Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Easy and delicious candy

I’m sure we all have easy Christmas recipes we can count on in a pinch — the kind of recipe you turn to when you need to make a special treat for the office Christmas party, for instance.

That happened at our house last week. I wanted to make something my husband could take to a party with his co-workers, but we didn’t have much time. I turned to a two-ingredient recipe and was so happy with the results.

I’m sure many of you have favorite “bark” recipes. The concept is simple enough — melted chocolate or almond bark is mixed with favorite ingredients, spread in a thin layer then left to harden before broken into serving-size pieces.

I’ve made several bark recipes over the years, but I haven’t done much experimenting.

There are so many mix-in options: dried fruit, nuts, miniature chocolate chips, toffee chips, pretzels, granola. You can also choose your favorite chocolate: semi-sweet, dark, milk or white or a combination swirled together. Vanilla almond bark is also a good option.

For my bark, I chose semi-sweet chocolate chips and a small can of mixed nuts. I also opted to pour the nuts on top of the chocolate rather than mix them into the chocolate.

The process couldn’t have been any easier.

I melted the chocolate chips in the microwave, then spread the chocolate in a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. After a few minutes, I sprinkled the can of nuts on top. (I didn’t chop the nuts.) I gently tapped the pan down so the nuts would sink in a little, then used the back of a spoon to press down as well. Then you wait!

We ran errands while the chocolate hardened, then I broke the candy into serving pieces. Some of the nuts did fall off in this process, but not many.

I thought the candy was delicious and it certainly was easy to make.

Easy Chocolate Candy
  • 2 cups chocolate chips
  • 1-2 cups mixed nuts
Pour chocolate chips into microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute. Stir. Return to microwave and cook in 10 second intervals; stir each time. It will probably take a total of one minute and 30 seconds; chips will not lose their shape. At end of cook time, stir chocolate until chips lose their shape. Do not overcook.

Pour hot chocolate onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. With the back of a spoon or with a spatula, spread chocolate to desired thickness. Let sit for a few minutes. Sprinkle nuts on top. Pick up tray about an inch and gently tap it down so nuts sink in a little or with the back of a spoon, gently press nuts into chocolate. Allow chocolate to set. When cooled and set, break into pieces.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas breakfast

I admit, I don’t do a lot of planning for breakfast at my house.

Sure, I make pancakes or waffles from time to time, but we all fend for ourselves with cereals, instant grits, muffins or bagels most mornings.

But come Christmas Day, I want a special breakfast, and I know that’s the case with many of you.

For years, I alternated between a simple sausage, egg and cheese casserole or an overnight coffee cake. Last year, I made a grits casserole, which I shared with my readers as well.

This year, I will probably do something different again, thanks to recipes I’m sharing today.

Two of these recipes came from new local cookbooks. One is from my church, Marsh Swamp Free Will Baptist in Rock Ridge, the other is from Fike High School. The third recipe is one I found online and loved and decided to make it as well.

Marsh Swamp’s “Still Saying Grace”

Beverly Boyette shared the recipe for apple-pecan french toast for the new Marsh Swamp cookbook. This recipe should be made the night before you serve it and chilled in the refrigerator. This delicious recipe requires no fancy ingredients, just some items you probably already have on hand plus a loaf of French bread, some apples and pecans.

I only made a few variations from Beverly’s recipe. I used brown sugar instead of granulated sugar because I adore brown sugar! And instead peeling and grating an apple, I left it unpeeled and diced it to save a little time. I also like the way the red peel looks on the finished product.

We loved this recipe. The toast had a wonderful flavor, and I enjoyed the texture of the baked bread. There were a few slices left over, so the next morning I toasted them in the toaster oven and had wonderful results. I’ll be making this one again, and not just for Christmas.

Beverly’s recipe is in the breakfast casserole section of the new Marsh Swamp cookbook. There are 379 recipes in the book in many categories from slow cooker roasts to turkey dressing. The desserts are varied as well and include an apple gingerbread pie, chocolate velvet cake, graham streusel cake and creamy dreamy pralines.

I’ve gone to Marsh Swamp my whole life and can vouch for these wonderful cooks! I can’t wait to try a number of these recipes.

I included more than a dozen of my own favorite recipes in the cookbook, including some of the most popular ones from my food column, including meatball soup with pasta, meatloaf, tomato pie, cheesy grits and sausage casserole and microwave pickles.

There are many things I love about a local church cookbook. The recipes usual reflect the tastes and traditions of the area and many have personal stories behind them. I especially love the ones in our cookbook that have notes.

For instance, the note for Doris Lee Barnes’ sour cream cake reads: “I baked this cake for many birthdays. I always wrote the date that I baked this cake, and in copying it for this book, I counted that I had baked this cake 23 times for different birthdays.”

Our three-ring binder cookbook is for sale from church members as well as at Barnes Equipment on Rock Ridge School Road and Forest Hills Hairstyling on Forest Hills Road across from the Moose Lodge. It’s $15 and would make a great Christmas gift!

Fike High School’s “Golden Demons Cookbook”

Also in time for Christmas giving is a Fike cookbook. The Future Business Leaders of America had the 94-page volume published to raise funds for member trips to state and national conferences as well as to raise funds for students who need financial help at the holidays, according to business teacher Paula Cobb.

“The Fike Golden Demons Cookbook” is $10 and can be purchased at the school. It’s the perfect size for a stocking stuffer!

The cookbook has recipes from students, teachers, staff members and parents.

There’s a wonderful variety, and a number of recipes caught my eye including Elvis Presley’s frozen banana sandwich from Wanda Etheridge, rainbow slaw from Pamela Letchworth and old-fashioned beef stew from Tyrone McCoy.

The recipe I’m sharing today would work well for Christmas morning. Orange cranberry muffins use an orange supreme cake mix as the base with colorful cranberries mixed in. The recipe is simple to make the day before for breakfast the next day.

Easy breakfast casserole

Finally, I tried a very good casserole last week. I have seen many versions online and adapted one for my family.

I made this casserole and the apple-pecan French toast in about 45 minutes. I was able to do it so quickly because I used pre-cooked turkey sausage crumbles instead of cooking my own sausage.

The casserole starts with a layer of refrigerated crescent rolls. The sausage is sprinkled on top, then the cheese and an egg mixture. Cover the casserole with plastic wrap and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator if you don’t want to cook it then.

My husband and I loved this. It was also delicious warmed over the next day in the toaster oven. I will make this again soon so we can have the leftovers for weekday breakfasts.

You can certain vary this recipe to suit your tastes, changing the cheeses or adding spices, such as oregano. I opted for salt and pepper only. I’m boring, I guess!

Breakfast Casserole
  • 1 package full cooked turkey sausage crumbles (I use Jimmy Dean)
  • 1 package reduced-fat refrigerated crescent rolls
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk (I use skim)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper to taste
Spread crescent rolls over bottom of 9X13-inch pan, pressing seams to make one large sheet. Bring up sides of pan a little to form a crust.

In a bowl mix eggs and milk. Stir in cheese and sausage, salt and pepper. Pour over crust.

If not cooking then, cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator.

When ready to cook, bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Make sure eggs are set and crust is a golden brown.

Adapted from Pinterest

Apple-Pecan French Toast
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 medium apple, peeled and shredded
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 loaf French bread, cut in to 12 1-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Maple syrup
Coat the bottom of a 13x9-inch glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray or brush with melted butter. Combine eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, apples and vanilla. Place bread in a single layer in baking dish. Pour egg mixture over bread. Turn bread over to coat other side. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle pecans over top of bread slices and drizzle with melted butter. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until puffy and brown. Serves with maple syrup. Serves 4-6.

Notes: In the photo, you’ll notice I used diced apples. I also had a wide loaf of French bread, so I didn’t have as many slices.

Orange Cranberry Muffins
  • 1 box orange supreme cake mix
  • 1 box (4-serving size) vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange peel
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (do not thaw)
Mix ingredients. Place in baking cups in a muffin tin and bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dipped in chocolate

If you’re looking for some delicious treats to fill a dessert table or if you’d like to make a few items to give away as gifts this Christmas, then keep reading!

With a few simple ingredients, you can make some chocolate-covered goodies that you can be very proud of.

On Sunday afternoon, in about an hour, my daughter and I made and decorated chocolate-covered Oreos, chocolate-covered graham crackers and caramel- and chocolate-dipped marshmallows. The house smelled like a candy store, and we loved it!

We started with the cookies, first dipping the Oreos into melted chocolate chips with a bit of vegetable shortening added. We tried various methods of dipping the cookies but found our fingers were the best tools for dipping. This is a rather messy recipe, so plan to get your hands coated with chocolate, and wear an apron to protect your clothes!

Once the cookies were coated, we placed them on parchment paper to set; waxed paper would work well, too. Before the chocolate got firm, we decorated with holiday sprinkles and crushed Oreos.

Once the cookies were completed, we moved onto the marshmallows. This was the recipe I was so eager to try. Whenever we go to a candy shop that makes its own chocolates, I always look for marshmallows dipped in caramel and chocolate. I love the combination of flavors and textures.

The recipe is very simple. Dip each marshmallow in melted caramel, let it cool and get slightly firm, then dip in melted chocolate. Anna decorated each one with a swirl of caramel.

The marshmallows were so good! They were gooey and delicious. They are so gooey, in fact, be careful and take small bites!

For a thoughtful, handmade gift, fill an inexpensive candy tin (we got one from Dollar Tree) with these chocolate treats, and your family and friends will be sure to thank you!

Chocolate Caramel Marshmallows
  • 1 11-ounce bag of caramel bits
  • 2 dozen marshmallows (might need more)*
  • 11.5- to 12-ounce bag milk chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable shortening
Melt caramel bits (you can find them in the baking section) according to package instructions.

Dip marshmallows into caramel; be careful not to get burned. Place marshmallows on parchment paper or wax paper and let caramel cool and begin to harden.

Once caramel has started to harden, melt chocolate and shortening in microwave safe bowl. Start with 1 minute cooking time. Stir and heat again for 15 seconds. Stir until chips lose their shape. Don’t overcook.

Dip caramel-coated marshmallows into chocolate and place on parchment or wax paper. Once chocolate has set a little, drizzle caramel on top.

These are gooey, so let cool completely before eating, and then, take small bites!

*We made 2 dozen marshmallows but could have probably made more if we had been more conservative with our dipping.

Chocolate-Covered Cookies
  • 1 12 oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable shortening
  • Oreos and graham crackers (we made 10 covered Oreos and 7 graham cracker quarters)*
Melt chocolate and shortening in microwave safe bowl. Start with 1 minute cooking time. Stir and heat again for 15 seconds. Stir until chips lose their shape. Don’t overcook.

Dip cookies into chocolate. Tap cookies on side of bowl to remove excess chocolate. Place on waxed paper or parchment paper to set. Decorate before the chocolate hardens.

*We probably could have made more but were overly generous with the chocolate!