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.

When Salad Isn’t Healthy . . .

Seems to me that with the general lack of discipline in the world, why are we surprised when some of our healthy groceries are not always grown, prepared for market, and placed in the stores for sale in the most humanly best condition? That’s when we have to get proactive on our own behalf and either raise such vegetation for ourselves or make sure we clean what we purchase far and above what we think it will need.

My rules are:

Nothing goes into my refrigerator that isn’t washed.

No bagged greens and lettuce. Yes, the packages claim they have been washed two or three times . . . but no mention about whether the water was changed all those times.

Always disinfect salad greens and vegetables.

If the fruit or melon has a skin, actually soap and water wash the outside before cutting through to the inside. Think about it! When the knife goes through a tainted skin, it could be dragging whatever germs, etc., that are sure to be on the outside across the fruit you are going to eat on the inside.

Ever think about washing a banana before handing it to your child? Why not? The peel protects the banana but what will protect you from the peel that has been around while and touched and handled in shipping and in the store.

Not a Science Experiment!

Even before the various tainted greens reports, not even bagged lettuce or cabbage ever came to the table without a thorough bathing! First, I cut or shred the greens to the size I want for my soup or salad. Then, I put them into a large bowl with half a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and fill the bowl to the brim with water. And there it will rest for 30 minutes while I go about my other kitchen chores. Then I pull out the greens with tongs and place in the colander. No sense in pouring the soaking water over the lettuce again. Just look at what it left behind after the soaking! When you pick up a head of lettuce,red-leaf lettuce, or kale at the market, they are always so damp and crisp feeling giving you a false sense of security about the food you want to put on your table. However, when you think about it, how many people have touched your salad greens before they end up in your serving bowl for dinner?

Thought I’d share my method with you. After I rinse the formerly peroxide-soaked greens, I given it a good, long clean water rinse and have been known to even add some vinegar to the rinse. Then, the greens are laid out on a length of triple-layered paper towel, rolled up and then rolled into a clean, cotton dish towel and stored in the refrigerator until needed.

Shhhh!!! Secret Recipe Alert!

Okay, perhaps, not all that secret but here is my way to up the grade on homemade apple pie or apple crisp.

When I first started baking, my mother’s ‘secret’ suggestion was to add lemon juice to the apple dessert prep. Fresh lemon juice does up the apple/cinnamon taste and people often wondered how my mother’s apple desserts were just a wee bit better.

I was an abstract artist in college and this inclination has seeped down into my baking and sewing over the years. In other words, I never leave well enough alone if I get inspired to add something more. So, this is how my latest apple dessert preparations has evolved.

1. Wash, peel, and slice the amount of green apples you will need for your planned dessert. When they are on hand, I will often throw in a couple of sweeter apples, too. They break down a bit more in baking and sort of form an applesauce texture to the more firm green variety.

2. First, I zest the lemons and limes and set it aside. Then toss the prepared apples with the juice and let them sit a minute while I gather the spices and sugar.

3. I usually use up to 3 teaspoons of ground cinnamon. Use a good quality one as the ones on the grocery shelves can be a bit bitter. My go-to for the best cinnamon is The Spice House which is on-line. To the cinnamon, I add half a teaspoon of ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and a smidge of salt.

4. Depending on your recipe, mix the spices into one to two cups of granulated sugar. Add the zest of the lemons and limes.

5. Combine the sugar/spice/zest mixture with the apples. If you really want to deepen the final result, a quarter cup of brandy works very well.

6. Add a quarter cup of cornstarch, mixing in well. This is what will hold the apples together a bit after baking.

7. This is my final secret. Put the prepared apples into a bowl or container, cover and refrigerate at least one day before using them in your recipe. My batch for this Thanksgiving got a two-day soak.

8. When you get to making your pie crust, substitute a quarter cup or so of the water called with vodka. It makes for a more tender crust.

Time is wasting so one guess what I’m about to put into the oven!

Thanksgiving Is When?

Somehow, I seem to have misplaced a few days of allotted time and it was suddenly revealed to that Thanksgiving is NEXT week! How could that be as it would mean Christmas can’t be too far behind. First Sunday in Advent is closing in which means that the holiday season is showing up long before I can get my ‘comfort and joy’ into holiday gear!

I have spent the last two days working on my schedule for preparing the Thanksgiving feast. Yes, I have a day-by-day schedule and so help the person who moves it from its place on the counter for easy referencing! Then, the second page sets out the order of the menu along with what days they need to be prepped or completed. My husband deals with the turkey but, given my organizational gene, he gets hourly reminders on that. The third page is my grocery list according to store. You can’t stock up too soon but one does not want to fight the last-minute panic at Walmart and Costco where people grab the pumpkin pies from the harried clerks the minute they appear from the bakery.

Along with the food aspect, I have the house cleaning schedule with a request that each person highlight the job they have accomplished . . . and so help them, if it doesn’t reflect a job well done as they will lose their highlighter marker and go back to step one.

With these happy reflections in mind, I actually don’t mind Monday and Tuesday of THANKSGIVING WEEK, my last two days of sanity! We don’t have a large house but it is amazing how family members can escape me without leaving said house.

Monday is bread baking day and cranberry relish day. With very little prep, these items bake/cook on their own leaving me to hunt down missing relatives who seem to be afraid of me for some reason.

All this, as you might have guessed, is a prelude to sharing my cranberry relish recipe!

Cranberry Relish

4 cups of fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of freshly-squeezed orange juice
Finely grated zest of said orange BEFORE you squeeze it
2 peeled and diced green apples
dash of cinnamon
dash of salt

Rinse the cranberries and add to a large pot with all the ingredients and bring to a boil (stirring constantly) and then reduce to a mild simmer with stirring ever so often. Keep cooking until all the berries burst, the apples soften, and the mixture thickens. If you don’t feel it is thick enough, mix a tablespoon of cornstarch into a quarter cup of water, add to the pot, stir and continue simmering until it reaches a thicker state.

Now, you have a choice! Do you want sauce with the evidence of the fruit basically intact or do you want smooth? When it cools down a bit, you can blend the mixture in a blender until it reaches the texture you like.

A timesaver hint is when you are ready to refrigerate the cranberries, you can put them in the serving dish you planned for them, cover with saran and put in the refrigerator. On the day (and don’t forget them!), you just have to pull it out, remove the saran, add a serving spoon, and place on the table. Want a more rustic approach, get some medium canning jars for the sauce and you can then provide easy access to it for your guests with several jars on the table. You can put a ribbon around the jars to show everyone how classy you are at the holidays. AND, when the party is over, combine the leftover sauce into one or two jars, put the lid on and back into the refrigerator for leftovers time.

Granny Squares!

After a summer of Christmas gift crocheting, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is now time to start using up the leftover yarn. I’m not one to throw away a few feet of yarn just because the original project is over, done, and delivered. That’s where I go back to my simpler crocheting roots and turn them into Granny Squares when eventually turn into a really nice afghan. My only expenditure for the project is one, main color. As you can see in the picture, black was my choice this time but I recently finished one using white for the borders. My first time going with something other than a dark color and discovered I could now add to my crocheting repertoire!

The reason I enjoy making these ‘scrap’ projects is that they will always be pretty much one of a kind and they don’t have to be done in a day. If I run out of the ‘scrap yarn’ portion, I can always put it aside and wait. I seem to attract a lot of yarn which, in turn, results in a lot of ‘scraps’.

My husband isn’t much help in using up the yarn I have before starting into another project requiring a yarn purchase. Last year, I fell in love with a new type of yarn that comes in amazing variegated shades with fun names like “Gnome”, “Spirit”, and “Centaur”. My husband also liked the new choices so hardly a trip to Walmart goes by that he doesn’t discover a color I don’t have yet and throws two or three skeins in the shopping cart!

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Spice Cake

Well, California is a State that has plenty of Fall bonfires (aka wild brush fires!) around this time of year but we can still put some good smelling holiday scents in the air with this cake. Yeah, cheating a bit starting with a cake mix but in the hurry of the holidays and with the enrichment ingredients, no one will guess it’s lowly origins and happily indulge in a serving or two. AND, don’t forget some holiday sprinkles when you frost the cake! Batter will work for cupcakes, too.

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Spice Cake

1 Spice Cake Mix
3/4 Cup mayonnaise
1 16 oz can pumpkin
3 Eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated orange zest

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 8oz. Package Cream Cheese (softened)
1/4 Cup Butter or Margarine (softened)
3 Cup Confectioners Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Mix all of the pumpkin bar ingredients in a bowl just until combined well. Pour in a greased 13×9 cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes until toothpick comes out of the center clean. Cool completely.
While the cake is cooling, cream the cream cheese and the butter together in your mixer bowl until quite fluffy. Mix in the powdered sugar ½ cup. at a time until well blended. Add vanilla, orange zest, and mix well. Chill in refrigerator until the cake is completely cool, frost and serve.