ANNOUNCING: Change is part of life, and apparently, it's part of blogging, too. As of September 5, 2013, I'm merging The Virtual Goody Plate with Disco Mom Takes on the World and whatever else may henceforth spill from my fingertips (and kitchen), into one great new blog. I hope you'll join me there in exclaiming, "THIS IS AWESOMELAND."

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gingersnap Pear Tart

I made this one to take to my sister's for Christmas dinner, and I thought I'd bring it to you on New Year's Eve. It was a perfect way to break in my *NEW* food processor, making the gingersnap crumbs, but beyond that it was totally beautiful, delicious and decadent. I just love it when recipes work out! This one is going down in my list of "Top Desserts that Impress." I've never had anything quite like it before, but I definitely plan to again.Warning: Plan ahead - this baby cools and chills for 3 hours total AFTER baking so just allow enough time.

Gingersnap Pear Tart

1 cup gingersnap crumbs
2 T butter, melted
1 pkg (8 oz.) reduced-fat cream cheese
1 pkg (8 oz.) fat-free cream cheese
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar, divided
2 tsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 large ripe pears, peeled and thinly sliced (about 3 1/2 cups)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350. In a bowl, combine cookie crumbs and butter. Press onto the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes or until set. Cool in wire rack.

2. In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheeses until smooth. Beat in 1/3 cup sugar, flour and vanilla. Add eggs; beat on low speed just until combined. Pour into crust.

3. Combine pears, cinnamon and remaining 1/4 cup sugar; arrange pear slices over cream cheese mixture. Place pan on a baking sheet (I forgot to do this and it was fine.) Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes or until almost set. Immediately run a knife around the edge of pan to loosen; cool on wire rack for 1 hour. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Makes about 8 servings.Recipe from Taste of Home Light & Tasty magazine

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

White Chip Chocolate Cookies (by Maren)

White Chip Chocolate Cookies
1 c butter
3/4 c white granulated sugar
2/3 c packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 c baking cocoa
2 1/4 c flour
2 c (12 oz) Nestle white chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Add salt, baking soda and flour. Mix well. Stir in chips, drop by small spoonful onto baking sheet lined with parchment or silicone. Bake at 350º for 9-11 minutes. Let stand for 2 minutes before transferring to wire rack.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Nanaimo Bars

I have run into variations of this recipe here and there, and finally decided to try them. Yeah, OK, now I see why they're in so many books and magazines. Total sweet deliciousness. And not too much work or trouble. Bar cookies are awesome because you get like 3 dozen for not that much work.

The variation I chose comes from a Betty Crocker cookie magazine so of course it uses Betty Crocker cookie mix in the crust. A shameless marketing gimick, but sometimes I'm OK with that. These cookie mixes are available in most stores near me, so I assume they're near you too. They look like this:Now, what's up with the name? It's pronounced "na-NY-mo" and it's their city of origin in British Columbia, Canada. Reportedly these cookies were invented and named by an anonymous housewife who submitted the recipe to a magazine. According to my Field Guide to Cookies, the city is so proud of the bar that the town's mascot is a giant Nanaimo bar named - what else? - "Nanaimo Barney." (But I couldn't find a Google image of him so I have my doubts.)Nanaimo Bars
Cookie base:
1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz) Betty Crocker double chocolate chunk cookie mix
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup chopped nut topping or chopped walnuts
1/2 cup coconut
1 cup butter, melted
1 egg, beaten

4 cups powdered sugar
4 T vanilla instant pudding mix
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup milk

1 bag (12 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
1/4 cup butter

1. Heat oven to 350. Line bottom and sides of 9x13 pan with foil, leaving foil hanging over 2 opposite sides of pan. In large bowl, stir cookie base ingredients until well mixed. Spread into pan; press lightly. Bake 16 to 18 minutes or until set. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

2. In large bowl of electric mixer, stir together powdered sugar and pudding mix. Add 1/3 cup butter and the milk; beat with mixer on medium until smooth (filling will be very thick.) Spoon over cookie base; press evenly to cover. Refrigerate while making topping. *I found the filling so thick that I patted handfuls flat in my hands and laid them on the cookie base until it was mostly covered, then I evened it out with an offset spatula.

3. In small microwavable bowl, microwave topping ingredients uncovered on HIGH 1 minute to 1 minute 30 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds until melted and smooth. Spread over filling. Refrigerate uncovered until set, about 30 minutes.

4. Use foil to lift bars from pan; pull foil from sides of bars. Cut into 9 rows by 4 rows. Store covered in fridge.

Recipe from Betty Crocker's Christmas Cookies, December 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

Apricot Baklava (by Maren)

Having lived in Turkey, I tweaked this Moosewood Restaurant recipe to include pistachios along with the almonds because there's nothing more Turkish than apricots and pistachios. I also changed the syrup from straight honey to a sugar/honey mix.

Apricot Baklava
2 cups dried apricots
2 cups apricot nectar or apple juice or water
4 eggs

3 cups almonds and/or walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup melted butter
18 sheets of phyllo dough (freezer section)
1/2 cup finely chopped pistachios

3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups water
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

1. Simmer apricots in liquid for about 30 minutes. Remove and let cool. Purée cooled, cooked apricots in food processor or blender, add eggs and purée a little more till well blended. This is your "custard."

2. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and brush the parchment with butter. Lay down 2 sheets of phyllo and butter the top one. (Work quickly or cover the other sheets so they don't dry out.) Sprinkle with almonds/walnuts, repeat with phyllo, butter and nuts until you've used half the sheets. Spread the custard layer on with a knife. Continue to layer 2 phyllo, butter and nuts until you end with the top layer buttered and covered with pistachios. Using a sharp knife, score the pastry down a few layers (but not quite to the custard) into the shape and size for serving- about 2 or 3 inches. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, boil the water, sugar and honey for several minutes. remove from heat and add lemon. When baklava has cooled 20 minutes but is still warm, cut all the way through scoring. Drizzle syrup over pastry and down the scoring lines. Makes about 24-30 pieces.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Chocolate Almond-Apricot Cookies

I'm not gonna lie to you. We're back to cookies with more than a few steps. But these ones are gorgeous, interesting, delicious, and plenty chocolately for your trouble. And while they do have several steps and take a long time start-to-finish, they're not terribly complicated. Meaning, if you just follow the directions, they'll turn out great. Nothing too tricky. Besides, aren't you just a tiny bit curious what chocolate, almond, apricot and cardamom will do together to your tastebuds? It's worth finding out.

Chocolate Almond-Apricot Cookies
Makes about 6 dozen cookies
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup coarsely grated semisweet chocolate (5 ounces - wow, prepare to get messy grating it!)
1/2 cup finely snipped dried apricots
1/3 cup almonds, ground (I used almond meal from Trader Joe's)
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate pieces (9 ounces)
1 T butter
1/4 tsp almond extract

1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the 1 cup butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and cardamom. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour, the grated chocolate, the apricots and almonds. Divide dough in half. If necessary, cover and chill dough about 30 minutes or until easy to handle.

2. Meanwhile, for filling, in a small saucepan heat and stir the 1 1/2 cups chocolate pieces and the1 T butter over low heat until smooth. Stir in almond extract. Set aside.

3. On a lightly floured surface, roll half of the dough into a 10-inch square. *Seriously, measure it and don't make it much bigger or else you will not have enough filling to cover the area. Spread half of the filling over square, leaving a 1/2-inch border around edges. (If filling becomes too thick to spread, add hot water, 1 tsp at a time, until filling is spreadable.) Roll up square. (If dough cracks, slightly, allow it to stand at room temperature for a few minutes.) Pinch to seal. Wrap roll in plastic wrap or waxed paper. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Chill about 4 hours or until firm. *To keep rolled dough from flattening on one side in the fridge, place in a glass, or in this case 2 glasses, on their sides:
4. Preheat oven to 375. Using a sharp knife, cut rolls into 1/4-inch slices. Place slices 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are light brown. Let stand for 1 minute on cookie sheet. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.
Recipe from Better Homes and Gardnes The Ultimate Cookie Book

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Eggnog-Frosted Nutmeg Sugar Cookies (by Katy)

Guest Baker Katy is my cousin-in-law, or to make things easier, my cousin. Hailing from South Carolina, Katy brings a repertoire of southern classics such as red velvet cupcakes and Lane cake to the VGP. She also offers a fresh perspective on pretty much anything and is therefore totally fun to read, be around, or talk to about anything.Eggnog is a love it or hate it sort of food and I was expecting the cookies to be the same way. But to my surprise when they first came out of the oven and were iced, they tasted like mildly sweet sugar cookies with a subtle but deliciously creamy, spiced after taste. They were underwhelming if you were looking for a knock your socks of, I've got eggnog in my mouth, sort of taste but good in their own right. People (eggnog lovers and haters) gobbled them up.

Miraculously a handful survived to the next day. I picked up one of the survivors the next morning and unexpectedly got a packed punch of eggnoggy goodness. So time really brings the flavor out which makes these cookies great for a goody plate. The longer they sit in the back of your car undelivered, the better they get.

And if you are wondering what is up with the turkey cookies, my nine year old sister in law who was assisting in the cookie cutting insisted of making "Christmas Chicken" cookies. I figured that since they tasted the same, no harm done.

Eggnog-Frosted Nutmeg Sugar Cookies
1/2 of a vanilla bean split in half lengthwise or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg or 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1 T dairy eggnogg
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Eggnog Icing
Coarse Sugar (optional)

1. Using the tip of a sharp knife, scrape pulp from vanilla beans; set aside. In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Beat until combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, eggnog, and vanilla pulp or vanilla extract until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. Divide dough in half. Cover and chill 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 375. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the dough portions to 1/4 inch thick. Using a fluted round 3-inch cookie cutter, cut out dough. Place dough rounds 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are just lightly browned. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool. Repeat with other dough portion. Spread cookies with Eggnog Icing. If desired, sprinkle with coarse sugar. Let icing dry. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Eggnog Icing: In a medium bowl, stir together 3 cups powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. Stir in enough dairy eggnog (3 to 4 T) to make an icing of spreading consistency.

To Store: Layer cookies between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies magazine, December 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

Mrs. Hise's Mint Chocolate Brownies (by Maren)

This recipe was the dependable treat brought by our next-door-neighbors when we were kids. It's delicious.

It was something to look forward to every year. I still love them to this day! (-Kari)

Mrs. Hise's Mint Chocolate Brownies
1/2 c butter
1 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 squares unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
3/4 c flour

Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla, eggs and cooled chocolate. Add flour and mix well. Pour into greased 8x8 or 9x9 square pan. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes.

1 c powdered sugar
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp cream 1/4 tsp peppermint flavor
a few drops green food coloring

Cream together and spread on cooled brownies. This makes just enough for a thin layer of frosting.

Melt 1 more square of unsweetened or semisweet baking chocolate and drizzle over frosting. Cut into small squares or triangles. Makes about 20 to 25.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

German Chocolate Cookies

You can't have all your holiday baking be so intense! Chilling, rolling, brushing, cutting, slicing, processing, toasting, chilling again and so on. Somewhere in there you need a high-quality low-effort treat to help you get through. Like a nice yummy drop cookie. Mmm.

A few weeks ago the Washington Post Food section did a holiday cookie spread. I admit, I was a little disappointed and only found 1 or 2 of interest among the 25 (Blue Cheese Walnut Cookies? Gross. Thin and Crispy Oatmeal Cookies? Boring.) But these sounded so good, and the recipe looked straightforward and no-fail. I think I ate about five off the cooling racks; just couldn't stop myself!German Chocolate Cookies
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature (if you don't want to wait, place it in warm water for a few minutes)
1 T vanilla extract (yes, T, not tsp)
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups sweetened coconut flakes or shredded coconut
1 cup pecans, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
4 oz Baker's German chocolate, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

2. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low speed to start, then on medium speed until smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

3. Add the egg and then the vanilla extract, beating well between additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl; then, on low speed, add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; beat until everything is well incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the coconut, pecans and chocolate, mixing until well combined.

4. Drop by heaping teaspoons onto baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes (more like 12 to 14 for me) until undersides of cookies begin to firm up - the tops may still look shiny and soft. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool. Store in airtight container at room temperature. Makes 3 to 4 dozen (3 1/2 dozen for me, using 1 1/2-inch cookie scoop.)

Recipe from Cookies by Sally Sampson

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Candy-Stripe Cookie Sticks (by Kat)

I was hunting for a "show cookie" and came across these babies from Martha. I like to have a variety of shapes and textures on a goody plate, and will on occasion sacrifice ease of baking for a fancy-looking gem. These are ADORABLE. And tasty. And do take a fair amount of time/effort, by which I mean that these are not cookies you can whip up, throw in the oven and then worry about later when the buzzer goes off. Block out a solid 2 hours to bust them out. But check out the cuteness and decide if they’re worth it – I think so.

Not worth it for some cookie exchange where you’re going to get stuck with refrigerator cornflake cookies in exchange, but they will really make a plate look great as part of a mix.

If you’ve had Pepperidge Farms pirouette rolled wafer cookies, you’ll have the idea. One of the commenters on Martha suggested filling with chocolate ganache. I just might have to try that.


There is a video on Martha that shows step by step instructions. It could be helpful in understanding the process.

I made my template 3x5 instead of 3x6. The suggested size just looked too long to me, but whatever works for you. Take a minute and think about how you want to package them – you might want them longer if you were going to put them in a mug. If you have some contact paper, take a minute and cover your template – I cut mine out of a box of ‘Nemo fun fruits.’ Paper board works well. The contact paper made it easy to wipe off the dough that will definitely be getting up on the sides.

I had the best success when I spread the dough the height of the paper board. I know that sounds crazy thin, but this is a case where thicker is not better. The thick guys were too hard to roll.

This also sounds nuts, but bake 3 cookies MAX at a time. The first couple pans I tried 4, and I just couldn’t roll them fast enough – the window of rolling is pretty small. After they start to cool they crack when you roll.

You WILL burn your fingers. You will burn your fingers less if you flip the cooked cookies over on the sheet they baked on, and then place the one you’re rolling on a spare Silpat. I used a previous pan for the rolling, so that it was still warm but not smoking hot. After rolling each cookie, I pressed down gently on the pencil to ‘seal’ the seam. This kept them from unrolling.

Candy-Stripe Cookie Sticks

8 large egg whites

2 cups sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

Pinch of coarse salt

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I also added 2 tsp of mint, because I love mint!)

Red gel-paste food coloring

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Beat egg whites and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until foamy. Reduce speed to low. Add flour and salt; mix until just combined. Add butter, cream, and vanilla, and beat until combined.

Transfer 1 cup batter to a small bowl (set remaining batter aside). Stir in red coloring until desired color is reached. Transfer tinted batter to a pastry bag fitted with a small plain round tip (such as At

eco #2). Secure end of pastry bag with rubber band. Set aside.

Put a 3-by-6-inch rectangle (cut out a stencil to use as a guide) on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat baking mat. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of plain batter into the rectangle, and spread with a small offset spatula. Repeat. Pipe diagonal tinted stripes onto each rectangle. Bake cookies until pale golden, 6 to 8 minutes.

Immediately loosen edges with a spatula, and flip cookie over. Starting from one long side, roll cookie into a stick (I used a pencil). Place, seam side down, on a clean work surface; let cool until set. Quickly repeat with second cookie.

Repeat process, tinting and baking 2 or 3 cookies at a time. Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 1 week.

Recipe from Martha Stewart

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jam-Filled Cream Cheese Cookies

Well these are just downright gems for the repertoire. Gorgeous, check. Easy, check. Delicious, check. I've had a lot of recipe disappointments lately (not that you'd know because I do not post mediocrity), and these turning out so delightfully made my day! They're so pretty and so tasty and so charming I think they just might become holiday goody plate regulars!
Jam-Filled Cream Cheese Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen
8 oz bar cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp water
1 1/2 cups jam, jelly or preserves (make sure it has pectin; I used apricot and black raspberry)
Coarse sugar, optional

1. In a large bowl, using electric mixer, beat cream cheese, butter and sugar until light and fluffy. With mixer on low, add flour and salt; beat until combined (do not overmix.)

2. Divide dough into 3 portions; flatten each into a disk. Roll each disk to an 1/8-inch thickness between sheets of parchment (I know that sounds thin but do it - it's ok!) Stack dough (still in parchment) on a baking sheet; refrigerate 20 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 375. Mix egg yolk with water. Working with 1 dough sheet at a time, peel off parchment (save for baking.) With a 2-inch star shaped cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.

Tip: This is one recipe where it is advisable to line baking sheets with parchment instead of silicone mats. Mine got quite messy with each batch - cooked egg wash and a little jam overflow - so I had to wash them between batches. Much easier to use disposable parchment!
4. Spoon 1/2 tsp jam into center of each and brush exposed star points with egg wash. Shape cookies by folding points to center and pinching or pressing to seal. (Many of mine came open while cooking so make sure the points are all sealed well.) Sprinkle with coarse sugar. Refrigerate 20 minutes (I skipped this.)
5. Bake until cookies are light golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely on wire racks.

To store: Cover and keep at room temperature up to 4 days Recipe from Everyday Food, December 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Chocolate Orange Mint Patties (by Maren)

Wowzer. These came on a goody plate Maren gave me, and I was immediately ashamed I had ever given her a recipe to try. You might be surprised by these flavors, but they come together in a beautiful way.This comes from a cookbook called Who Wants Candy? by Jane Sharrock. It's a really good candy cookbook and includes recipes for all skill levels. It's an easy recipe that has never failed me. Makes about 100 mints, but easily halved.

Note: I've used part dark chocolate candy coating and part dark chocolate mint candy coating pieces with success. Also, I used Wilton food coloring to make the filling sort of peach-colored. I think it helps deliver the orange flavor, but it's optional.

Chocolate Orange Mint Patties
1/2 c soft butter
1 (14 oz) can of sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 tsp pure orange extract
1/2 tsp mint extract
7 c powdered sugar
Food coloring, optional
18-20 oz dark chocolate candy coating (available at craft and candy supply stores)
4 to 6 oz semisweet baking chocolate

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, milk, orange extract and mint extract with an electric mixer till smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar 2 cups at a time blending thoroughly after each addition. Blend in food coloring if using. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours till firm or wrap tightly in several long rolls and freeze till needed, up to 3 months. Thaw 20 minutes before using if frozen.

2. Lay down 2-3 large sheets of waxed paper. In the top pan of a double-boiler over hot but not boiling water, melt the chocolates together, stirring until smooth. Or, place chocolates in a microwave-safe bowl and melt at half power for about 3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.

3. Shape mints into patties (or slice off a previously frozen log) and dip in chocolate using 2 forks or a special dipping spoon. Place on waxed paper to set. Store in layers separated by waxed paper. These mints may be refrigerated or frozen.

A nice way to package these on a goody plate is to wrap in squares of wax or parchment paper, with a sticker label telling what they are.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Deluxe Caramel-Nut Brownies (by Michelle)

I wish I could say I made these once and they turned out perfect, but that would be a vast stretching of the truth. The first time I made these, I followed the directions to the letter. The only problem was that the cooking time in step 3 was WAY off. Maybe it was my oven, but as a fan convection oven it usually cooks things faster than the recipe. I cooked it the full time and a little longer. Then I cooled the brownies and cut into what could only be described as bunches of goo. We tasted the edge pieces and could tell the brownies would be tasty, but this batch was a goner.

So a week and a half later I got up enough steam to try them again. This time I almost doubled the cooking time in step 3, to 50 minutes, and they turned out just right. So adjust the time to fit your oven.

The directions for these state: "A gooey caramel filling sandwiched between deep chocolate layers takes brownies to new heights. As tempted as you may be to spread the caramel sauce on the prebaked brownie layer, drizzle it to keep the brownie from tearing."Deluxe Caramel-Nut Brownies
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups packed brown sugar
6 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate baking bar, chopped and melted
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate pieces
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
24 vanilla caramels, unwrapped
2 tablespoons milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with heavy foil, extending foil over the pan edges. Lightly grease foil. Set pan aside. In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, beating until fluffy. Add melted chocolate, beating until blended. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in flour until well combined. Stir in chocolate pieces and pecans.

2. Spread half of brownie batter in prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a heavy medium saucepan, cook and stir unwrapped caramels and milk over medium-low heat until melted and smooth. Drizzle caramel mixture over partially baked brownies. Pour remaining brownie batter over caramel layer, spreading evenly.

3. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes more or until edges are set and top appears dry. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Using the edges of the foil, lift the uncut brownies out of the pan. Use a hot knife to cut bars. Makes 32 bars.

TO STORE: Layer bars between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies, December 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Coconut-Lime Shortbread

Typically shortbread doesn't really interest me - too boring. But I'm always a sucker for new flavor combinations. So when I saw this recipe I thought, "If there's ever a shortbread I'm going to love, this may be it." So I gave it a shot. Sure enough, I really love it.

As with the Good Mood Cranberry Bread, this recipe smelled fantastic throughout the making process. From toasting the coconut to zesting the lime to processing it all together and finishing with a bright sweet glaze, the wafting aromas impress. And luckily, so does the bite. The coconut adds subtle texture and the lime shines. If you're going to make a shortbread this year, and don't want to be disappointed, this is the one for you! Coconut-Lime Shortbread
Makes about 30 2-1/4 inch squares
1/2 cup flaked coconut, toasted
1/2 cup sugar
2 T finely shredded lime peel (about 3 limes)
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
Lime Glaze, optional (recipe below)
Finely shredded lime peel, optional

1. Preheat oven to 325. In a food processor combine coconut, sugar, the 2 T lime peel, an the vanilla. Cover and process until coconut is finely chopped. Add flour; cover and process with one on/off pulse just to combine. Add butter; cover and process until mixture starts to cling. Transfer to a verly large bowl (dough will appear dry.) Knead dough until smooth. Shape dough into a ball; divide in half.

2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the dough portions to about 1/4-inch thickness. Using desired 1 1/2 to 2 inch cookie cutters, cut out dough. Place cutouts 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

3. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes or just until bottoms start to brown. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool. Repeat with the remaining dough portion. If desired, spread tops of cookies with Lime Glaze and sprinkle with additional lime peel.

Lime Glaze: In a small bowl stir together 2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp finely shredded lime peel, and 1 T lime juice. Stir in enough water (2 to 3 T) to make a glaze of spreading consistency.

Recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Ultimate Cookies, December 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Peppermint Cream Bites (by Celeste)

These were delicious. SO delicious. I admit to adding food coloring to the filling (this might be against VGP rules) and some crushed peppermint on top; in my mind's eye, these had a pink filling to go with the peppermint theme. But plainer, these cookies will still be great.

Note: I think that a purchased Oreo cookie-crumb pie crust would work just as well for this recipe...maybe even better. I had trouble with my cookie bottoms crumbling off.Peppermint Cream Bites
Prep: 20 min Oven: 350 Bake: 8 min Freeze: 45 min Yield: 30 bites

1 1/2 cups crushed chocolate sandwich cookies (about 15)
3 T melted butter
2 cups powdered sugar
2 T softened butter
2 T milk
1 tsp peppermint extract
6 oz bittersweet chocolate bar, chopped
2 T shortening

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8x8x2 baking pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan.

(Tip from Kari: Easy way to line a cornered pan is to turn it over and shape the foil around the outside first so it takes the shape. Turn pan back over and simply drop shaped foil in.)

2. In medium bowl, mix cookie crumbs and butter together until evenly mixed. Press crumb mix into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool slightly (about 15 minutes.)

3. Meanwhile, combine powdered sugar and softened butter in a food processor. Cover and process until butter is evenly distributed. With processor running, add milk and extract to make a thick paste. Spread peppermint mixture evenly over the prepared crust. Place in freezer for 45 minutes.
4. In microwave-safe bowl, combine chopped chocolate and shortening. Microwave 30 seconds; stir. Microwave another 30 seconds, stirring until melted. Let chocolate cool for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour chocolate over mint layer and spread evenly. (If you want to put crushed peppermint candy on, now's your chance.) Allow the chocolate to set for a few minutes before cutting. Use 1 1/2 inch round cookie cutter to make 30 bites. (Note: You need to choose cookie cutters that have pretty steep sides, or you'll be pressing mostly through one layer, not the whole cookie.)

Store in refrigerator in airtight container for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 3 months.Recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies, December 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Spumoni Bars

Every year I look forward to the Cook's Country December issue because it has the winners of their holiday cookie contest - one grand prize winner and four runners up. In my opinion those are not enough - I'd like the top 10 or even 20 to be published, but I'll take what I can get.

So these Spumoni Bars were #1 - THE GRAND PRIZE winner. So of course I had to try them. Very cool looking. Fabulous-sounding recipe - maraschino cherries, walnuts, chocolate, what's not to like? Granted, there's a lot of steps and chilling. And a lot of things can go wrong (like you can use too much flour rolling them out and then the different colors won't stick together like in some of mine.) But if you are a patient person, these will reward you with yumminess and good looks on the plate.Spumoni Bars
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
12 maraschino cherries, drained, stemmed, and chopped fine
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped fine
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted and slightly cooled

1. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in bowl. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg yolks and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture, and mix until just combined. Divide dough into thirds and transfer each third to separate bowl.

2. Add cherries to first bowl and mix until incorporated. Add walnuts to second bowl and mix until incorporated. Add melted chocolate to third bowl and mix until incorporated. Refrigerate until doughs are slightly firm, about 10 minutes.

3. Heat oven to 375. Line baking sheets with parchment or silpat. Divide each dough in half. On lightly floured surface, roll each dough half into 12-inch rope. Place 1 rope of each color side-by-side on floured surface and gently press together. Refrigerate until slightly firm, about 10 minutes, then roll dough into 24-by-3-inch rectangle. Cut crosswise into 1-inch cookies and place 3/4 inch apart on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. Chill for another 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Bake until just set but not browned, 12 to 14 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on sheets, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. (Cookies can be stored in airtight container for 1 week.)
Makes 3 1/2 to 4 dozen cookies
Recipe from Cook's Country, December 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Good Mood Cranberry Bread

Sometimes you need a nice mini loaf to round out your goody plate...especially if you bought deceptively large give-away platters at the dollar store like I did. I had that need this week, coupled with a cranberry craving, so voila - cranberry bread it is.

I call it Good Mood Cranberry Bread because it just put me in one while making it. Orange is a naturally energizing aromatherapist, and you get it straight from the source when you zest one - go ahead, breathe deeply! Then there's the bright sweet-tart cranberries which are just gorgeous and thrill the taste buds. This bread is just the thing to wake you up on a cold morning or snap you out of a blue winter mood.Good Mood Cranberry Bread
Makes 2 full-size loaves or 6 mini loaves
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 T baking powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup cold butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups orange juice
4 tsp grated orange peel (I just zested one large one and called it good)
2 cups chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
3/4 cup golden raisins

2/3 cup packed brown sugar
6 T (1/3 cup plus 1 T) all-purpose flour
4 T (1/4 cup) cold butter

1 cup confectioners' sugar
4 tsp orange juice, or enough to make glazey consistency

1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray loaf pans with cooking spray and dust with flour (I like the spray that has flour in it.)

2. In a large bowl combine the first five ingredients; cut butter in until crumbly. In a small bowl, whisk the egg, orange juice, and peel. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in cranberries and raisins. Divide dough between two 8x4-inch loaf pans, or six mini loaf pans.

3. Combine brown sugar and flour for streusel. Cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over batter. Bake for 55-65 minutes (38-45 minutes for minis) or until a toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

4. For glaze, combine confectioners' sugar and orange juice until smooth. Drizzle over bread.Recipe adapted from Taste of Home, Oct/Nov 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Marshmallow Popcorn Bars (by Michelle)

If you are bored of regular Rice Krispy Treats and want to mix things up a little bit, this is a variation. You use popcorn instead of Rice Krispies. It is a little messier to make, and it is a little harder to make sure that all of the popcorn is coated equally with the marshmallows. In the end though, it is very tasty, and my kids loved it. I can imagine using food coloring, or throwing in other ingredients to jazz it up a little more as well.Marshmallow Popcorn Bars
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the dish
1/2 cup popcorn kernels or one 3.5 ounce package plain microwave popcorn
1 10 ounce bag marshmallows

1. Butter a 9x13 inch baking dish. Pop the popcorn according to the package directions.

2. Melt the butter and marshmallows in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until smooth, 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Fold in the popcorn until coated. Press into the prepared dish and let sit for 10 minutes before cutting into 24 bars.

Tip: The bars are best served within 6 hours but can be made and stored at room temperatuire, covered, up to 1 day in advance. (The longer they sit, the harder they will get, so fresher is MUCH better).

Recipe from Real Simple

Monday, December 14, 2009

Butter Mint Cookies (by Maren)

I am a huge fan of butter mints, so I was excited to try these. Unfortunately, I could only find "dessert mints" which are very similar to "butter mints" but not as creamy. Plus they are rainbow colored rather than just yellow. They performed fine in these cookies, although next time I might add a touch of mint extract as the mintiness was minimal. Also, I crushed the mints using a dish towel-draped hammer and a ziplock bag when I probably should have pulverized them to a powder in the mini food processor. I was hoping for more "stick" during the final step, so maybe mixing mints and powdered sugar would work better. Another option would be to enclose a whole mint in the center of the cookie, bake, then roll in mints/powdered sugar.
Butter Mint Cookies

Prep time: 25 minutes Oven: 325º
Bake: 15 minutes per batch (longer in my oven)

1 cup butter, softened (I used half butter, half Smart Balance)
1 cup butter mints crushed finely to yield 3/4 cup
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour

1. In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on high speed for 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup of the crushed mints and the powdered sugar. Beat until combined. Beat in the water and vanilla. Mix in the flour and cover and chill dough for up to 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle (10 minuted for me).

2. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Shape dough into small 1 inch balls and place them 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Transfer cookies to wire rack.

3. Place remaining crushed mints in a plastic bag. Add warm cookies, a few at a time, shaking bag very gently to coat. Cool completely on wire rack. Makes about 36 cookies (I got 39). Store airtight at room temperature for 3 days or freeze up to 3 months.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Scandinavian Raspberry Ribbons (by Celeste)

Being cousins, Celeste and I share a strong Norwegian heritage, so I love getting this recipe from her!I love these cookies for their flavor (raspberry and lemon over a shortbread-type cookie) and for the impatient side of me. You want to put on the glaze while the cookie is hot. You want to cut these while they are hot. But you do not want to EAT them while they are hot - the jam will scorch your tongue! These are my go-to impressive cookies. Once you get the hang of them, you can whip these out in less than 30 minutes.

Scandinavian Raspberry Ribbons
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups flour
Raspberry jam, stirred until smooth (about 1/2 to 2/3 cup)

1/2 of one lemon's zest
Juice of one lemon
About 2 cups powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375. In medium bowl, mix butter and powdered sugar. Add egg yolk and vanilla; blend well. Add flour, mix well. Gather dough into a ball. Divide ball into four separate balls.2. On parchment-lined cookie sheet, arrange dough balls into four long strips. Press down with palm of hand (until dough is about 1/2 inch thick and makes a rectangle of 3 inches by 12 to 15 inches or so) and create a trough in the center with your small finger.3. Bake dough for about 8 to 10 minutes until slightly firm, but with no golden color. Remove from oven; spoon raspberry jam into troughs. Bake an additional 6 to 10 minutes, until jam begins to bubble and edges are golden.4. Mix glaze from juice, zest and powdered sugar. The glaze is about the consistency of sweetened condensed milk. Drizzle over hot cookies. Cut diagonally with a pizza cutter while hot. Serve when cooled.I don't know how long these store. There are never any left to find out.

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