and coming up with your own variation. Recipe can also be doubled if you have a hungry crowd! I usually make it slightly different each time, but the main ingredients stay the same.

Especially the chocolate!

1 pkg French’s or McCormick chili seasoning mix (yes, the little grocery store packet!)
1 – 1 1/2 lb lean ground beef
14 oz can diced or choped tomatoes, UNDRAINED
1 can kidney beans, UNDRAINED
1 can navy beans, drained
1 can baked beans, undrained

Brown meat in skillet; drain off fat. You can also chop some onion with it and brown together. (I’ve also used ground venison mixed with the hamburger. That was really good!)

Combine meat, seasoning mix, tomatoes and beans in dutch oven or similar pot. You can also add a can of chopped mushrooms or a tablespoon or so of powdered mushrooms.

Simmer, on low, covered, at least an hour, stirring every 10-15 minutes. Taste occasionally. Season more if desired.

Add a splash of red wine vinegar and simmer another 10 minutes.

Add 1/2 oz of UNSWEETENED baking chocolate. Stir well. Continue to simmer. This cuts the acidity and gives it a nice smooth touch.

I usually cook mine a total of two hours. And I usually make a double quantity, and end up adding an extra can of kidney beans. It’s basically a “taste and go” kinda recipe.

Serve into bowls and put out grated cheese, sour cream, crackers, and possibly chopped onion and chili peppers (for those who prefer it HOT) for toppings. Our son-in-law adds hot sauce to his. (He adds hot sauce to everything….)
McCormick Chili

I like to serve cornbread or corn muffins with it as well.

So what’s in your chili recipe? I really enjoy hearing new ideas. In fact, I may just have to make a pot tomorrow!

Ben’s Favorite Lemon Drops

My mother really loved her son-in-law, and she always tried to make him some of his favorite dishes when she knew we were visiting.

I don’t remember when she first found this recipe. It wasn’t handed down to her from her mother, like a lot of our recipes were. She probably found it in a magazine somewhere and just decided to try it one day when we were coming to visit.

Ben always made sure to go over to the kitchen counter when we got to my mother’s to see what goodies she had baked for us. And on one occasion, there were these yellow crinkled up cookies dusted with powdered sugar cooling on her old wire cookie racks.

Who knew they’d turn out to be one of his very favorites? And from that time on, we’ve always made these cookies at Christmas. And other times of the year, as well.

Ashley has been my official lemon drop cookie maker, though, because they’re a bit messy to make, since you have to mix them with your hands. And she really didn’t mind. At least I don’t think she did. Except now that she has her own home, who’s going to make them? Any volunteers before I have to do it?

So in our newest tradition of presenting weekly (hopefully) family recipes, here’s the super easy and quick lemon cookie recipe!

1 box lemon cake mix
1 egg
1 cup Cool Whip
1 ½ tbl lemon juice

Mix ingredients together by hand. Literally. Because they really won’t mix together well any other way. You can start out with a spoon, but once it gets mixed good, you gotta get your fingers in there! It’s also easier to coat your hands in flour or powdered sugar when you’re doing them, so you won’t have such a mess when you’re done!

After they’re mixed, roll in 1 – 1 ½” balls, dip them in powdered sugar, and place on a greased cookie sheet about 1 – 1 ½” apart. Make an indentation in the middle with your thumb, or whichever finger your prefer. We’re not doing fingerprints!

Bake in preheated 350 degree over 8-10 minutes until done. Cool on a wire rack, and store any that are left after they family grabs them in a sealed container. If they last long enough and start to get a little hard, put a slice of white bread in the container with them, and you’ll be amazed at how moist they become again!

Let me know how you like them! You can also use strawberry cake mix, or chocolate (add vanilla in place of the lemon juice) but I really like these lemon ones the best!

My Grandmother’s Fruitcake (Cookies)

In my recipe box, filed under “cookies”, there’s a tattered and yellowed sheet of paper, written in my grandmother’s old-fashioned handwriting, for a cookie recipe I never really thought I liked. Now I make them almost every year.

You all know about the tradition of fruitcake at Christmas. Did you know that it’s claimed that the ancient Egyptians actually placed an early version of fruitcake in the tombs of their loved ones? And please, no jokes about those same fruitcakes still being around now. I mean, really…. We’ve all heard the jokes about giving fruitcake for gifts at Christmas time. It’s an old joke that no one likes it.

Well, guess what! I actually do like it, as long as it’s moist and overflowing with that sweet, sticky candied fruit we can only find in stores at the holiday season. I’ve actually made fruitcake once or twice, but since I’m the only one in the family who eats it, I gave up. Plus, as much as I like to bake, I don’t enjoy baking cakes. Cupcakes, yes, but cakes have never been my specialty. Probably because I’m no good at doing the icing, but that’s a different story entirely.

fruitcake 3

Cookies are a different matter. They don’t have to look perfect, unless you’re doing those fancy cut-out ones, and that requires almost a degree in art, as far as I’m concerned, so I don’t make those. Besides, they never look like the pictures you see in the magazines.

But these cookies are more creative, because I discovered you can vary the type of fruit you use, and actually use what YOU like, rather than what’s sold pre-packaged in the grocery stores, so I can still add a bit of my own creativity. You can, too.

So if you’re feeling adventurous, why not try your hand at these cookies. Enjoy putting together your own combination of fruit, and see how they turn out. Add the nuts if you want, but since I don’t like nuts in my cookies, they’re all for you!

1 c. softened butter
3/4 c. brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
Cream these ingredients together. (I use a bit of extra brown sugar and dash of extra vanilla. And I MAY try a splash of brandy extract this year!)

Sift together and add to creamed mixture:
1 2/3 c. all purpose flour
1/3 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 – 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 – 1/2 tsp nutmeg

Mix together and add to cookie batter:
16 oz. candied fruit (cherries, pineapple, apricot, etc. Add some lemon and/or orange peel if you wish)
1 1/2 c. finely chopped dates (I mix them half and half with golden raisins)
1/2 – 3/4 c. chopped pecans or walnuts (I don’t use them…remember. Well, maybe I’ll try cashews…I like them!)
It’s a bit easier to dust the fruit with flour and then add it.

Mix together well and drop by teaspoonfuls on greased baking sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. Let cool and store in tightly covered container. They’re good fresh baked, and even better after a day or two!fruitcake 1

Puffy Meringue Cookies

It’s traditionally now the start of the Christmas season, which in my household, always includes baking cookies. And usually a lot of them, not matter how many times I say each year I’m not going to make so many.

But they’re so good…….

Now I don’t remember who started the tradition of making these particular cookies, but I’m almost certain it was my mother. She was always finding the best – and delicious – cookie recipes that we all enjoyed. I always think about her when I’m making these. She always wanted to put walnuts in them, and since I don’t like nuts in my food, I never let her. But you can add a 1/2 cup of them if you want. Just make sure they’re chopped well.

I’ve made these cookies for many years, and every time, they are the first to disappear from all of the filled cookie containers that line up across my kitchen counter. In fact, when I start my Christmas cookie baking, they’re one of the first kind that’s requested. They’re fairly easy, but also a little bit tricky, so be sure to follow the instructions closely

And be prepared to make more than one batch of them, but DON’T double the recipe as you make it, because it doesn’t work out too well…

2 egg whites, room temperature (save the yolks for other baking treats!)
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla

Beat ingredients until stiff peaks form, using an electric mixer. I now have a Kitchenaid and it works great! Be sure beaters and mixing bowl are grease-free and room temperature if it’s a metal bowl!

Gradually add 3/4 c granulated sugar and continue to beat for about a minute.

Fold in 6 ounce package of semi-sweet chocolate chips. Regular size works best; not the mini’s. And as much as you’re tempted, don’t add extra!

Line two rectangular cookie sheets with white paper or parchment paper. Drop cookies onto paper, about a tablespoon each. Space about 2” apart. Cookies do not spread. Try to get a point at the top. (And yes, that’s a rare picture of me cooking…or baking, which isn’t the same thing!)
Bake for 25-30 minutes in preheated 300 degree oven, until just slightly browned. Let rest on sheet about a minute or so until the cookies will lift off easily, and transfer to wire rack to cool.

Store in lightly sealed container, but they probably won’t be around long!

Our Family’s Traditional Cranberry Sauce

It’s not really cranberry sauce, but my mother always called it that. Looking back through all the variations of it I’ve found on the internet, it’s most definitely a cranberry relish. But back then, we really didn’t know the difference! It was just good, because it was homemade by my mom!cranberries and oranges

My mother had this wonderful old food grinder she used to attach to a pull-out bread board my father had made in our little walk-in pantry, which was right off the kitchen. I always wondered why other kitchens never had such a wonderful feature. All you had to do was pull a little knob, and this great board came out, which my mom always used for rolling out pie crusts, her famous cinnamon buns, and cutting out Christmas cookies.old-fashioned-meat-grinder

But that old “meat grinder” as we called it, attached perfectly to it, and she used it for so many different things. (And yes, I still have it in my kitchen!) She used it to grind up leftover ham to make the best scrambled eggs and ham I’ve ever had.

She also used it to make a wonderful cranberry and orange side dish for Thanksgiving. She always called it cranberry sauce, but we always just enjoyed it!

It was just a simple combination of a bag of fresh cranberries, and a large orange that she cut up, removed the seeds, and then just ground them all up together in a bowl. She added about a cup of sugar, and it was ready to be refrigerated until dinner was served!

Today all the recipes call for putting everything in a food processor. Some suggest adding cinnamon, or chopped pecans, or even orange juice and/or orange liqueur to give it a more modern taste.
cranberry relish photo
For me? I think I’ll stick with tradition and get out that old meat grinder and attach it to the counter top! And surprise our daughter with a new dish for Thanksgiving!

Grandmom’s Oyster Dressing

One of the traditions at our family Thanksgiving dinners, and Christmas as well, is actually a dish that not everyone likes. But it was always on every holiday dinner table when I was growing up, as well as our holiday dinner tables now.

Growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which is one of the greatest seafood areas in the country (yes, I will argue with anyone on that!), we always enjoyed a some of the best blue crabs, clams, oysters, and fresh fish I’ve ever had. One of the traditional Eastern Shore holiday side dishes was what we called Oyster Dressing, also known in other areas as Scalloped Oysters.

I’m not an oyster fan per se, but this dish is something I very much enjoy. Unfortunately my husband doesn’t share my enthusiasm for it, especially since he’s allergic to oysters, but I’m thankful our son-in-law loves oysters, so I can still make it and have someone join me in eating it!

Traditionally my aunt always made the dish, and would bring it to my mom’s house just about ready to bake, so it would be piping hot when served. Since it’s just oysters, crackers, butter, and milk, she’d always bring her own quart of milk to pour into it right before she stuck it in the oven. Because she had to make sure the liquid covered all the crackers thoroughly so it wouldn’t be too dry, she always used a glass casserole dish. When we were kids we used to be fascinated by her pouring the milk in and getting the texture just right. Why, I have no idea; it was just one of those things we did…we were kids! And we didn’t have to help cook!

Jaimie Hanna 2
So for all of you who are curious, and sea food lovers, I’m happy to share the way we made this dish, and still do today. And please, use a round glass casserole dish…trust me, it’s easier!

Here’s all you need:

1 quart fresh oysters, rinsed and drained (check for any bits of broken shell!)
1 box of saltine crackers
softened butter

Butter the bottom and sides of a round 1 1/2-2 quart glass casserole dish.
Crush some of the saltines and put in the bottom of the casserole dish, at least a 1 1/2 inch or so thick.
Place about 1/3 of the oysters on top of crackers, sprinkle with pepper, and dot with butter.
Repeat the process 2-3 times, ending with another layer of crackers, dotted with butter.
Cover with wax paper or saran wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake.
Just before putting in a pre-heated 350 degree oven, slowly pour in milk in a circular pattern until crackers are soaked. (We sometimes used a knife to cut through the crackers to be sure everything got soaked really well!0
Bake 40-55 minutes until done. During baking watch to see that it doesn’t dry out; if so, add a tiny bit more milk.

Serve hot! And if you have leftovers, cover and reheat in the oven or microwave.

Mom’s Cinnamon Buns

My mother was an excellent cook. She made all kinds of wonderful dishes and over the next several months I will share some of our family recipes. But by far her most memorable accomplishment were her cinnamon buns, which are even mentioned in my forthcoming book, “Memories in a Daughter’s Heart.” Yes, they were that good!

My mother perfected the art of making these wonderful buns, a mixture of sticky, gooey cinnamon sweetness rolled up in a soft doughy roll, and most delicious when just about ten minutes out of the oven. (Just long enough for the hot brown sugar and butter icing to firm up a bit and not burn your mouth!) She made them for every family dinner as far back as I can remember. When all of her brothers and sisters and their families got together and decided what everyone was bringing, there was no question when it came to my mother’s contribution! And usually, one pan wasn’t enough!sticky-buns-using-hot-roll-mix

I remember many dinners with my two favorite uncles joking each other about who was going to eat most of them. We kids loved it when Uncle Jay and Uncle Fowler would have a “contest” to see how many they could grab at one time! Yes, those were some wonderful times, and great memories! And of course, really good eating! And the calories? With these culinary delights, who cared?

Our daughter Ashley loved to help her grandmother make the cinnamon buns, and fortunately for our family, Ashley has now taken over my mother’s role of “cinnamon bun chef”. She makes them for every holiday meal, and I have to say hers are just as good as the ones my mother made. Probably because of the love and memories that are baked inside each pan. And now that Ashley is married and hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, you can be assured that her grandmother’s cinnamon buns will be on the menu!P1060788

So that you can also enjoy part of my mother’s legacy, here is the recipe for her cinnamon buns. If you try it, let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear your feedback! And if you have questions, be sure to let us know and I’ll try to help!

My Mother’s Cinnamon Buns (Rachel’s Cinnamon Buns)

1 Box Pillsbury (or other brand) hot roll mix – make as directed but add 1/2 c. sugar. Knead well, and be sure to coat your hands with flour when kneading. Let dough raise in bowl until doubled in size. (Note: We put the bowl on top of our gas stove with waxed paper or a dish towel over the top.) **

When dough is raised, roll out on counter top, with dough about 1/4-3/8″ thick. Should be approximately 8″ wide and 18″ long. (I never measured, I just eyeball it! You’ll get the hang of it.)

After dough is rolled out, smear softened butter over the top of the dough, then heavily sprinkle with light brown sugar (we usually use the entire box!) and shake ground cinnamon over the top of it all. Roll the dough up jelly-roll fashion. Cut into rolls (about 1 1/2 – 2″ thick) and place in a buttered 9×14 glass baking dish. Dot top of each bun with butter, place waxed paper over the top, and let raise again until doubled in size.P1030731

Bake in pre-heated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool in pan no longer than one minute. Invert quickly (and carefully) onto serving plate, spooning the syrupy brown sugar over buns to get every last drop! And then enjoy, enjoy! If there are any left, be sure to wrap them up tightly in saran wrap or tin foil for the next day. (Note: they’re good for breakfast heated in a paper towel in the microwave for about 15 seconds)

** Many stores don’t carry hot roll mix any more. If you can’t find it, here’s a trick to make your own:
Combine – 4 c. flour, 1/3 c. sugar, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/4 c. instant nonfat dry milk.
To make the dough dissolve 1 pkg. yeast in 1 c. warm (120-125 degrees) water. Add to dry mix along with 1 egg, 2 tbl. soft butter, and an additional 1/4-1/2 c. sugar. Knead as directed above.