Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mexican Layered Dip

Happy New Year's Eve everyone! I hope this last day of 2011 finds you reflecting on all your blessings and God's faithfulness to bring us this far. Here's to the grace to face the joys and challenges of 2012 with courage!

This recipe has been a staple at many family parties over recent years and that is why it occurred to me to bring it out for a New Year's Day party we are going to tomorrow. If you have any parties to attend tomorrow (or yet tonight?), this is a VERY quick and VERY easy crowd-pleaser to throw together. And it tastes fantastic. The perfect munching snack with a bowl full of crisp tortilla chips.
This dip was originally introduced to our family by my Dad's mom, who we kids call Nani. She taught my sister Jessica how to make it, so from then on it has mainly been Jessica's responsibility to prepare it for parties, potlucks, etc...but even more importantly, to remember what order the layers go in! I hope I remembered right, but if not...oh well! There's really no wrong or right way to do it, thing I know. The beans ALWAYS go on the bottom. :)

Start with a couple of cans of refried beans (enough to thickly cover the bottom of whatever size pan you're using- my measurements are what I used for an 8x8).

Next, mix a packet of taco seasoning with a container of sour cream.

Make sure it's well incorporated, then spread it over the beans.

Sprinkle with sliced olives.

Top with diced tomatoes.

Cover generously with cheese (your call on what variety of cheese).

Serve immediately or you can make it ahead if you're really organized. Serve with tortilla chips!

Nani's Mexican Layered Dip
(printable version)
serves....a crowd

2 cans refried beans
8 oz. container of sour cream, mixed with one packet of taco seasoning
large can sliced olives
1 lg or 2 sm. tomatoes, diced
shredded cheese

Layer all ingredients in order listed (or in whatever order you prefer...just be sure you put the beans on the bottom!! :) Serve with tortilla chips.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Me and My Mixer

I just want the world to know...

My dear sweet hubby is so wonderful, he got me just what I was afraid to hope for...a beautiful blue KitchenAid stand mixer. I couldn't wait to get home (we spent Christmas with my family in OR) to whip up something yummy. So the very next day (yesterday), I got it out for a test drive. It is HEAVY. I had to have hubby lift it up to the counter for me! Definitely not going to fall apart any time soon! And the bowl is so shiny! :) I sort of rearranged my kitchen to make just the perfect spot for it. Visible, accessible, and not in the way.

After using it only once so far (with the standard mixing attachment), for pumpkin snickerdoodles, my favorite thing is being able to dump stuff in and walk away or fix another part of the recipe while the machine does all the work. I already love baking and cooking, but I think this beautiful and sturdy machine will make it even more fun!

If any of you, my dear readers, have a stand mixer and have any tips, tricks, quirks or recipes to share that you think would be helpful, please do so in the comments!! I would love your advice as I begin my KitchenAid adventure!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles

Can we just establish, here and now, that I am a HUGE snickerdoodle fan? OK, now that we have that taken care of, we can move on.

Whether you prefer soft (like I do) or crispy snickerdoodles, home baked (who wouldn't?) or store bought (for emergencies), certainly we must all agree to the certain charm of sugar and cinnamon lightly coating a sweet, buttery cookie...if this isn't you, don't stop reading here. I shall convince you.

I am rather locally famous (I say this with modesty of course) for my traditional snickerdoodles, which is only the recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, but which I try to keep soft and light (as stated before, I generally am not a champion of crispy cookies). But this fall, I made a discovery which has changed my world forever. Please sit down. Pumpkin snickerdoodles (oh wait, you probably already read the title...oh well...proceed). The first time I tried this recipe, it was with fear and trepidation, hoping the addition of pumpkin and several new spices would not mar the perfection that is the snickerdoodle. But with one bite, I knew. Not only was it delicious, a sneaking admission hovered on the edges of my mind. Was it...could it be...better? Yes, I think it is even a step beyond perfection, if such a thing there may be. They are light and airy and a beautiful golden hue. There is a definitive flavor of fall to these perfect little morsels, but I would be happy to make them any time of the year! Especially considering my freezer is already stocked with frozen homemade puree. And there are seven more home-grown (not by me- my mother-in-law!) in my pantry waiting to become puree. Which means...over 14 cups of pumpkin puree waiting in the wings. Maybe I should give some away... :)

The process of making these adorable, sparkly little things is really very similar to traditional snickerdoodles, except the addition of a couple of extra ingredients, pumpkin and nutmeg to the dough, ginger and allspice to the sugar/cinnamon mixture they are coated with.

Once you have all the ingredients well mixed, you roll them in the sugar and spice mixture, pop them in the oven to bake, and begin anticipating wonderful aromas and even more wonderful flavors. Don't forget to let them cool a bit before sneaking a nibble!!

By the way, as I was writing, I began to be curious about the origin of the name "Snickerdoodle"...I looked it up on Wikipedia, but wasn't sure I should share...don't want you to lose your appetite! ;)'s the link if you're feeling adventurous.

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles
(printable version)
by Pennies on a Platter
makes around 3 dozen

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
3 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

For coating:
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Dash allspice

Combine butter and sugars; mix with electric mixer 2 to 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Stir in pumpkin. Add egg and vanilla and beat until well blended.
In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add gradually to wet mixture and blend until fully incorporated. 
Chill at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350. Mix coating ingredients in small bowl.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper or grease lightly. Form dough into 1 in. balls and roll in coating. Place on sheet and flatten lightly, dipping instrument in sugar mixture if necessary to prevent sticking.
Bake about 12 minutes or until lightly golden but still soft. Cool a couple of minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Cool completely.

Originally by Dlyn

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Spritz Cookies

I take for granted that everyone reading this blog has at some point either given or gotten a pretty little (or large) blue tin containing some deliciously buttery, short-breadish type cookies typically referred to as Danish butter cookies. They come in lots of shapes including rectangles, pretzels, circles and more and always seem to be topped with big sugar crystals. If you are a fan of these coveted Christmas party favorites, you will surely be a big fan of Spritz cookies.

In my opinion, they taste remarkably similar and are delightfully cute and fun to make. You will need a cookie press. If you don't have a cookie press, I urge you to take the plunge (it should only be $10 or $15)! Though you will not use it every day of the week, it is a fun tool to have, especially at the holidays, and is a great change of pace from the normal drop or cutout cookies. If you haven't seen one, here's what mine looks like:

You place the dough inside and press it out through different disks to create different shaped kinds of cookies.
This recipe comes from my absolute favorite holiday cook book to date, the Better Homes and Gardens "Cookies for Christmas" book. I finally secured myself a used copy from Amazon this year- I admit, part of the reason this book is so near to my heart is because of the sentimental attachment. My sisters and I have a tradition of baking cookies together, usually sometime the week before Christmas. We choose several varieties and have a baking party while watching Pride & Prejudice. Now that I'm married and moved away, we only get to do this every other year, but we always have a blast. The first year this tradition started we used this cook book, borrowed from our local library! It has some fantastic, time-tested recipes and some we have tried that were instantly adopted into our family's favorites.

I don't think I have made these spritz cookies before, but I have used a cookie press before. I used to make dozens of shortbread cookies with my cookie press (a gift from my grandma- my new one was a gift from my sister-in-law) and dip them in chocolate as a special after-dinner treat for my grandma (my other grandma... :)) At any rate, beware, because these cookies are addictive! They are small and adorable and buttery and crispy/soft and you won't be able to eat just one!

Start with butter. Lots of butter. Use your mixture to soften the butter until it is fluffy.

Add the sugar and again, mix until it is a beautiful bowl of fluffy sweet butteryness.

Add in eggs, vanilla and almond extract and beat until it's blended. I used a vanilla paste my sister-in-law gave me and it adds a real vanilla bean look and flavor.

Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can, stir in the rest until it is well mixed.

If you like, at this point you can tint part or all of the dough if you want to with food coloring. I did not because I was short on time, but it would be very pretty to have cookies in red and green. Do not chill the dough.Roll dough into a log that will fit into your cookie press. Attach preferred disk for desired shape.

Press cookies onto pan. This takes a bit of experimentation. I got a routine down with my press, but it took a bit. Some cookies took two pumps on the handle, some only'll have to find your own rhythm. Add sprinkles or candies if you like- be creative!

The recipe said to bake 8 minutes, but I found that was too long for my taste. I kept it at about 5 or 6 minutes because I like my cookies a little softer. Enjoy!

from Better Homes and Gardens "Cookies for Christmas"
makes about 60

3 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
food coloring and decorating sugars if desired

Preheat oven to 400.
Stir together flour and baking powder.
In a large bowl, beat butter until softened.
Add sugar and beat until fluffy.
Add egg, vanilla, and almond extract and beat well.
Gradually add flour mixture and beat until well mixed. Do not chill.
Tint dough with food coloring if desired. Force dough through cookie press onto ungreased cookie sheet. Decorate if desired.
Bake 5-8 minutes, or to desired done-ness. Remove and cool. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Crazy Cooking Challenge: Cappuccino Fudge

Here we are, Crazy Cooking Challenge #2 already!! This month's challenge was to find the ultimate fudge recipe. What a delightful hunt! I have never made fudge before, so it was a bit of an experiment for me as well. Because this was my first time, after drooling over many decadent looking squares, I decided on a rather simple fudge, but as I am sure you will agree, it suits ME to a tee.

If you do not know by now, I am a bit of a coffee nut. Coffee snob. Connoisseur. Whatever. You get the idea. I like coffee. My kitchen fairly swims in it. Take a look at the previous post about Coffee and Cream Drops. See any clues?
Now that we've established (again) my infatuation with glossy brown beans (that includes cocoa beans!), we can move on to the delicious creation I concocted in my kitchen which included both. Cappuccino Fudge. It really was a snap to make- Annie wasn't kidding when she said it was simple. I really thought fudge would be more complicated than this (and maybe some are), but it was easy and turned out fantastic, so my confidence in fudge making is definitely bolstered to try something harder next time!

The first step is to line a pan with foil (hint: this makes for very easy removal later!).

Good old trusty foil.
Next, move over to your stove top! Another thing I like about this is it really only dirties one pot. Start with some marshmallow cream...this stuff is harder to get into the pan then you might think! It is SO sticky! Add instant coffee powder, sugar, butter, cinnamon, salt and heavy whipping cream. Annie's recipe only called for 1 tsp of instant coffee, but after reading some of the comments on her blog I decided I wanted to make sure it had a real distinct coffee flavor. So I put in a whole tablespoon.

Mix it all together until it's nice and smooth (I used a whisk for this part), while heating it over medium heat.

Once it really begins to boil, keep it there and turn on the timer! Here comes the tedious part: keep stirring while it boils for 5 whole minutes.

Then take it off the heat and stir in a bag of chocolate chips till they are melted and the mixture is creamy and smooth again. Pour the whole thing into your nice foil-lined pan and smooth it out.

Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours before you cut and devour!! Or. Share with your friends. Your favorite friends. Special treats are only for special friends, right?

This fudge tasted exactly as I hoped against hope that it would. A perfect marriage of coffee and rich chocolate. It was firm and the texture was smooth and it sliced beautiful into darling little squares.

If you want to get fancy, you could do like I did and serve each topped with a fine dusting of coffee powder (or cinnamon) and a whole coffee bean. Any way you slice it, this fudge is a perfect holiday indulgence your friends will love you for.

Cappuccino Fudge
(printable version)
by Annie's Eats (with tweaks)
makes about 36 squares

1 jar marshmallow cream (7 oz)
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup butter
1 TB instant coffee powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 (12 oz) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

Line an 8” square baking pan with aluminum foil; set aside.
 In a 2 qt. saucepan, combine marshmallow cream, sugar, cream, butter, coffee powder, cinnamon and salt.
 Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. 
Stir in chocolate chips until smooth. 
Pour into prepared pan. 
Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours. 
Place on cutting board and cut into 36 squares.

Source: Annie's Eats


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Coffee and Cream Drops

I have expounded in previous posts about my love for coffee and chocolate and my subsequent adoration of anything combining the two, so I won't bore you by composing another monologue on that subject. That said, however, I must share with you a new cookie discovery employing the combination of those very two blessed ingredients! Just a glance at the name and I knew I had to try them. If you have seen my kitchen, you would know too. It is practically a shrine to coffee (except that would be irreverent, so I can't exactly call it a shrine...a tribute, perhaps?). Anyhow, this cookie recipe is a delightful combination of flavors, with chocolate taking center stage and coffee slipping into the background. I think using espresso powder would bring the coffee taste out more. Another name for this cookie (I think) could be "Two-tone mocha chip cookies". You know the Java Chip Frappuccino at Starbucks? This is kind of like that in cookie form. It is especially unique because not all the flavors are mixed together- they sit companionably side-by-side, and are melded together in the oven.

The dough begins as a basic, chocolate chip type cookie dough, with coffee added. Then, you divide it in half.
One half becomes fudgy and chocolaty with the addition of cream and cocoa powder.

The other gets dressed up with chocolate chips (I used dark chocolate for more chocolaty power!!).

Then, place little bits of each next to each other on the cookie sheet (you will need to coax them to get a little cozy! Hugging is encouraged). :)

Come on, you two. Get close.
That's more like it!
Then, when baked, the two are magically melded into one! I could make this into a good marriage analogy, but I think I'll just leave it right there. The two tones make a beautiful cookies, and the flavors are delicious.

See? Magic!
 The textures are almost identical, though the chocolate side is definitely more fudgy. A perfect addition to any cookie tray- especially wherever coffee is served!!

As you can see, I have some spare coffee beans- I knew they'd come in handy one of these days! :)

Coffee and Cream Drops
(printable version)
makes 48 (the book says- mine made about 42)

2 TB instant coffee crystals (or instant espresso powder)
3 TB light cream or half and half
1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup chocolate pieces (mini or reg.- your choice of chocolate)

Preheat oven to 375.
Stir coffee crystals into 1 TB of the cream until they dissolve; set aside.
Beat butter with mixer 30 seconds. Add sugars, baking soda, and salt. Beat until combined. Beat in coffee mixture, egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir any remaining in with wooden spoon.
Divide dough in half. Stir remaining cream and cocoa powder into one portion. Stir chocolate pieces into the remaining plain dough portion. Spoon a scant teaspoon of each dough side by side onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Press doughs together.
Bake 8 to 9 minutes or until just set. Cool 1 min, remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Source: Better Homes and Gardens "Biggest Book of Cookies", pg. 25
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