Monday, December 15, 2014

Season’s Gr-Eatings from Our Kitchens to Yours

Restaurants are our specialty. We adore wining and dining at some of the best restaurants in our city and beyond -- and keeping our readers in the know. Don’t write us off though when it comes to dabbling in the kitchen. We have our own stash of recipes and traditions that sing holiday-time to us, and we’re happy to share. Eat, drink and be merry, from our kitchen (and bar) to yours.

Alex: Turtle cookies will bring anyone out of his or her shell to obtain several before the cookie tray’s empty. It’s hard to give these up at a cookie exchange.

Turtle Cookies
(Makes about 30)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick butter (1/2 cup), softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg, separated, plus 1 additional egg white
2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup pecans, finely chopped

Caramel Filling
14 soft caramel candies (like Kraft Traditional Caramels)
3 tbsp. heavy cream

Chocolate Drizzle (optional)
2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
1 tsp. shortening

Prepare the Cookies: 
Combine flour, cocoa and salt; set aside. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg yolk, milk and vanilla; mix until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture until just combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Whisk egg whites in a bowl until frothy. Place chopped pecans in another bowl. Roll chilled dough into 1-inch balls, dip in egg whites and then roll in pecans. Place balls about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet. Using a 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon, make an indentation in the center of each dough ball. Bake until set, about 12 minutes.

Caramel Filling
Microwave caramels and cream together in a small bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Once cookies are removed from the oven, gently re-press the indentations. Fill each indentation with about 1/2 teaspoon of the caramel mixture. Cool on the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Drizzle
Place chocolate and shortening in a small zip-top plastic bag. Set bag in a bowl of warm water to soften. Gently knead the chocolate with your fingers until melted and smooth, placing back in the warm water for a minute or two as needed. Snip a very small hole in the corner of the plastic bag. Drizzle chocolate over the cooled Turtle Cookies.

Amy: These cheese potatoes remind me of my grandma and Christmastime. They are the perfect side dish with a HoneyBaked ham.

Grandma’s Easy Cheese Potatoes
2 lbs. frozen potatoes (Ore-Ida diced hash brown potatoes work best)
1 standard can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup
1 standard can Campbell’s Cheese soup
1 pint sour cream

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Mix all ingredients together in pan. Bake for 1 hour. Take foil off and cook 1 more hour.

Brandon: Chocolate peanut butter no-bake cookies are my favorite cookies ever! They’re 
fast and easy for a quick fix and downright delectable.

Chocolate Peanut Butter No-Bake Cookies
2 cups sugar
4 tbsp. cocoa
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup milk
1 cup peanut butter
1 tbsp. vanilla
3 cups oatmeal
Waxed paper
In a heavy saucepan, bring the sugar, cocoa, butter and milk to a boil. Let boil for 1 minute then add peanut butter, vanilla and oatmeal. Drop mixture by teaspoonful onto a sheet of waxed paper. Let set until cooled and hardened. (Recipe from Food Network)

Emily: After we open presents on Christmas morning, my family heads to Waffle House for breakfast. We always bring the staff a box of homemade cookies. This recipe is from my great-grandmother and is always a hit with our favorite Wa-Ho waiters.

Tea Time Tassies
1 3 oz. package cream cheese
1½ lb. butter
1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1 dash salt
1 cup nuts (pecans, chopped)

Blend cream cheese, 1 stick of butter (½ cup) and 1 cup flour over low heat. Put in refrigerator for 1 hour*. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Pinch off balls of pastry and spread with fingers into small muffin tins. Beat 1 lb. soft butter, brown sugar, vanilla, egg and salt; add nuts. Spoon mixture into pastry shells. Bake about 25 minutes or until light brown.

Erin: December means layers and bulky sweaters. Thus, there’s no better time to indulge yourself. Ditch the diet, have a few too many pieces of Texas sheet cake and promise yourself you’ll exercise that gym membership in the new year.

Texas Sheet Cake 
Serve with a scoop of ice cream. Serves 12. Easy and freezable.

2 sticks (1 cup) margarine
1 cup water
4 tbsp. cocoa
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Bring margarine, water and cocoa to a boil. Remove from heat and add sugar, flour and salt. Beat in eggs, sour cream and soda. Mix very thoroughly in a mixer. Pour into greased and floured 10”x15” jelly roll pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until sides of cake pull away from pan.

1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
4 tbsp. cocoa
4 tbsp. milk
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

While cake is baking, put all ingredients in heavy saucepan. Over medium-low heat, allow butter to melt, stirring ingredients together with wire whisk. Do not allow to boil. Keep warm over low heat until cake is baked. Pour icing over cake immediately after removing from oven.

Gretchen: Spinach balls roll some festive greenery onto a holiday table. A yummy epiphany led me to set each ball on a slice of tomato and provolone cheese before baking, and I’ve never looked back.

Spinach Balls
10 oz. package chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained
2 cup herb-seasoned dry bread stuffing, finely crushed
1⁄2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tsp. garlic powder
1⁄2 tsp. black pepper, ground
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1⁄2 cup butter, melted
3 eggs, beaten
Optional: tomato slices and provolone cheese slices

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Shape into walnut-sized balls and place on a baking sheet. (Note, at this point you can set each ball on top of a base slice of tomato and a middle slice of provolone. Be sure to use nonstick spray on the baking sheet.) Bake for 20 minutes, or until heated through and browned. (Inspired by AllRecipes.)

Mandy: This is a new family favorite since we are always looking for delicious ways to use up bananas that are getting too ripe. It's sweet but still feels wholesome enough for a holiday breakfast.

Banana Gingerbread Muffins
(adapted from a Chiquita Bananas recipe)
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. very finely ground fresh pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tsp. ground flax seed
3/4 tsp. baking soda
2 egg whites
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1/4 cup molasses

Preheat oven to 350º F. Spray a muffin tin with nonstick baking spray or insert paper muffin liners. Add spices and salt to a bowl with baking soda and flour and set aside. Beat egg whites in a large bowl until frothy. Add in sugar and oil and beat a little more. Stir in mashed bananas and molasses and beat for 1 minute more. Add in dry ingredients and stir until combined. Spoon into muffin tin and bake for approximately 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in a muffin comes out clean.

Melissa: I have never made my friend Gretchen’s Awesome, Amazing, Addictive Sugar Cookies, but I have inhaled many. I’m claiming this recipe as my holiday favorite and hear Santa is partial to them, too.

Gretchen’s Awesome, Amazing, Addictive Sugar Cookies
Cookie Dough
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 egg
3 tbsp. whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. of lemon extract or other flavored extract
3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Combine sugar, butter, egg, whipping cream, vanilla and lemon extract. Beat with mixer until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt and gradually mix into the bowl of wet ingredients until a firm dough forms. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

On floured surface, roll out dough and cut out desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place about 2” apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, until edges are a light golden brown.

When cookies have cooled completely, ice the cookies with Royal Icing (recipe below) and decorate as desired. Allow to dry completely, before stacking (approximately 8 hours).

Royal Icing
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
3 tbsp. meringue powder
4 tbsp. warm water
Food coloring

In a small bowl, mix meringue powder with warm water. Let set for 15 minutes.

In a large bowl mix confectioners’ sugar and meringue mixture to desired consistency. If you prefer a thinner icing, add water 1/2 tsp. at a time. Divide icing in small bowls and stir in food coloring for desired colors.

After icing the cookies, keep cookies flat/untouched to air dry. Icing will take approximately 8 hours to harden for stacking.

Tuan: Holidays mean family time. Sometimes that’s all the more reason to have a drink in hand. Cheers!

Family Time Cocktail
1 lowball glass
2-3 whiskey stones, chilled
3 oz. Woodford Reserve bourbon

Place 2-3 chilled whiskey stones into lowball glass. Pour 3 ounces of Woodford Reserve bourbon into glass. Find a relaxing chair by the Christmas tree and a roaring fireplace. Drink, relax, repeat.

Audrey: My mom and I have been making Gooey Dessert Bars together since I was very young. Anyone who’s notorious for eating cookie dough before baking will find these hard to resist. For a festive spin, swap red and green M&M’S for the chocolate chips.

Gooey Dessert Bars
1 18.5-oz. box yellow cake mix
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 stick (½ cup) butter or margarine, softened
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 6-oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350ºF. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine cake mix, brown sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla. Mix on medium speed until well-blended. Pour into a greased 9”x13” baking pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Bake for 30 minutes. Do not over bake. Gooey is the goal, even though bars may not appear to be done. Cool and cut into bars.

Nicole: This apple cheese casserole is all kinds of unhealthy and delicious. All good recipes start out with lots of butter and cheese!

Apple Cheese Casserole
2 sticks of butter 
1 lb of Velveeta 
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
2 cans of Comstock apple pie filling

Grease a Pyrex dish and spread the apple pie filling on the bottom.  Mix together the (softened) butter and the rest of the ingredients and spread on top.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.  Uncover and bake for 10 minutes more or until top has browned.  Let cool and enjoy!  

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