sweets for the sweet

Red Velvet CupcakesValentine’s Day is coming up fast, so you might want to bake a nice sweet treat for your honey, your friends, or your kids. I’ve got two here—one is a bit labor intensive, and the other is quick and easy, plus your bonus recipe, Lemon Sponge Pie, not available in the newspaper. At the end of this column is a link to a PDF, so you can print out these terrific recipes and share them with others.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Red Velvet Cake is not just a yellow cake with red food coloring added. It is actually a lovely chocolate cake dressed up for the big day. A Valentine’s Day classic, this makes 15 cupcakes but can easily be doubled for parties. Sifting the flour three times helps create the velvety texture of this cake.

Ingredients for the Cupcakes:

  • 1¼ cups flour
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Special Dark)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ½ bottle (half an ounce) red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Muffin tin cup liners

Ingredients for the Frosting:

  • ½ package (4 ounces) regular block cream cheese, softened
  • 2 Tbs butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ box (8 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, sifted to remove lumps
  • Chocolate chips (optional)

Directions for the Cupcakes:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift flour twice before mixing with cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Sift flour mixture one more time. Set aside.
  2. Beat butter and granulated sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in sour cream, milk, food coloring, and vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until just blended. Do not overbeat. Spoon batter into 15 paper or foil-lined muffin cups, filling each cup 2/3 full.
  3. Bake 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cupcake comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack 5 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely.

Directions for the Frosting:

  1. Beat cream cheese, butter, sour cream, and vanilla in large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar until smooth.
  2. Spread on top of cooled cupcakes. Decorate with chocolate chips or fresh raspberries if desired.

Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Bars

Perfect for your Valentine and so pretty, this takes only 15 minutes to put together and about 25 minutes to cook. I rarely use boxed mixes, but if you’re a busy partner, wife, or husband, you get a pass. Besides, it is so good, you can indulge now and then. This makes 12-15 servings, so share with loved ones!

First, make the brownies:

  1. Mix and bake brownie mix according to package directions (most box mixes use water and an egg, and sometimes oil) I like to add a tsp of vanilla extract and a tsp of cinnamon to a box brownie mix for this dish, but it is totally optional.
  2. Bake in a prepared 13×9 pan, taking care not to over-bake. Cool completely.
  3. Chill a mixing bowl in the ‘fridge to whip the cream later.

Ingredients for the topping:

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 3-oz. box instant white chocolate pudding mix
  • 1 21-oz.can raspberry pie filling

Fresh raspberries, hot fudge ice cream topping, and additional whipped cream to garnish are optional.

Directions for finishing:

  1. In small bowl, combine 1 cup of the cream and pudding mix. Stir for 2 minutes until very thick.
  2. In chilled bowl, beat remaining cream until stiff peaks form. Fold into pudding. Carefully spread over completely cooled brownies.
  3. Top with pie filling. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before cutting. If desired, garnish with additional whipped cream, fresh raspberries, and/or drizzle with hot fudge ice cream topping before serving.
  4. A drizzle of chocolate fudge sauce on the plate before plating looks really nice. Enjoy!

lemonspongeLemon Sponge Pie

If you love citrus, Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to make a sweet, lemony pie for your sweetie or yourself. This is an original Amish delicacy, very popular at flea markets and Amish roadside stands. It’s so easy to put together, and it’s delicious. I love this with a homemade pastry crust but to make it easier, you can use packaged rolled pie crust or prepared graham cracker crust if you want.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 Tbs butter, softened
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 2 lemons, zested then juiced
  • 2¾ cups milk, divided
  • 6 Tbs flour
  • 1 unbaked pie shell

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Cream butter, sugar, and egg yolks together. Add lemon zest and juice.
  3. Place flour in a separate bowl and slowly mix in 1 cup of the milk, mashing any lumps, till smooth. Add to butter and egg yolk mixture, then remaining 1¾ cups of milk. Mix till very well blended.
  4. Place egg whites in a large mixing bowl and beat with a stand mixer till stiff peaks form. Fold into butter and egg yolk mixture and pour into pie shell. Bake till firm and top is nicely brown.

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holiday fare 2 colorful and tasty

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Many folks serve lasagna on Christmas Eve. Prepared ahead, it’ll feed an army. Instead, I like to make a colorful pan of stuffed peppers, and keeping all those holiday treats and calories in mind, I make it vegetarian, served with a nice salad. Double them if you’re entertaining. Here’s your complete, mostly red and green, Christmas Eve (or any eve) supper from breakfast with Overnight Coffee Cake, an appetizer, salad, and entrée for dinner, and a classic Wassail that you can make ahead.

cranberry orange cheese ball   A lovely combination and a great way to start a meal.

Ingredients for the Cheese Ball

  • 1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • ¼ cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
  • 2 pkgs (8-oz ea) cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar

Ingredients for the Caramelized Pecans

  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 2 Tbs sugar

Directions

  1. Chop cranberries in a blender or food processor. Add cream cheese, juice, and sugar, and blend till well mixed.
  2. Use a rubber scraper to turn mixture out onto a piece of wax paper and shape into a ball as best you can. Place in a bowl and wrap with the wax paper. Refrigerate overnight.
  3. Melt butter in a small saucepan on medium heat. add pecans and sugar and stir about 3-5 minutes. Do not let it burn! Spread on sheet of wax paper or parchment to cool.
  4. When ready to serve, remove cheese from ‘fridge and shape into a ball. Pat pecans on to cover. Serve with crackers, celery and carrot sticks, or pita chips.

broccoli salad   This is Trisha Yearwood’s recipe. It is very good, and the sunflower seeds are a nice touch.

Ingredients

  • 4-5 cups broccoli florets, blanched for 3 minutes, shocked in icewater, and very well-drained
  • ½ small sweet onion, minced
  • ¾ cups golden raisins
  • 1 Tbs apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ jar pimentos, chopped
  • Salt & pepper
  • 4 slices bacon, diced and browned
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, mix mayo, sugar, vinegar, raisins, onions, and salt and pepper to taste. Add broccoli and pimentos to coat.
  2. Refrigerate 2-3 hours or overnight. Sprinkle with bacon and seeds just before serving.

saucy stuffed peppers   I make these with tempeh, a fermented soy product found in the vegetarian section of your store. Healthy, tasty, and very good for you, you won’t miss the meat. (Of course you can use ground meat if you wish.) You can make these ahead without placing in sauce, wrapping the stuffed peppers individually in clear wrap or a plastic bag. 

Ingredients

  • 3 colorful bell peppers (I use red and green this time of year!), halved lengthwise, and seeded
  • 1 8-oz block of tempeh (I like the one with flax seed), crumbled
  • 6 lg or 12 sm fresh mushrooms, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 3 Tbs Progresso Italian Bread Crumbs
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 24-oz can Hunt’s Original spaghetti sauce (or your own homemade—even better!), divided
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Blanch seeded pepper halves by boiling five minutes. Handle carefully with tongs. Shock in icewater. Drain well.
  3. Cover the bottom of a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish with sauce reserving ½ cup for filling. Nest all six pepper halves into sauce, cut side up. Set aside.
  4. In a large skillet, place olive oil, and heat on medium till shimmering; add onions and garlic,, stirring often, for about four minutes till soft. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Add tempeh and press with a fork to improve the crumble texture.
  5. Add mushrooms and ½ cup reserved sauce, stirring to coat.
  6. Add bread crumbs, ¼ cup of the parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and bring to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir well.
  7. Fill pepper halves with tempeh mixture, dividing evenly. Cover with foil and bake 20-25 minutes or till sauce is bubbling and peppers are tender..
  8. Mix mozzarella with remaining parmesan. Remove foil, sprinkle with cheese mixture; return to oven till cheese is melted and browning. Serve orzo pasta topped with a pepper half or two and a dollop of sauce.

Variation: If you need to double the servings to six peppers (12 halves), you can increase the filling without needing more tempeh by adding 6-8 more mushrooms, a can of well-drained petite diced tomatoes, and a half bag of washed baby spinach. Increase oil to 3 Tbs and double the breadcrumbs and cheese. Cooked rice can also help stretch it.

no-hassle wassail   Serve this tasty hot drink when the carolers come home from a frosty night of song. Or just anytime you’re in the mood for a sweet, spiced treat. You can cut ingredients in half for a smaller crowd. The rum is optional, of course!

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • ½ gallon apricot nectar
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 1 ½ cups dark brown sugar
  • 3 cups dark rum
  • 6 cinnamon sticks

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients in a large pot.
  2. Simmer until a heavenly aroma fills the kitchen.
  3. Transfer to a crockpot and keep warm while serving. For a fancier look, float orange slices decorated with cloves among the cinnamon sticks.

overnight coffee cake   Serve this to overnight guests or your family on Christmas morning. They’ll think you’re wonderful!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ cup chopped nuts
  • ¼ nutmeg
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Directions

  1. Grease a 9×13 pan. Set aside. Place flour, white sugar, sour cream, butter, half of brown sugar, eggs, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and vanilla in a large bowl.
  2. Beat at medium speed till blended. Spread in prepared pan.
  3. Combine remaining brown sugar, nuts, and nutmeg. Sprinkle evenly over batter. Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.
  4. Next morning, preheat oven to 350°. Remove cover from pan and bake 35-40 minutes until it tests done.

Very aromatic, warm, and delicious.

Holidays are the perfect time to share food and fun with family and friends. I hope yours are blessed.

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holiday fare 1 cookies

[My sincere apology for the delay in posting this blog. It was just one of those weeks where urgent jobs kept surfacing, stealing time from my writing. Hope these additional recipes arrive in your inbox on time and will provide some inspiration for you to create some new and unusual holiday treats. –CMT]

Kitchen assistants taking a break.

kitchen assistants taking a break. I usually start my serious holiday baking this week, especially since my feline kitchen assistants are eager to pick up some odd jobs like diving after anything that falls on the floor and licking the bowls, of course. Just kidding, but really, I need a solid two weeks to get all my sweets and savories planned and prepared.You can print these recipes using the PDF link at the end of this post.

I won’t bore you with the typical chocolate chip and peanut butter cookie recipes. My treats are special, and will add a festive and delicious touch to your table. This week it’s cookies.

golden cups  So delicious, these tiny little pies will melt in your mouth. If you prefer, you can substitute chopped slivered almonds or pecans for the walnuts.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • Salt
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 8-oz package cream cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ cups light brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs melted butter
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups coarsely chopped walnuts

Directions

  1. On the day before (or within a week of baking, make dough), soften the cream cheese. Sift flour with ¼ tsp regular salt.
  2. Blend butter with cream cheese till streaks are gone; add flour. Shape dough into a ball, wrap in foil, and refrigerate.
  3. Early on the day, preheat oven to 375°
  4. Beat eggs in medium bowl on medium speed, add sugar, melted butter, and pinch of salt. Stir in nuts and vanilla.
  5. Divide dough in 4 parts (each fourth will make 12 cups). Refrigerate all but one. Pinch off and form into 12 balls.
  6. Press each ball into ungreased 1 ¾-inch muffin tins, forming slightly rolled edges at top. Fill half full with nut mixture (about 1 heaping teaspoon).
  7. Bake 20 minutes till light golden and filling is set. Cool a minute or two before removing to wire rack.

Cool pan between batches. Makes 48 cups. Recipe can be doubled or halved according to your needs.

 

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aunt olga’s christmas cookies  In Philadelphia, our neighbor across the street would send a platter of cookies over to our house every Christmas. She was descended from the Pennsylvania Dutch. “Deutsch” (pronounced doitch) means “German,” and they are famous for their amazing food. Anyway, these cookies don’t look like much, the ingredients are rather common, but they have that certain “umami,” an indescribable flavor that keeps you reaching for more. Follow directions to a tee for best results.

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ¾ cups softened butter
  • 3 eggs (divided)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 3¼ cups flour

Directions

  1. Cream butter and sugar, add 2 of the eggs. Mix well.
  2. Stir soda and cream of tartar into the flour. Add to butter mixture. Dough will be stiff. Cover with wax paper and chill for at least an hour. Or overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°. Pinch off dough and roll into small balls the size of a walnut. Arrange on an ungreased cookie sheet 3-4 inches apart.
  4. Once arranged, cover a flat-bottom tumbler or jar with a flat lid with wax paper, Secure with a rubber band. Use to flatten each cookie as flat as possible.
  5. Brush tops with beaten whole egg and decorate with colored sugar, confetti nonpareils, or cinnamon and sugar. Bake 10 minutes till lightly golden and egg is set.
  6. Cool on wire racks. Store in tight-lidded cans or plastic bags. Crisp and amazing!

 

marina’s wonder cookies  I worked with a young woman who brought these into the office one Christmas. I had to have the recipe—they taste like expensive chocolate-covered toffee, but you won’t believe the simple ingredients and ease of making them. If you’re careful, you can break these up pretty evenly, but they will often break randomly. It’s okay. They taste so good, no one will complain!

Ingredients

  • ¼ box of saltines (1 sleeve)
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ large package chocolate chips (dark or milk—your preference)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a large cookie sheet (with sides!) with cooking spray. Arrange saltines in a single layer to cover the bottom of the cookie sheet.
  2. Place butter and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil over medium heat.
  3. Carefully pour boiling mixture over crackers to cover evenly. Place in oven for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven to wire rack. When bubbling stops, sprinkle chips over top and spread with an offset spatula as they melt. Cool and refrigerate.

 

old-fashioned no-bake cookies  This the closest thing to fudge without all the work. I have a friend who folds in mini marshmallows at the end. That sounds good!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 Tbs cocoa
  • ¼ lb butter or margarine
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • 3 cups oats (the old-fashioned kind are most nutritious—just sayin’)

Directions

  1. Line a couple of cookie sheets with wax paper. Measure out oats in a bowl.
  2. In a large saucepan, place sugar, butter, milk, and cocoa. and bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly. Boil hard for 1 minute.
  3. Remove from heat and add vanilla, peanut butter, then the oats. Keep stirring and work quickly or mixture will begin to dry out.
  4. Drop by teaspoon onto wax paper or use a small cookie scoop. Keep them small so they dry evenly.
  5. Stack in containers in the ‘fridge between sheets of wax paper.

 

no-bake apricot coconut candy cookies  Make anytime up to one week ahead. Nice to tuck in among the regular cookies on your cookie plate or gift boxes.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbs butter, softened
  • 1 Tbs water
  • ½ cup Light Karo Syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2/3 cup dry (powdered) milk
  • 2 cups finely snipped dried apricots
  • 2 cups flaked sweetened coconut

Directions

  1. In a large bowl mix butter with syrup. Stir in water, vanilla, and dry milk and mix well.
  2. Add apricots and coconut and knead until thoroughly blended.
  3. Roll into 1-inch balls or use a small cookie scoop.
  4. Store in a loosely covered container at room temperature.

 

TIP: If you can’t find bulk apricots, the Dollar Tree has very good, reasonably priced bags of dried apricots.

 

ALSO, cookie scoops will make your life SO much easier. I don’t know how I ever lived without them before a couple of years ago! My first two, a 1-teaspoon and a 1-tablespoon size, were from Pampered Chef, a gift from my son, but they were pretty expensive. Here in Maine, we have a discount store, Marden’s, where I was SO fortunate to find meatball size scoop, same quality, for $4.00! Don’t you just love bargains???

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAconnie’s currant cookies  Currants are small, round, seedless dried berries related to gooseberries. I call these Connie’s because I had to come up with this recipe myself after losing the one given to me by a coworker many years ago. Her name was Michelle, but everyone call her “Mitch.” She was a big woman, built like a football player, but she was a kind and gentle soul who baked me a batch of her currant cookies the Christmas before my first son was born. These are great with a hot cup of tea and a good book!

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 4 cups flour
  • ½ – ¾ cup milk
  • 1 cup Zante currants (next to the raisins in the grocery store)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until very fluffy and light in color. Add eggs and vanilla and beat on high for two minutes.
  3. Sift together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Gradually add dry to wet, combining slowly, including ½ cup of the milk. If batter is too stiff, add remaining ¼ cup milk.
  4. Stir in currants and mix till distributed.
  5. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 11 minutes.
  6. Remove to cooling rack. This makes 11 dozen.

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