Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Great Pumpkin Cheese Ball

Happy Halloween!  No one knows for sure where carving pumpkins for Jack O'Lanterns came from, but it is believed it started in Ireland--I'm Irish, so I'll go with that assumption!  The carving of turnips, beets, and gourds into grotesque looking figures to represent spirits and goblins was a common practice in both Ireland and the Scottish highlands on this day.  Today, we go a little more crazy and  a lot more artistic than these early ones, but the thought is still there--scare off evil spirits.

My sister, Barbara, introduced me to cheese balls.  She often brought them for the "appetizer table" at Mom's at holidays or picnics.  I've made quite a few for my family since then and love changing up the ingredients to meet my mood!  It's easy to do and who doesn't like cheese.

The Great Pumpkin Cheese Ball
1-8oz. pkg. cream cheese
1-8oz. container of Boursin cheese with garlic & herbs
1 tsp. Worcheshire sauce
4-8 drops of hot sauce
Pinch of salt and pepper
1/3 cup finely chopped red bell pepper--save the stem for the "Pumpkin"

1 scallion, chopped finely
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese 

1 cup Cheez-it Crackers, ground finely
Assorted crackers and veggies

 In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese and Boursin cheese together.  Add the next 5 ingredients and mix again.  Stir in the cheeses.
Grind the Cheez-It crackers in a food processor and place on wax paper.  With clean hands, form the cheese mixture into a ball and roll into the cracker crumbs.

Once you've coated the cheese ball completely, use the back of a dinner knife to form the sections of the pumpkin.

Set the cheese ball on a platter and add the stem from the pepper to garnish.  Place assorted crackers or veggies around the platter and serve.

I've decided to have some, with a cranberry juice, but a nice glass of wine would be perfect; I just need to be awake for the Trick or Treaters that will be coming shortly.

The Vera Bradley Tote goes to Nancy C.  Please email me your address so I can get it mailed to you.

I'm sure my grands are anxious to go out.  I made Ari's costume; he wanted to be a knight, Maddie is going as a Power Ranger and Emmie a Lion.
Sir Ari with his trusty Squire!
My girls!
I hope y'all have a safe Halloween. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Psychedelic Witches Embedded in Asphalt Cookies!

There is a story...several years ago, Kelly and I were watching a new comedienne on television, I think it was the Tonight Show, but that's not important.  Anyway, in her skit she started talking about road construction and asked, "do you ever wonder about those orange cones that are put up? Well, those are psychedelic witches embedded in asphalt!"  We couldn't stop laughing and to this day, every time I see an orange cone, it still brings a chuckle.

Basically, these are a thumbprint cookie that I used a Caramel Kisses in the center instead of jam and I made it chocolate to look like the asphalt!
If I've learned anything in's that life is short--laugh more!

Psychedelic Witches Embedded in Asphalt cookies!
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, separated
2 cups King Arthur all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa

Chocolate sprinkles
1 bag Hershey Kisses (I used caramel, but your choice!)
Orange Fine Sanding Sugar

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter.  Add the sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add the two egg yolks, saving the egg whites for later, and mix thoroughly.

Mix the flour, cocoa and salt in a small bowl, then, add to the creamed mixture and mix on low until combined.  

Use a fork to whisk the two egg whites, which will be used to dip the dough into to adhere the sprinkles.  Use a 1-tablespoon size scoop for measure and roll the dough into a ball, then, dip into the whisked egg whites and finally into the chocolate sprinkles.
To have a "place" for the Kisses, use a large wooden or metal spoon handle (or your thumb!) to create an indentation.  I used my metal ladle.
 Bake in the preheated oven for 11 minutes.  Remove from the oven and immediately place a Kiss in the center.  Let set a few minutes, then, sprinkle with Orange Fine Sugar.
This step gives it the psychedelic look of the orange construction cones.
Remove to a rack to cool completely before bagging these up little witches up for your special Tricksters.
Even while baking these, I'm laughing thinking about that evening and more laughter in this world is what I wish for. Enjoy!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Little Cranberry Tea Cakes & a Special Give-Away in Memory of Kelly

I know Thanksgiving is just barely five weeks away, but I couldn't help myself when I saw the first cranberries in the supermarket.  Bounce berries, as we called them because they do bounce, are one of my favorite fruits to bake with and when the weather turned very fall-like this weekend, I did just that.

Cranberries are one of the only three fruits indigenous to North America and one of the healthiest fruits to add to your diet.  As a woman, I've known of their properties to prevent UTI's (urinary tract infections), but did you know that it ranks in the top for antioxidants too?  Antioxidants are essential to optimizing health by helping to combat the free radicals that can damage cellular structures as well as DNA.

Native Americans enjoyed cooking with cranberries and probably sweetened them with honey.  For sure, they were on the Thanksgiving table.  By the 1800s, they were imported to England where they were also used as a poultice for wound healing and as a dye.  Surprisingly, there is an article in the November FoodNetwork magazine on dyeing napkins with this versatile berry!

Little Cranberry Tea Cakes
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1-8oz. pkg. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans* (optional)
2 cups fresh cranberries, sliced in half

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Spray a decorative mini bundt pan with a baking spray or line a muffin pan with papers.

Wash and dry on paper towels fresh cranberries.  Slice each berry in half.
 In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese together thoroughly.  Add the sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, while the mixer is running on low, then, turn up to medium and beat until fluffy.  Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then, turn it on again and add the eggs one at a time, incorporating them completely.  Again, scrape down the sides.  
Whisk together the dry ingredients lightly in a separate bowl and add to the mixture.  Mix on low just until combined.  Stir in the nuts, if using and cranberries.  (*Pecans are a big part of Southern cooking, which I'm embracing wholeheartedly!)
Scoop the batter into the prepared pan.  
 Bake in the preheated oven for 25-28 minutes (depending on what pan you're using).  Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 5 to 7 minutes, then, turnout onto a rack to cool completely.
For Tea Cakes, I mixed up a simple glaze:
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 T light Karo syrup
3-4 T hot water
...and drizzled over top of the cakes.
I couldn't let October pass without a special give-away in memory of Kelly; she was the epitome of giving.  I have mentioned before that The Vera Bradley Breast Cancer Foundation has been a focus for me to see a cure for breast cancer--100% of the donation goes to research. I attended a preview night at the store in our area recently and I chose this Tote Bag in Bittersweet that will be given to a lucky recipient this month.
It's perfect for on the go and I love this size especially to hold my knitting projects...and of course it's in the colours that Kelly loved!  Just comment on posts over the next few days and on the 31st, I'll announce the winner.

The fall weather is upon us and Little Cranberry Tea Cakes are wonderful treats--Enjoy!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Kelly's Heath Bar Biscotti

This month brings back a flood of memories about Kelly; it's not just her birthday month, but the month she started a 12-week course of chemo in 2009.  I was thinking about the day before she was starting this ordeal and remembered we had driven to the drug store to pick up the meds that would hopefully make it a little easier.  I went in to get them and on the way out, added two Heath bars for us to have.  Health bars were Kelly's favorite candy and when I got back to the car and handed her one, she smiled and said, "here's to kicking cancer's butt!"  We both enjoyed the rich toffee covered chocolate and had so much hope that phrase would be true.

Well...I was thinking about that and asked my hubby to pick up some Heath bars this morning on his coffee run so I could create something that would honor Kelly.  He brought me home 13--a baker's dozen, but the recipe I created only needed 4 to make the biscotti I had decided on.

A deep chocolate dough, because Mom always said, "you can handle anything with chocolate," and the crunch of those chocolate-covered toffee chunks makes this a very decadent cookie that will hold up to dunking.

Kelly's Heath Bar Biscotti
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 T espresso powder
2 T very hot water
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
1 T baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 cup coarsely chopped Heath bars (about 4)
3/4 cup mini Chocolate Chips

1 egg
2 T cold water
Sparkling Sugar

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Stir the espresso powder into the hot water.

In a stand mixer, using a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula.  Add the espresso and the vanilla and beat once again.  Add the eggs, one at a time.
Add the dry ingredients and beat on low just until combined--DON'T OVER MIX!
Stir in the Heath bar pieces and mini chocolate chips.  Spoon mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and pat into a 18" x 3" mound.
Mix the egg wash and brush onto the top of the dough, then, sprinkle with the sparkling sugar. 

Bake in the preheated over for 25 to 30 minutes (mine took 30).  The dough top should show cracks and be set.
Remove dough, including the parchment paper, to a cutting board and use a serrated knife to slice 3/4-inch wide cookies (about 18-20).  Place the cookies back onto the baking sheet and return to the oven for 8-10 minutes more.
If you're feeling like there's not enough chocolate in these (teehee), you can mix 1 cup of chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon each of butter and shortening in a double boiler.  Melt the chips and dip the end of the cookie into it, then, sprinkle additional chopped Heath Bar pieces over it.  

I didn't do that this morning because we were meeting the builder at our lot to decide what trees will be removed.  A warm, almost sunny day of 75-degrees and I can almost imagine the home on this lot.

I will definitely be posting the progress as the building begins.  Enjoy! 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Southern Sweet Potato Pound Cake & October's Give-Away Apron

I bet you didn't know that North Carolina is the leading state in sweet potato production (38.5%); California and Louisiana are second and third.  Furthermore, the town of Benton, Kentucky celebrates sweet potatoes annually in their Tater Day Festival on the first Monday in April. (Whohoo, my Kentucky grandson would like that one!)

I know that my mother loved baking with sweet potatoes and quite often chose to bake a sweet potato pie rather than a pumpkin on several occasions.  This sweet, starchy tuber is rich in complex carbohydrates, beta carotene, and dietary fiber to name a few of the benefits so, understandably it was my choice when coming up with this pound cake.

Sweet potatoes are a reliable crop and grown all over the world for their resistance to the many common pests that plague other vegetables.  In addition to not requiring pesticides, they can be grown in somewhat poor soils without adding fertilizers.  That makes them one of the best "organically grown" vegetables we can eat.

Southern Sweet Potato Pound Cake
1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter at room temperature
1-8oz pkg. cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 1/2 cups (about 4 medium) mashed sweet potatoes
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
3 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour

Peel and cut into 1-inch chunks, the 4 sweet potatoes.  Cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer on a low boil until the sweet potatoes are tender.
Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Spray a tube pan with a non-stick baking spray and set aside. 

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese together.  Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
Add the mashed sweet potato and mix together, then add the cinnamon and vanilla and beat on medium for 1 minute.

Sift the dry ingredients and add to the mixture on low speed.  Beat 1 minute more to incorporate thoroughly.  Transfer mixture into the prepared baking pan.
I placed the baking pan on a parchment lined baking sheet and placed in the oven for 65 to 70 minutes.  Allow to cool in the pan about 10 minutes, then, lift the bottom up and transfer to a rack to cool completely.
I used a metal spatula to loosen the bottom and around the "cone" then transferred the cake to a serving plate and dusted the top with confectioners' sugar. 
I remember my mother telling me how much more dense the sweet potato was than baking with pumpkin, so I can assure you that the cake transfers quite easily.

To serve, I whipped up heavy cream with 2 T confectioners' sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla.

 Now, finally the apron.  I've found this lovely quilt shop in Raleigh that had the perfect fabric for this month's apron.  The soft orange chrysanthemums revel the season and speaks volumes of the colours that Kelly loved.  She once said to me, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer..."you know, Mom, I really don't like the colour pink!"  We laughed and was reminded of a line from the movie Legally Blonde, when Reese Witherspoon says, "whoever said Orange was the new Pink!"  Well, that would be Kelly.
I'm back from traveling for work and should have quite some interesting recipes to share for the remainder of the month.  Just comment on any of the posts for October and you're entered to win this beautiful and memorable apron. Enjoy!    

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pumpkin Patch Muffins & September's Give-Away Apron

The kitchen smelled wonderful this morning with the aroma of these muffins; bringing back memories of the last October that Kelly was with us.  She loved pumpkin and I baked these with her in mind.

I just returned this week from an event in Houston where I taught classes on my next line out in October.  One lovely woman in my workshop asked me, "how do you go on after losing a child?"  That's a question I've yet to answer, but I said, "she made me promise to continue sharing."  Kelly had a tremendous heart and always put others first, so how could I not honor her request. Understanding loss is not in the human nature, but it is part of life.

Pumpkin Patch Muffins
1 cup orange juice, heated slightly in the microwave (about 40 - 60 secs)
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries

3 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cardamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F-degrees.  Lightly greased specialty muffin pan (or line a muffin pan with paper liners)
I used this mini swirl bundt pan because its shape reminded me of a pumpkin!

Allow the cranberries to plump in the warmed orange juice for 15 minutes before starting the batter.

In a large bowl, measure all the dry ingredients and whisk together.  Add the "wet" ingredients and use a rubber spatula to mix together until smooth.
 Use a 1/4-cup scoop to measure batter into the muffin wells.
Bake in the preheated oven, 20 to 25 minutes until the tops "spring back" when you touch them with finger tips.  Allow to cool about 7 minutes before transferring the muffins to a rack to cool completely.  The recipe makes 12 large muffins.

Next, before I get to far behind, the winner of September's Give-Away Apron is Stamping Sue.  I'll be sending this out to you shortly for you to enjoy.  I would like to try to promise to get October's Apron up, but with another trip on Monday, I'm not sure if I'll get it done before I leave.  However, I will get one up and some special gifts to honor Kelly.  Enjoy!