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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year! Holiday Roundup (highs and lows)

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a great holiday season and a happy and safe new year. 

I just want to thank everyone for making my blog a success (at least in my mind). I've had over 1000 hits since I began and its all because of you guys. I hope to continue posting new, fun, recipes for many years. As always, send me your ideas or questions... I love getting comments and suggestions.

As for my Christmas baking, I was a fairly unsuccessful this year. While my cookies and banana bread turned out great, I tried a few new things this year. Namely making eggnog and making eggnog creme brulee. While the eggnog turned out alright, I added to much rum and it was overwhelming. In hindsight, I shouldn't have added the  rum all at once, but glass by glass. It would have make it easier to control. Oh well.

Also, my eggnog creme brulee was disappointing. I found a recipe online that I thought looked good, but the spice blend was overpowering. I have a relatively low tolerance for nutmeg (it has a strange flavor to me) and this recipe had way too much for my taste. Also, my new creme brulee torch did not want to work, so after a few tense moments between myself, Chris, and the torch, we gave up and I broiled them instead. The sugar never really got the nice crispy top and it warmed the custard too much. Of course, I dumped the rest of the creme brulee and just for the hell of it I tried the torch again and it worked. Oh well. I'm going to try again with a simple vanilla creme brulee in the near future.

One thing that I made for Christmas that did work out was my Red Velvet Bread Pudding. I got the recipe from Paula Dean. I mean, anything with creme, butter, cream cheese, and cake must be good. Now, I'm attaching the original cake recipe from Paula Dean's/FoodNetwork's site, but I used a box cake. It had a great flavor and a nice rich color. Its a great time savor, especially because red velvet has a few odd ingredients (buttermilk, a ton of red food coloring).

Another thing I changed was instead of creaming the cream cheese with the sugar, I just mixed it into the sugar with a whisk. This left a few large chunks of cream cheese which was great to taste in the final product.

Red Velvet Bread Pudding


Red Velvet Cake:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 ounces red food coloring
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar

Bread Pudding Mix:

  • 3 cups half-and-half
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • Vanilla ice cream, for serving


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Greased 9 by 13 by 2-inch sheet pan.
In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter, beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time and mix well after each addition. Mix cocoa and food coloring together and then add to sugar mixture; mix well. Sift together flour and salt. Add flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Blend in vanilla.
In a small bowl, combine baking soda and vinegar and add to mixture. Pour batter into the prepared sheet pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from heat and cool completely. When the cake is cooled, cut into 1-inch cubes.
Place cubes onto 11 by 17-inch cookie sheet. Place in oven for 10 minutes to toast (this keeps the cake from absorbing too much of the cream mixture).

Bread Pudding Mix:

Combine the half-and-half, eggs, egg yolk, salt, and vanilla in a medium bowl. With an electric hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Mix in the half-and-half mixture.

Place the red velvet cubes in a large baking dish or 8 individual ramekins. Add the pudding mixture to the dish. Make sure the cake cubes are completely covered. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the pudding is set. Serve warm with ice cream. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pecan Balls/Russian Teacakes/Mexican Wedding Cakes

I grew up calling these cookies pecan balls or Russian Teacakes. Sometimes we made them we pecans, other times we used walnuts. Whatever you call them or make them with, they're great!

Packaged, ready for shipping

These cookies are light, buttery (they should be with all the butter that's in them), and sweet. They are a great Christmas cookie because they're easy to make, look like little snowballs, and blend well with other foods. They're not over powering or too sweet. They're perfect in their simplicity.

The recipe I use is from my mom's old Betty Crocker cookbook. You can tell its a well loved recipe by the stains and spatters on the page. That's always a sign of a good recipe: a well worn page. When I moved out I scanned the page to have a copy on my computer so I can still see the stains, but I don't get to add any of my own.

Russian Teacakes:
1 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 c. flour (can use whole wheat flour if you want to)
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c. finely chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts are best)
Powered sugar for rolling

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cream the softened butter, sugar, and vanilla together. Add flour, salt, and nuts until the dough holds together.

Shape the dough into 1 inch balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet about 1 inch apart (they don't spread much). Bake until they're set, but not brown, about 10-12 minutes.

1 minute after baking, carefully roll each cookie in the powered sugar (they're delicate), then cool completely. Roll in the powered sugar again. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

In my house, I make double or triple batches of these because I give them as gifts. They're a hit!

The month of December: brought to you by BUTTER.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Vanilla Bean Biscotti

Last night I was trying to find a recipe for something that would be good to use the vanilla beans my future-sister-in-law sent me. There are plenty of recipes for vanilla bean pudding, cupcakes, and frosting out there, but I wanted something that would ship well, because I wanted to send some of the creation to said sister-in-law as a thank you and Christmas gift.

I found the following recipe for biscotti on foodgawker from The Galley Gourmet ( This was my first attempt at making biscotti. I've only had biscotti a few times with mixed results, it either being too hard to bite or flavorless, but I thought I'd give it a try.

Wow. This stuff is good. Its light, crisp, rich with vanilla flavor, and melts beautifully in coffee or tea (I had a piece with my morning chai). I love it! 

I'm going to have to explore the biscotti world a little more!

Vanilla Bean Biscotti
makes about 30, depending on the thickness you cut them

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup white granulated sugar
6 tablespoons (3oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 extra large eggs at room temperature
1 long vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped using the back of a knife
1/4 cup Vanilla Sugar (sugar that has been stored with vanilla beans)

Preheat the oven to 325ยบ.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds until light in color and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the egg, beating well.  Add the second egg and beat again.  Scrape down the sides.  Mix in the dry ingredients.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface.  Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a 12-inch long, 1 1/2-inch wide log (the dough will be very sticky... just do your best).  Transfer the logs to the baking sheet.  Bake until golden brown (dough will spread a lot), about 35-40 minutes.  The dough will be slightly soft to the touch.  Allow the dough to cool on the baking sheets for 20 minutes.  Maintain the oven temperature.

Carefully transfer the logs to a cutting board.  Using a sharp or serrated knife, cut a sliver off each end (those can be nibbled on).  Cut the logs into 3/4 -inch wide diagonal slices.  Place the biscotti cut side down on the baking sheets.  Sprinkle evenly with the vanilla sugar.  Return to the oven and bake for another 15-20 minutes.  Biscotti will still be barely soft in the center, but they will harden as they cool.  Cool on the baking sheets.  Store in an airtight container for up to a week.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

These cookies are awesome. Who doesn't love peanut butter cups? Or peanut butter cookies?

I'll say it again: These cookies are awesome.

These are Chris' favorite cookies. But because they are his favorite and a family favorite, I always triple the recipe. While the dough is super easy to make, the cookies can take a long time to finish because you have to wait for the chocolate to cool and re-harden before removing them from the pan. If you plan to make double or triple batches, plan on borrowing a pan or two (they're made in mini-muffin tins). I have two pans of 24, but I had to go through these three times, with cooling times of about 20 minutes before removal. Just keep that in mind when you go to make these.

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies:
1/2 c. butter, softened (my recipe, from my grandma calls for Oleo)
1/2 c. sugar
1 egg
1 c. peanut butter, creamy
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla
1-1 1/2 c. flour

Preheat to 375. Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the egg. Add the peanut butter. Mix the dry ingredients together and then add to the wet. Add the vanilla. Put ~1 cup of sugar in a small bowl (I use a cereal bowl). Use a small scoop to get even balls of dough, roll them in sugar, and put them dough into greased mini-muffin tins. Bake for 8-9 minutes. When done baking, push mini-peanut butter cups into each cookie. Cool in fridge or freezer until hard.

So many cookies!!! Triple recipe makes ~144 cookies

Friday, December 2, 2011

Cranberry Sauce - Now Can Free!

Growing up I was never a fan of cranberry sauce (or juice). But now, as an adult, I've developed a liking for it. This year, as part of my Thanksgiving meal, I decided I'd like to have some cranberry sauce. But me being me, I wanted to make it myself.

Turns out, making cranberry sauce is super easy.

Now I know that we are firmly past Thanksgiving, but thing recipe is a great addition to any holiday meal (Christmas or Easter). It is also a surprising ingredient in other dishes (more on that later).

Orange Cranberry Sauce:
1 12oz bag of whole cranberries (found in the produce section near the berries at my grocery store), washed and picked over
1 small orange or two tangerines
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Directions: Combine water and sugar over high heat in a medium saucepan. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. When the liquid boils, add the cranberries and diced orange (add some rind if you want an extra orange kick), and return to a boil. Simmer for ~10 minutes. The cranberries will pop and break down as it cooks and thickens. Cool and serve, makes about 2 cups.

If you're like me and enjoy cranberry sauce, but not in huge amounts, make this party pleaser: Cocktail Meatballs

Make up your favorite meatball (or buy them, I won't judge), cook them up, and place the meatballs into a crock pot or saucepan (on low) with 1 cup of the cranberry sauce and 1 cup of bbq sauce. Heat through and serve.

Even cranberry haters will love this dish!

Other assorted Thanksgiving pictures: 
Our HUGE 19lb turkey

Our Thanksgiving Dinner: for 2