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."

Saturday, December 31, 2011

VGP Bloopers 2011

Time for the year-end total-flop report.  I keep them all in a folder throughout the year, waiting to be confessed...purged...on December 31 so I can hopefully start a new year with fresh optimism and more realistic ambition.  We'll see about that.  

As I went through the reject folder, I realized there were actually too many to post - twenty-five, to be exact - so here are just some bad highlights.

Fluffernutter Muffins - I truly wanted to like them, but just...uh-uh.

Skillet apple pie - so pretty, but so overly sweet!

Salted Caramel Brownies...not BAD, just 1) not caramel like the name promised, and 2) not special enough to get posted.

White chocolate apricot muffins...water, water, I need water!  Dry and hard.

Orange pecan French toast - I can't remember why this wasn't good, but it was in the folder

Caramel apple was a nice idea to put caramel in there...until I had to wrestle them out of the tin - you should have seen the back of this one!

Mini ginger almond cheesecakes.  The filling was awesome so I may try these again...but the rock-hard, break-your-teeth crust needs work.

"Fresh Strawberry Bars", or so the recipe said.  Really, it's peanut butter bars soaked with drippy strawberry syrup/jam that becomes a soggy mess within 10 minutes.  No thanks.

Coca-cola biscuits.  I really, really wanted to like these.  Even after I made them, I waffled whether to post or file.  In the end, they were just too weird and I couldn't stretch my palate to call them "good." 
So there's a sampling.  Honestly, there's no promise 2012 will be any better.  I think my recipe-picking (and execution) skills have improved, but only an increment.  However, I have most of the January line-up figured out, so I think we'll be off to a pretty good start!  Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

BONUS Steamy Sip #8: Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

I just couldn't leave out this Steamy Sip.  It took me four stores to track down dulce de leche, then Christmas happened, but once I finally made this, Ed and I let out audible "aaaah"'s and I HAD to post it. 

As you know, salted caramel is all the rage now.  Salt brings out the flavor and balances the over-sweetness of caramel.  Sometimes, though, salt seems to be just in the name.  Not in this Steamy Sip.  The salt-to-other-stuff ratio is PERFECT.  You can taste it, but it's just right.  And lots of caramel and chocolate make it the perfect indulgent sip. 
Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate (print recipe)
4 T dulce de leche
1 1/4 cups milk
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp coarse salt
Whipped cream, toffee bits and mini chocolate chips, for garnish

In a small pot over medium heat, warm the dulce de leche.  Whisk in the milk, cocoa powder, and salt until smooth.  Heat until warmed and serve immediately, topped with whipped cream.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cranberry Christmas Sandies

Well I best get these posted tout de suite or else they'll have to wait a year; rolled in Christmas nonpareils, they would just look stupid any other month.  I made these for my neighbor goody plates.  Which I took pictures of.  Which my camera erased.  So here's the stock photo off the internet.  But mine looked just like these!

Regular sandies are not my #1 favorite cookie - they're so bland and taste like flour.  But I was intrigued to find a sandy with lemon and cranberry - that is a crumbly cookie I can get behind!  The recipe worked like clockwork, and this time, I didn't mind them melting in my mouth.  ZING, wowza!  I've got my new Christmas Sandies!

Cranberry Christmas Sandies (print recipe)
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped dried cranberries
2 tsp finely shredded lemon peel
White, red and green nonpareils

1.  Preheat oven to 350.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper; set aside.  Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium for 30 seconds.  Add powdered sugar.  Beat until combined, scraping bowl.  Beat in vanilla.  Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer.  Stir in the cranberries, lemon peel, and any remaining flour.

2.  Shape mixture into 1/2-, 3/4-, or 1-inch balls.  Roll dough balls in nonpareils.  Arrange balls 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets.

3.  Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes for 1/2-inch balls, 13 minutes for 3/4-inch balls, or 15 minutes for 1-inch balls or until bottoms of cookies are light brown.  Transfer to wire racks and let cool.  Makes about 144 (1/2-inch) cookies, 72 (3/4-inch) cookies, or 36 (1-inch) cookies.

Recipe from Better Homes and Gardens

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Maple Bacon Brown Sugar Scones

Let me paint you a scene, and I hope my verbal weakness doesn't make it too blurry.  It's the setting in which these scones were made, and the mood I was in.  Humor me.

Two days before Christmas.  Ed took the girls on a surprise outing to the movies after dinner and I had the house to myself.  The dishwasher gently churned.  The Christmas tree lights burned bright.  I donned my apron and set my Christmas music to shuffle on iTunes.

I worked slowly, deliberately, making these scones for breakfast the next morning with the leftover bacon from dinner.  Grated my butter.  Measured sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg.  Worked them together with my pastry cutter.  Folded in the buttermilk and bacon.  Letting my thoughts wander where they would, mostly touching on old friends I'd recently gotten Christmas cards from, and also those I hadn't.  Chris Benson.  Melanie Henrich.  Jake White.  Kat Young.  Flipping through good, and sometimes bittersweet, memories.  Drinking S. Pellegrino from the bottle.

Then a new song came on, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" by Lisa Arrington (you can hear a sample here.)  My thoughts turned to Christmas, to my spiritual roots, to my faith in Jesus Christ.  I kneaded the dough and patted it into rounds. 

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God.
He, to rescue me from danger, 
Interposed his precious blood.

Brushed the dough with butter and sprinkled it with turbinado sugar.  Cut into wedges, slid the scones into the oven.  Let the house fill with tempting scents as I sat in the living room, staring at the lit tree, contemplating the birth, life, and death, that means so much, means everything, to me.  That made my life, my family, my friends, everything, possible. The only reason Christmas is important.

I know this is a baking blog, and spiritual sharing is a bit out of the ordinary.  But I had a special time making these, and I wanted to write it down. 

'Cause you don't really need me to say much about the scones themselves.  I mean, look at them.  Look at the title.  Look at the recipe.  Brown sugar, bacon, maple glaze, etc.  No more words are needed.
 Maple Bacon Brown Sugar Scones (print recipe)
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cups (12 T) cold butter
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
5 strips cooked bacon, crumbled (plain or Cinnamon Sugared Bacon, recipe below)
Coarse sugar for sprinkling

1.  Preheat oven to 425.  Grate the cold butter and replace into fridge and freezer while assembling the other ingredients.

2.  In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients.  Cut in butter with two knives or a pastry cutter until it forms coarse crumbs.  Stir in buttermilk and vanilla.  Fold in bacon crumbles.  Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently.

3.  Divide in half and pat into 7-inch rounds.  Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with coarse sugar.  Cut into 6 or 8 wedges.

4.  Bake at 425 for 12-14 minutes.  Top with maple glaze.  Makes 12 to 16 scones.

Maple Glaze

1 1/2 T maple syrup
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
2 to 4 T water

Combine syrup, vanilla and powdered sugar and stir until combined.  Add 1 T water and stir in.  Add more water, a teaspoon at a time, until you reach the desired consistency.  Pour over scones.

Cinnamon Sugared Bacon

5 to 8 slices bacon
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375.  Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a shallow dish.  Dredge the bacon in the sugar, both sides, and lay on a wire rack set over a foil-covered baking sheet.  Bake the bacon fro 20-25 minutes or until crispy.  AMAZING!

 Recipe from

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Steamy Sip #7: Warm Grapefruit Cider

First of all, Happy Christmas.  That said, I know no one is probably checking blogs today.  That's as it should be.

But I hope that doesn't mean this amazing Steamy Sip will be ignored.

I realize this week I'm using terms like "tea", "cappuccino", and now "cider" very loosely.  I didn't look them up to ensure proper usage.  There just aren't that many terms for warm beverages so I'm just calling them what I want.  In this case, "warm juice" neither sounds right nor does this unique spicy nectar justice.
When she saw I was doing Steamy Sips week, my friend Marna sent me this recipe.  Here is what she said:
I love this time of year for many reasons.  All the yummy citrus is one of the great things.  I love grapefruit, but not all of my family does, and I am not one who can eat grapefruit for breakfast day after day.  I bought a big bag of Texas grapefruits, because the price was good.  I have been wondering how to use them all before they spoil.  This warm "tea" was just the answer I was looking for.
 Warm Grapefruit Cider (print recipe)
2 cups fresh ruby red grapefruit juice (about 4 medium)
2 to 4 T honey (raw, if you have it)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp allspice berries

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients with 1/2 cup water.  Bring to a boil over high heat; strain and discard solids.  Serve with a grapefruit segment or a strip of zest. 

Recipe from the Martha Stewart Show, Jan 2008 via my friend Marna

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Steamy Sip #6: Pumpkin Spice White Hot Chocolate

Now, remember, I'm picky about pumpkin.  Too much, and I won't consume it.  So I was curious to try this, and I am here to tell you, it's just enough, not too much.  Delicious, really.  Hot, spicy, sweet, very cold-weather-y.  Which is ironic and annoying, it being in the 60's just two days before Christmas.  But that won't stop me from having some Steamy Sips!
I had a friend and her kids over for dinner.  Six hungry kids sat moaning and restless at the table while I quickly took these shots before the whipped cream melted.  Just explaining why I didn't get out the photo light and all that.  Of course, if I had a good camera, it wouldn't be such an issue.  Just saying.  A last-ditch hint to Santa.  But anyway.

Pumpkin Spice White Hot Chocolate (print recipe)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
Pinch of ground cloves
2 ounces white chocolate, roughly chopped, plus more for garnish if desired
1/2 tsp vanilla
Pinch of sea salt

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine milk, pumpkin and spices.  Cook, stirring constantly, until just simmering.  Remove from heat and add chocolate, vanilla and salt.  Pour into two mugs.  Just before serving, top each mug with a generous amount of whipped cream, a few shavings of white chocolate, and a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon.  Serve immediately.  Makes 2 servings.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Steamy Sip #5: Nutella Hot Chocolate

 This one is as easy as, if not easier than, any cocoa-from-a-mix you are used to making.  Melt Nutella into hot milk.  Done.  Very chocolately and Nutella-y. So awesome.  And, luckily, brief.  Because I don't know about you, but we are in full Christmas-prep gear around here and I don't have time for frivolity.  Just good hot chocolate.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if I stop capitalizing or punctuating in the next few posts, just to save a little time (and see if you are paying attention.)

Nutella Hot Chocolate (print recipe)
2 cups milk
3 T Nutella

Pour milk and Nutella in a small saucepan.  Stir over medium heat until Nutella and milk are completely blended and begin to boil.  Pour into two mugs and garnish with marshmallows or whipped cream.  Drink while warm.  Makes 2 servings.

Cinnamon Nutella Hot Chocolate: add 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick to milk and Nutella while heating.

As a note, this is also really good with Trader Joe's cocoa-almond spread which is nearly the same as Nutella, just almond instead of hazelnut.  Totally good.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Steamy Sip #4: Cranberry Tea

Just look at that color.  That, my friends, is the kind of Steamy Sip you get from fresh cranberries.  Dry, tart, and spicy, this is.  It was so clean and energizing when we drank it warm.  And when I drank it the next morning for breakfast, cold and spicy, it was beyond description.  Probably the only Steamy Sip I will promote as even better cold.  I just might freeze up some cranberries to make this next summer. 

Cranberry Tea (print recipe)
2 cups fresh cranberries
8 cups water
2 T raw honey
1 lemon, juiced
10 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick

In a pot, combine water and cranberries and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Add honey, lemon juice, cloves and cinnamon stick.  Turn off heat, cover and steep for 1 hour.  Strain out cranberries, cloves and cinnamon stick.  Drink right away or store in a pitcher in the fridge for a few days.  When serving, add more honey, to taste.  Serve hot or cold.  Makes 8 cups.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Steamy Sip #3: Almond Capuccino

Hello, this Steamy Sip is sooo amazing.  If you're a regular milk drinker like me, maybe you've never had thought or reason to try almond milk.  This is a good one.

Shall I give you my version or Brian's first?  Brian is super-gourmet-foodie husband of my friend Juli (the one I went to New York with), and he's the one that first made this for me.  It was UH-mazing, so I asked him for the recipe.  But I should have known.  I should have known it would involve no less than two gadgets  and at least two ingredients I didn't have.  Even so.  I made myself a simpler, "grocery store," version, and it was still warm, flavorful, comforting and delicious.  Worthy of Steamy Sips Week.  So I'll give you that one first. 

Almond Capuccino (print recipe)
2 cups original or vanilla almond milk
2/3 cup cream
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Whipped cream & cinnamon sugar, for garnish

Warm the almond milk, cream and cinnamon in a saucepan until very warm and steamy.  If you have an immersion blender, use it to combine well.  Pour into mugs and top with whipped cream and cinnamon sugar.  Allow the cream to melt a bit and stir it into the drink.  Serve hot.  Makes 2 servings.

You could even make your own whipped cream, with a little almond extract or almond syrup to enhance the flavor.

That said, Brian says the entire secret to this recipe is in the whipped cream.  Which he makes himself in a fancy whipper thing like this.  So if you happen to have one, here's what you do.  Eight ounces heavy cream, 2 ounces amaretto, 1 ounce Torani toasted marshmallow syrup.  I know.  He says the syrup and amaretto change the cream to make it denser and more foamy, and he serves this in small cups half full of the milk, with the whipped cream filling the cup the rest of the way.  Like I said, so amazing.  (Brian took the top photo.)

So.  If you really like my blog, or are my friend in any way, you will get me one of these whippers for Christmas.  Or my birthday is February 2.  I can wait.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Steamy Sip #2: Hot Caramel Apple Cider

There are so many things I already love about Steamy Sips Week.  Naturally, one is that it's a bunch of warm delicious beverages I don't normally go out of  my way to make for myself.  But I should because they're amazing and I deserve it.  

But right now, as I squeeze in writing time this busy week before Christmas with all the kids home from school, I love that the recipes are super short and simple, both to make and to write.  Small effort, big payoff.  

This one, for example - two ingredients.  Three or four if you count the whipped cream and cinnamon garnish.  But probably all things you have around, or could easily pick up on your next trip.  

And.  Not that this helps you, but a friend just brought me a jar of homemade cinnamon-toffee sauce for a Christmas gift.  I expect Ed and I will be having some hot cinnamon-toffee apple cider soon, maybe even tonight.  Mmm, steamy.

 Hot Caramel Apple Cider (print recipe)
2 cups apple cider
3 to 4 T caramel ice cream topping
Whipped cream
Cinnamon sticks, for garnish

In a small saucepan, stir together apple cider and caramel ice cream topping.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often.  Remove from heat and pour into heat-proof mugs.  Top with whipped cream, a sprinkling of cinnamon and a cinnamon stick for garnish.  Makes 2 servings

Monday, December 19, 2011

Steamy Sip #1: Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix

About five years ago, I tried to make hot cocoa mix as my give-away to friends and neighbors.  Unfortunately I made it up as I went along, and the result was rather unpalatable.  Which I discovered after I'd given it away.  So sorry to all those people I gave it to, if you're reading.  
Two lessons came out of that experience you only have to learn once:  1) start with some kind of recipe, and 2) taste before you give.  

This time I found a great recipe, and I give it to you here, unaltered.  We made it, we had some test cups, and it is creamy, flavorful and fabulous.  It helps that there is creamer, not just powdered milk, in the mix, and you make it with real milk, not just water.  The French vanilla mentioned here is awesome, but you could of course make this with any flavor creamer that suits you - I made a second batch with hazelnut, hello!  

 Hot Cocoa Mix (print recipe)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup French vanilla coffee creamer (or any flavor you like)
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk

Whisk or sift together the ingredients and package in jars or bags; decorate however you like.  Makes 5 cups of mix (about 26 servings)

Instructions for making the cocoa:
Stir together 3 T cocoa mix and 1 T water in a mug.  Stir in 1 cup skim milk.  Microwave on HIGH for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until hot. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's Steamy Sips Week!

I guess it's kind of a tradition in December, to do some kind of "WEEK" - in 2008 it was surprise fillings - wow, so fun.  Last year we did Minty Week and was that ever refreshing!  This year I've been enjoying an eclectic variety of mugged drinks and thought I'd share.  Don't get me wrong - classic hot cocoa is always right.  But for people like me, who don't drink coffee, tea or alcohol, there are still more choices than you might think.  It just takes a little thinking outside the box.  And usually a generous topping of whipped cream. 

But as an intro, I have to give props to my favorite hot chocolate mix of all time: Lake Champlain's Aztec Spicy Hot Chocolate.  The ingredients read: sugar, Dutched cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla and cayenne pepper.  All my favorite things!  It's not that spicy, just wonderfully flavored.  Sometimes I can find it at Whole Foods but usually I just order two cans from Lake Champlain each winter and they get me through the whole year.

So if that's my "everyday" cocoa, then Jacques Torres' Classic Hot Chocolate is my special occasion sip.  It's more expensive, it's much more intense and rich, and it DIE for.  JT does a Wicked hot choc, too, similar to Aztec, but I find it a little too spicy and it overwhelms the chocolate so I prefer his classic.  The mix has big chocolate chunks in it and the mixing ratio is 1/4 cup mix to 1/2 cup like I said, it's intense but sooo delicious and perfect.  JT has outrageous shipping but luckily I grabbed a can on my trip to NY in November, phew!

I also love peppermint hot chocolate from Starbucks, and I saw McDonald's serves some now too - I haven't tried it but I am dubious. 

Have you ever gotten a "steamer" at Starbucks?  It's just hot frothy milk with a flavor in it, no chocolate.  I love Irish cream - amazing! - and I recently tried gingerbread which was pretty good, too.  So comforting and warming.  But if that ain't your thing, this is the best time of year for other flavor drinks - case in point, this refrigerator case at Target.  There are eggnog, gingerbread, sugar cookie and peppermint creamers.  Plus red velvet and chocolate mint flavored milks, and lots of eggnog. 

OK so I don't have them all decided yet, but a few sips you have to look forward to this week include: hot caramel apple cider, Nutella hot chocolate, cranberry tea, the best homemade hot cocoa mix I've ever had...and more!

One final note - I only have one kind of clear mug, and like I said many of the drinks have whipped cream on top, so many of them actually look quite similar.  Just bear with me and read the recipes; I hope they speak for themselves!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Paula's Dipped Christmas Cookies

 Well, it just ain't real Christmas without a Paula Deen recipe, y'all. A couple weeks ago the girls and I were watching Paula's Best Dishes on a Sunday morning, and she was cookin' a holiday meal with her brother, Bubba, and her nephew, I-forget-his-name.  Some kind of crown roast and rich side dish.

And these cookies.  They are full of everything delicious and crunchy and sweet, then dipped in white chocolate and candy canes to make them extra crazy Christmas-y.  Plus the recipe makes a ton, love that about Paula.  So the next week we whipped up a huge batch of these for the church Christmas party.  Yee-haw, it's almost Christmas!
Paula's Dipped Christmas Cookies (print recipe)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup puffed rice cereal
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup rolled old-fashioned oats
1 (8-ounce) package toffee bits
White chocolate, for dipping (about 24 ounces)
Hard peppermint candies, crushed, for garnish (most of a 1-pound bag)

1.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour baking soda, cream of tartar and salt.

2.  Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars.  Scrape the sides of the mixer bowl and beat in the oil, egg and vanilla until smooth.  Beat in the flour mixture in 3 small additions, scraping the sides of the bowl after each one.  Slowly beat in the rice cereal, coconut and oats.  Fold in the toffee bits and refrigerate the dough, covered, for 1 hour.

3.  Preheat oven to 350.

4.  Drop rounded tablespoon of dough on 2 cookie sheets, leaving at least 1 inch of space around each drop.  Bake until the cookies are golden around the edges, 12 to 14 minutes.  Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool.

5.  Using a double boiler, melt the white chocolate gently.  Dip the front of half of each cookie in the chocolate and roll or sprinkle with crushed peppermint to decorate.  Allow to cool and set on waxed paper.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Recipe from Paula Deen's Best Dishes

Friday, December 16, 2011

Grand Prize Coconut-Caramel Bars

 Here is the WINNER of Dessert Club - Cookies and Bars.  It's a funny thing because when she brought them, she labeled them "Chewy Coconut-Caramel Bars" or some such, but when she won, she admitted the actual title from KAF was "Grand Prize" bars.  She hadn't wanted to seem presumptuous.  Which I guess goes to show, modesty has its rewards?  Or maybe it just shows coconut, caramel and chocolate are really good together.  

Come to think of it, a very similar combination won our Cookies night last year.  There must be a lesson in that, one I'll have to remember for next year; caramel and coconut are what people want. 
Grand Prize Coconut-Caramel Bars (print recipe)

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) butter
1 1/2 cups (11 1/4 ounces) brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups (5 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups (6 ounces) shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened, toasted (1/2 cup reserved for topping)
1 cup (10 ounces) caramel cut from a block (or about 36 individual caramel candies), divided*
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) milk or cream

*Or use 10 ounces of caramel sundae sauce, if you don't want to melt caramel.

1.  To toast coconut, spread it in a 9" x 13" pan, and bake it in a preheated 300°F oven for 18 to 22 minutes, stirring it halfway through, or until it’s a light golden brown. Watch it very closely towards the end, as it’ll go from golden to dark brown very quickly. Increase the oven heat to 350°F. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla, and egg. Mix in the flour, salt, baking powder, and 1 1/2 cups of the toasted coconut.

2.  Spread the mixture in an ungreased 9" x 13" pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Just before the 15 minutes is up, melt half the caramel (1/2 cup); a VERY brief burst in the microwave makes this easy (probably 15 seconds or so). Drizzle the melted caramel (or caramel sauce) over the crust and return it to the oven for 10 to 12 minutes; when done it'll be medium-brown and the caramel will be bubbly.

3.  Remove the crust from the oven and, working quickly, use a heatproof plastic knife (plastic reduces the drag in sticky baked goods), or a bench knife, to loosen the edges of the crust from the pan, and to cut 2 dozen bars, leaving them right in the pan. It’s easier to cut these bars while they’re warm. Sprinkle the bars with the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to soften for about 5 minutes, then spread it evenly atop the bars. Set aside to cool completely.

4.  Loosen the bars from the edge of the pan again, and use a flexible spatula to lift them out and set them on a rack. Combine the remaining caramel with 1 tablespoon milk or cream, and heat until the caramel is pourable. Stir to combine with the cream, and drizzle over the bars. (Or drizzle bars with caramel sauce, if desired.) Garnish with the reserved toasted coconut.  Yield: 24 bars.

Recipe from King Arthur Flour
Cookies made by Dessert Club member J.B.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Snowy Lemon Balls

 I think every holiday goody plate should have something citrusy; it just adds balance.  Plus it is so delicious, and offers a flavorful relief from some of the heavier treats of the season.

I also love that sandy-melt-in-your-mouth texture of shortbread.  But let's be honest; a lot of those sandy texture cookies, not so big on flavor.  Which is why I offer you these.  With almonds and crushed lemon drops, these are big on flavor, to match their wonderful texture and gorgeous wintery facade. 

This is the time of month when you just might be looking for that one more thing to add to your goody plates.  This is just what you need.
Snowy Lemon Balls (print recipe)
2 cups finely crushed shortbread cookies (7 ounces)
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and finely chopped
1/2 cup finely crushed lemon drop candies
2 T light-colored corn syrup
2 T milk
2 T butter, melted
1/3 cup powdered sugar
Finely crushed lemon drop candies, for garnish

1.  In a large bowl stir together  the crushed cookies, the 1 cup powdered sugar, the almonds and the 1/2 cup crushed candies.  In a small bowl stir together the corn syrup, milk and melted butter.  Stir the corn syrup mixture into the cookie mixture until well combined.

2.  Shape cookie mixture into 1-inch balls.  Place the 1/3 cup powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Roll balls in the powdered sugar.  Place balls on a large cookie sheet.

3.  Cover and chill balls on baking sheet for at least 2 hours.  Roll balls again in powdered sugar just before serving.  If desired, garnish with finely crushed lemon candies.  Makes about 36 cookies

Recipe from Better Homes & Gardens Christmas Cookies magazine, 2011

Cookies made by my friend Shanna

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Peppermint Brownie Pie

 That's right.  It's brownie-in-a-pie.  When I came across this recipe, it called to me.  I was like, "I KNOW I'm making that this month."  It was the other pie I made for Lefse Day.  And I loooved it.

What is not to like?  Delicious dark chocolate homemade brownie.  In a great pie crust.  And there are a couple ways to make it pepperminty.  If you can find mint chocolate chips, it's a great way to go.  I've seen them around, especially this time of year.  Also I saw at Target Andes makes Andes mints baking squares, basically chopped up Andes mints.  Another great option.  If you can't find anything like that, it will taste the same if you use regular chocolate chips and peppermint extract.  And definitely don't forget to garnish with whipped cream and crushed candy canes - just the perfect minty crunch to top these off.  And if you really want over-the-top - I mean, it is indulgence season - use this pie as a base for an awesome sundae.  Peppermint ice cream, hot fudge, chopped Candy Cane Joe-Joe's, etc.  You get the idea. 
 Peppermint Brownie Pie (print recipe)
1/2 cup butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
Pastry for a Single-Crust Pie
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup mint-flavor semisweet chocolate pieces - OR - 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips and 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
Whipped cream, for serving
Crushed candy canes, for serving

1.  In a small saucepan, combine butter and chocolate.  Cook and stir over low heat until melted; cool slightly.

2.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350.  Prepare pastry for a single-crust pie in a 9-inch pie dish.

3.  For filling, in a large bowl, combine eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla.  Stir in melted chocolate and the chocolate pieces (and pepper mint extract if substituting.)  Pour filling into the pastry-lined pie plate.

4.  Bake in the preheated oven about 55 minutes or until filling is evenly puffed and edge of filling is slightly cracked.  Cool on a wire rack about 20 minutes or until slightly warm (center will sink slightly as pie cools.)  Top each serving with whipped cream and, if desired, garnish with a mini candy cane or crushed candy canes.  Makes 8 servings.
Recipe from Better Homes & Gardens Holiday Baking magazine, December 2010

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cherry Tart Cookies

 I say this every year, but I LOVE getting the December issue of Cook's Country because it always has the winners of their Christmas cookie contest.  Which means new, and usually quite unique, fare for my holiday baking.  This year was no exception.  The $1,000 Grand Prize went to the maker of these adorable, delicious, nice-and-big filled cookies.  The crust is a soft almond sugar cookie, the filling is cherry preserves - get the best you can find - and on top of it all is a crispy thin vanilla glaze that reminds me of Hostess pies.  But of course these are a million times better.  They were easy peasy to make, and a huge hit with Dessert Club, and, I later heard, the take-home-leftovers husband crowd as well.  Yum yum.  Yum.

Cherry Tart Cookies (print recipe)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
12 T unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup milk, divided
1 large egg plus 1 large egg white
1 tsp almond extract
3/4 cup cherry preserves
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1.  Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Combine flour, baking soda and salt in bowl.

2.  Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter and granulated sugar on med-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add 2 T milk, whole egg, and almond extract and beat until incorporated.  Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture in 3 additions and mix until just combined, scraping down bowl as needed.

3.  Lightly beat egg white in bowl.  Working on lightly floured counter, divide dough in half and form each into 4-inch disk.  Roll each disk into 1/4-inch-thick circle.  Using 2 1/2-inch cookie cutter, cut out rounds, gathering and rerolling dough as necessary.  Transfer half of rounds to prepared sheets, 1 inch apart.  Place heaping teaspoon of preserves in center of each round.  Top with remaining rounds and crimp with fork.  Brush filled rounds with beaten egg white and cut 1/2-inch X into center of each.

4.  Bake until edges are lightly browned, 12 to 14 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking.  Let cookies cool on sheets for 5 minutes and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely, about 1hour.  Whisk confectioners' sugar, remaining 2 T milk, and vanilla in bowl until smooth.  Brush cookies with glaze and let sit for 30 minutes.  Serve.  Makes about 18 large cookies.

Recipe from Sara Cowley of Winamac, IN - 2011 Cook's Country Christmas cookies contest Grand Prize Winner

Monday, December 12, 2011

Goat Cheese Brownies with Honey

 Wow, these are amazing.  A real contender at Dessert Club, but really a stand-alone winner in my book.  For those of you who are only used to chevre on a salad or a cracker, don't write this off until you try it.  Goat cheese goes surprisingly well with chocolate, and that honey cream cheese frosting only helps matters. 

In addition to all the amazing flavors, one of my favorite things about this treat is the texture and subtle flavor added by sliced almonds.  All-around a unique and fabulous addition to the repertoire!
 Goat Cheese Brownies with Honey (print recipe)
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 T butter
6 ounces goat cheese (chevre), softened
2 T butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 T honey
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped almonds, toasted
Honey and Cream Cheese Frosting (see below)

1.  Preheat oven to 325.  Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan.  Grease foil; set pan aside.  In a medium heavy saucepan heat and stir chocolate and the 3 T butter over low heat until chocolate melts.  Remove from heat.  Cool; set aside. 

2.  For filling, in a medium bowl combine goat cheese and the 2 T butter.  Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds.  Add the 1/4 cup sugar; beat until fluffy.  Add the 1/4 cup flour, honey, and one of the eggs; beat well.  Set aside.  Wash and dry beaters thoroughly.

3.  For batter, in a large bowl beat the two remaining eggs with an electric mixer on medium speed until foamy.  Add the 1 1/4 cups sugar, the water, and vanilla; beat well.  Beat in the cooled chocolate mixture.  Stir in the 1 cup flour, baking powder, and salt until well combined.  Stir in nuts.  Spread half of the batter in the prepared pan.

4.  Spread goat cheese filling evenly over chocolate batter in pan.  Spoon the remaining chocolate batter in small mounds over the goat cheese filling.  Drag a thin metal spatula or table knife through chocolate batter mounds to marble the mixture.

5.  Bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes or until center is set.  Cool in pan on a wire rack.

6.  If desired (it is!), frost brownies with Honey and Cream Cheese Frosting.  Using the edges of the foil, lift uncut brownies out of pan.  Cut into bars.  Makes 32 brownies.

Honey and Cream Cheese Frosting
In a large bowl combine 4 ounces softened cream cheese and 1/4 cup softened butter.  Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth.  Gradually add 2 cups powdered sugar and 2 T honey; beat until combined.  Add another 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 T milk, beating until smooth.

Recipe from Better Homes & Gardens Christmas Cookies magazine, 2011

Brownies made by my friend Shanna

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Toffee-Pumpkin Pie Bars

 I have found another great pumpkin recipe, LAAAA!  Ginger cookie crust, pumpkin filling, hello toffee-and-pecan topping, and a drizzle of caramel sauce.  I quote Billy Ocean: "She's simply...awesome." 
(That's right, this one's a short post!)
Toffee-Pumpkin Pie Bars (print recipe)
Ginger Crumb Crust:

2 cups crushed gingersnaps (about 35 cookies)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, melted

1 15-ounce can pumpkin
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups half-and-half or light cream

1/2 cup toffee pieces
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
Caramel-flavor ice cream topping

1.  Make the crust: in a medium bowl, combine crushed gingersnaps, sugar and flour.  Add melted butter; stir until combined.

2.  Preheat oven to 375F.  Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil, extending the foil over the edges of the pan.  Lightly grease foil.  Press the Ginger Crumb Crust evenly and firmly onto the bottom of prepared pan; set aside.

3.  For filling, in a large bowl, combine pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, salt and cloves.  Add eggs; beat lightly with a fork until combined.  Gradually add half-and-half; stir just until combined.  Pour filling over crust.

4.  Using the edges of the foil, life the baked mixture out of the pan.  Cut into bars.  Cover and chill within 2 hours.  If desired, drizzle with caramel topping just before serving.  Makes 32 bars.

Recipe from Better Homes & Gardens Christmas Cookies magazine, December 2010

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Cashew Caramel Cookies

 My Dad loves cashews.  Whereas my Mom had chocolate stashes all over the house, my Dad usually had an enormous can of cashews somewhere in the couch/TV vicinity.  Unfortunately, I inherited both their loves.  A happy Christmas was when I got my OWN can of cashews in my stocking.  Then I'd stop sneaking Dad's for a week or two. 

As I got older, my nut interests moved on, to peanuts, then pistachios, and most recently smoked almonds.  But biting into these sweet & nutty cookies from Dessert Club member C.D. hurtled me back to Christmases of my childhood, when a little candy and my own cashews were all it took to feel the joy of the season.
Didn't hurt that she also served them with a huge bowl of extra caramel sauce, for dipping.  You should have seen me, I had caramel all over the place.  Luckily, we don't take pictures of faces at Dessert Club.  What happens at Dessert Club usually stays at Dessert Club.

Cashew Caramel Cookies (print recipe)
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups roasted salted cashews
2 T plus 1 tsp canola oil
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
24 cubes soft caramel candy (7 ounces)
1/4 cup heavy cream

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour and salt together. Coarsely chop 1 cup cashews; set aside. Process remaining 1 1/2 cups cashews in a food processor until finely chopped. Pour in oil. Process until mixture is creamy, about 2 minutes.
  2. Put cashew mixture, butter, and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low; gradually add flour mixture. Mix in reserved chopped cashews.
  3. Shape dough into 1 1/2-inch balls; space 2 inches apart on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake 6 minutes; gently flatten with a spatula. Bake until bottoms are just golden, 6 to 7 minutes more. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks.
  4. Melt caramels with cream in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring. Let cool. Using a spoon, drizzle caramel over cookies; let set. Store airtight in single layers.  Serve with extra caramel sauce, if there is any.
Recipe from Martha Stewart

Friday, December 9, 2011

Cranberry-Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake

 Our family has a tradition that every day-after-Thanksgiving we gather at my aunt & uncle's house for "Lefse Day."  They make lefse (a Norwegian flatbread) from leftover mashed potatoes and we all bring our leftover pies, and we eat turkey, stuffing and whatever else wraps in lefse and then eat a bunch of desserts.  It's a hard life. 

I took the opportunity to try two new dessert recipes, both of which were awesome, and both of which we obviously needed because we only had this many pies:
 Like I said, it's a hard life.  This year it was also like the christening of my aunt & uncle's amazing new kitchen renovation/addition that they need and deserve, as their ELEVEN kids are mostly adults and many now bringing two and three children in tow when they visit.  It's so fun to see all the next generation playing together.  While I sit and eat lots of pie.  And trade funny insults with my brother.  Who I am SO glad is back from England.  We also cooked up - and executed - a pretty good practical joke.  Which I cannot confess to on this public forum.  I digress.

One that I made is this chocolate-crusted, chocolate-cranberry-swirled round of creamy nirvana.  Definitely one of my favorite cheesecakes I've made.  I'm really into cranberries this season, too.  Oh, and did you see the cranberry cream pie in the pic above?  One of my cousins made it.  I was super flattered. 
 Cranberry-Chocolate Cheesecake (print recipe)
2 cups fresh cranberries, picked over
1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
2/3 cup cranberry or orange juice
1 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate wafer cookies
3 T all-purpose flour, divided
1/3 cup butter, melted
3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled

1.  Prepare cranberry sauce: In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, 3/4 cup sugar, and cranberry or orange juice.  Cook and stir over medium-high heat until mixture comes to boiling; reduce heat.  Boil gently, uncovered, for 3 to 4 minutes or until cranberries pop, stirring occasionally.  Cool to room temperature.  (Makes 1 3/4 cups.)

2.  Preheat oven to 375.  For crust, in a medium bowl, combine crushed chocolate cookies and 1 T flour; stir in melted butter.  Press mixture evenly onto the bottom and 1 1/2 to 2 inches up the side of a 9-inch springform pan; set aside.

3.  For filling, in a large bowl, combine cream cheese, 1 cup sugar, vanilla and the remaining 2 T flour.  Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined.  Add eggs and milk; beat just until combined.  Divide filling in half.

4.  Stir 3/4 cup of the cranberry sauce into melted chocolate; stir chocolate mixture into half of the filling.  Pour chocolate filling into crust-lined pan, spreading evenly.  Spoon plain filling over chocolate filling; swirl gently to marble.

5.  Place springform pan in a shallow baking dish.  Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until a 2 1/2-inch area around the outside edge appears set when gently shaken.

6.  Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Using a small knife, loosen crust from side of pan; cool for 30 minutes.  Remove side of pan; cool cheesecake completely on rack.  Cover and chill for at least 4 hours before serving.  Serve with remaining cranberry sauce.  Makes 12 servings.

Recipe from Better Homes & Gardens Holiday Baking magazine, December 2010

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...