Christmas?

My kitchen is beginning to smell a lot like Christmas but it was only a preliminary baking session for an event at my husband’s office. When I’m only doing small batches, I often try some new recipes. This morning, I tried a new one that might be a keeper for the future. They are called Gooey Butter Cookies but are not all that gooey but smelled really good. Very easy and adaptable recipe. The version I tried today:

Gooey Butter Cookies

1/2 cup softened butter
8 ounces of cream cheese
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon
1 box of yellow cake mix
1/2 cup powdered sugar (for rolling the cookies in before baking)

Cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add in the egg, vanilla, zest and spices. Mix in the cake mix and refrigerate the dough until cold. It will still be sticky but somewhat easier to work with!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. It’s a good idea to use parchment paper on your baking sheets.

If you have a cookie scoop, it would be handy but basically roll balls of dough into 1-1 1/2-inch. Roll in the powdered sugar. Place two inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 12-15 minutes but keep an eye on the cookies after around ten to determine how hot your often might run. Cookies should still be somewhat pale with golden edges. Let rest on the baking sheets a few minutes before putting them on the cooling racks.

After I finished these cookies, I realized it could end up being a real timesaver when I’m suddenly informed that someone in the family needs cookies for work! Also, what’s to stop the cookie creation at a yellow cake mix? I’m thinking chocolate, carrot, lemon . . . Adding some chopped nuts or chocolate chips might be an interesting addition . . . By the way, the gooey ones are the light ones in the middle of the picture with the patches of powdered sugar.

Friday = Macaroni & Cheese!

Given that we still observe the meatless Fridays, this recipe is a go-to one especially when the day is going faster than I can catch up with it and dinner time appears out of no where! I never cared for Macaroni and Cheese when I was growing up until I discovered the major difference in using ‘real’ cheddar cheese and not the processed stuff! If you want to sneak in some vegetables, steam and puree a cup or so of cauliflower and mix it in the cheese sauce! A small can of diced chilis (mild or hot) makes an interesting change of pace. In fact, you can substitute the bread/panko topping with crushed tortilla or corn chips.

Macaroni & Cheese

2 cups grated, sharp cheddar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon dried mustard
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1 pound macaroni, just cooked. It should be a tiny bit underdone as it will finish in the oven.
1 cup milk. You might need a bit more
1/4 cup butter
Panko or bread crumbs

Toss the cheese with the dry ingredients.

Gently heat the milk and butter until very warm. Add the cheese mixture and keep stirring until it is melted and well combined. If the sauce seems too thick, add spoonfuls of milk until it reaches the consistency you want.

Pour the sauce into the prepared macaroni and mix well. Top with either the Panko crumbs or bread crumbs. Instead of drizzling melted butter or margarine on the topping, I just spray it with vegetable spray. It cuts the calories and helps it brown.

Put into a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes or until bubbly and hot through.

For variety, I like to mix in a can of drained, diced tomatoes into the dish.

Gluten-Free/Lactose-Free Crackers

Besides being gluten-intolerant, my husband is sensitive to lactose, too. He can have cheese and butter but needs to take pills to totally enjoy them. He also likes to have some snacks on hand when he braves the Los Angeles traffic coming home as his hunger pangs tell him that traffic is putting his evening meal way off schedule AGAIN!

Most cracker recipes have butter or wheat in them. It took me awhile to come up with something that would stay the onset of starvation on the long drive home but wouldn’t incite digestive problems. I finally came up with the following recipe which has protein, fiber, vitamins, no baking powder, and the right kinds of fat.

Homemade Crackers

3 1/2 cups of gluten-free flour blend (I like Pamela’s Gluten-Free Artisan Blend)
5 tablespoons nutritional yeast (My favorite is Bragg – in imparts a mild cheesy flavor)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Hemp Hearts*
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
2 eggs
3 tablespoons coconut oil or ghee*
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (or 2 water/2 lemon juice)

Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Combine the coconut oil (or ghee) with the juice and the eggs and mix well.

Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients and gently mix until a workable dough forms. The weather seems to play a huge part so, if necessary, add bits of water or juice along with teaspoons of ghee or coconut oil until the right consistency is reached.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To save time and mess, divide the dough into fourths. Roll out one fourth between two sheets of parchment paper until about an 1/8th inch thick. Using a small round cookie cutter, cut out the crackers and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet about a quarter of an inch apart. Bake for approximately 10-15 minutes or until golden. Remove to a cooling rack, wait a few minutes, and try one!

Store in a tightly lidded container. I usually divide the cooled crackers into three or four containers: One for easy snacking and the other ones in the freezer to keep fresh.

*Ghee is merely the solids removed from butter. I make mine my putting two sticks of butter in a large, glass measuring cup and gently melting them in the microwave. Once the butter is completely melted, let set until it separates and then carefully pour off the clear part into a small container being careful to avoid getting any of the cloudy residue into it.

*Hemp Hearts are at Costco and they have the best price I have found. They have a mild, nutty flavor.

Cheatin’ Cookies!

I don’t think there is a mother who has never been informed ten minutes before bedtime that their child just remembered they were supposed to bring cookies to school the next day. My favorite and a popular solution that’s been around for awhile follows! The nice thing about this recipe is that you can use any flavor cake mix you like or have in the house. You can add chocolate chips, nuts, coconut to the mixture and come up with some ‘homemade’ (hey! you DID make them at HOME!) cookies in a minimum of time and effort. Remember an extra drop of vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spices for a spice cake mix and such would work well.

Cheatin’ Cookies!

1 package (18.25 ounces) favorite cake mix
½ cup butter (1 stick) melted
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cookies sheets should be greased or sprayed with vegetable spray.

In a medium bowl, stir in all ingredients until well combined. Drop by tablespoons onto prepared cookie sheets, about 3 inches apart to allow for spreading. Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes until edges are brown. Let cool on cookie sheet a few minutes before transferring to racks to finish cooling.

Easy Cheesecake!

Although we always called this a holiday cheesecake, I think it appeared many times at dessert time on ordinary days of the week. Naturally, any time cheesecake showed up after dinner, could be declared a holiday!

EASY HOLIDAY CHEESECAKE

Crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
⅓ cup granulated sugar
½ cup melted butter or margarine

Combine above ingredients and press into a spring-form pan. The crust should come more than halfway to the top of the pan. Refrigerate until ready to use. Pan requirement: seven to nine-inch spring form pan.*

Cheesecake Recipe
3 8-oz. packages of cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups granulated sugar

Place softened cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. using an electric mixer, beat at medium speed until cream cheese is thoroughly creamed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is well combined. Add vanilla. While running the mixer gradually add sugar, beating well. Mixture should be thick and smooth. Carefully spoon mixture into crust. smoothing evenly.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 50 minutes. Top will brown and crack. Cool and refrigerate eight hours or overnight before serving.

You can strike a festive note by spooning a puree of strawberries over each serving and garnishing with a mint sprig. Crushed pineapple also compliments cheesecake. Prepare about an hour ahead, a cup and a half of crushed pineapple combined with the zest of a lemon. Spoon over individual slices just before serving.

*A spring form pan is pictured above. Walmart usually sells them, three to a set for a budget-friendly price considering how often you will be baking cheesecake now!

Dessert Any Way You Like It . . .

I think one of my favorite desserts is a fresh pound cake with a bit of citrus scent wafting through the kitchen as it cools. Reading through the recipe, you can see this is an easy recipe with no mysterious ingredients you have to search for in the dark corners of the grocery store! The real magic comes when your cake is cooling and you decide how you want to serve it. Now, a simple slice of slightly warm cake is always a most welcome thing. However, there ARE other options!

Strawberries in season? Clean and slice up a generous amount, sugar to taste, and let set so the juices of the strawberries have dissolved the sugar into a sweet sauce. Put a spoonful of the berries on each slice of cake, follow up with whipped cream, and serve.

Feel like chocolate? Vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce over each slice will magically make the cake disappear.

Just some fresh, diced pineapple would work well. If it is a grownup dinner, soak the prepared pineapple in a tablespoon of rum or brandy an hour before serving.

Fresh and Lively Pound Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup softened butter (margarine will be okay but butter is terrific!)
1 generous cup of granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon orange zest

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using a vegetable spray, prepare a regular-sized loaf pan. Combine the dry ingredients and set aside. With an electric mixer, beat the butter until very light and fluffy. Slowly add the sugar until well incorporated. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions. Add the nutmeg, extracts and zest. Gently fold in the dry ingredients. Smooth into the loaf pan. Bake for approximately an hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The top should be well-browned and cracked. Cool thoroughly in pan before removing and slicing.

Quick Thinking in the Kitchen – Super Easy Bundt Cake

Yes, there are some times that you actually need to have a cake ready within hours for unexpected company, a birthday cake, a gift for a friend, etc. Unfortunately, we find the rest of the day crowding in on us and have no idea what to do except head over to the store bakery for something that will taste and look store bought!

This has been a favorite recipe in my family for years. My mother came across it over 40 years ago and it has saved the day many events since. I like the fact that it is open to interpretation in that you can use whatever flavor cake or pudding mix you like for the perfect end result. Don’t care for the sherry, use water or juice.

Don’t have a bundt pan? Make cupcakes or use a loaf pan.

Easy Bundt Cake

1 yellow cake mix
1 small package instant vanilla pudding
4 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sherry
Combine all ingredients and mix just until well incorporated. Smooth into a well-greased and floured bundt or tube cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees approximately 35-40 minutes. Cool ten minutes in pan and invert onto serving plate. Dust with powdered sugar.
Variations:
Add ½ cup ground walnuts or pecans to the cake batter before baking.
Add 3/4 cup toasted coconut to the cake batter before baking.