Mice! (CANDY Mice, That Is!)

12:59 PM Posted by Geoff

They're not a cookie....but when I found this creation (by accident) on the web a couple years ago, I KNEW I wanted to make them.   I think they're kind of a cool addition to my cookie packages, and I'm going to tweak the assembly to make them a little bit of my own.
Ingredients: 
  • Maraschino cherries (WITH stems)
  • Hershey's chocolate kisses (peanut butter kisses or christmas kisses add a fun twist)
  • sliced almonds
  • Dragees (silver or gold)
  • melted chocolate for dipping  (milk and dark in seperate dipping pots for added decoration..or white for white mice!)
  • red hot candies (for the nose)
  • brown or white chocolate sprinkles for differently decorated mice

Supplies:
  • Tweezers (For setting the eyes)
  • A couple of cookie sheets lined with waxed paper or foil
  • Warmer plate (or wrapped hotpad)
  • A couple wet towels (this can get messy!)
  • Sprinkle bowls
  • Paper Towels

Directions:

1)   The bodies of the mice are made from Maraschino Cherries dipped in chocolate. Drain and rinse the cherries, then lay a single layer on paper towels for 30 minutes to an hour, changing the paper once. The cherries should be fairly dry before dipping in chocolate. The stems become the tails. When dipping, completely seal the area of the cherry at the base of the stem. Don’t dip the entire stem in chocolate.
  
2)   While the chocolate is still soft, add the heads (Hershey’s Kisses) or, if the chocolate hardens, you can dip the bottom of the Kiss in chocolate and stick it to the body.  Place mice in freezer for 5 or so minutes and quickly but gently redip entire mouse (excluding tail) in desired chocolate for a uniform coating. (If you're patient and have the time........repeat the freezing and redipping 2x, you'll have a smoother and much sturdier mouse!  Plus if you alternate white/dark/milk chocolate you'll add a surprise element and have a tastier candy)

3)   The ears are sliced almonds, dipped in chocolate and set behind the head. They can be added while the body chocolate is still soft, but the timing is tricky. Too soft and the ears slip down the sides. Too hard and they don’t stick at all. I find it easier to attach all of them at the same time. I break an almond slice in half, dip the broken side in chocolate and attach it just behind the head.
Setup:
In this picture you can see the set up. The pan of chocolate sits on a heating pad that has been wrapped in a towel and covered with aluminum foil. The gentle heat from the heating pad keeps the chocolate melted. (I use a food warmer I picked up at a 2nd hand store instead of a heating pad)

The almonds are in a bowl for easy sorting.

The dragees are attached by holding them with tweezers, barely dipping them into melted chocolate. They easily stick to the head (Kiss). I smear a small bit of chocolate on the aluminum foil which keeps the chocolate soft, and also gives me a perfect spot for dipping the eyes without immersing them too deeply into the chocolate. If you find the dragees do not stick well, set the tray of mice in the refrigerator for five minutes or so. When the melted chocolate touches the cold Kiss, the eyes will adhere immediately.

Packaging:  

If you follow my hint and redip each mice one or two times, you'll have a much sturdier candy and have better odds of arriving intact after shipping.   However HOW you package your cookes and these candies makes all the difference.   In general, a baggie (the fold over kind) work well per mouse rather than just throwing them in a loose box.  However, If you want to go the extra mile, create a cardboard base slightly longer and wider than the finished mouse, adhere with a dollop of chocolate, set inside the baggie once completely cooled, close with a ribbon or twist tie.

Personally I go the 'third mile' and always "box within a box" when I assemble my pkgs.  Maybe I have a touch of Christmas OCD, but it's worth it!

Credit:  I originally found these at:  http://christmasnotebook.com/2007/12/15/christmas-mice/ , the photographs and directions above are hers, and will be replaced once I make my own this year.  (directions in bold are my twist)

Apple Cake

8:11 PM Posted by Geoff

This recipe (though not a cookie) has become a family favorite.   

My mom found it in her Good Housekeeping magazine and it comes courtesy of Paula Deen (y'all).

I had never made it before, but it seemed pretty straight forward and it turned out fantastic!   I did learn that with this recipe you CANNOT substitute butter or margerine for the oil.




Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 1/2 cups chopped Granny Smith apples
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
(confectioners' sugar for dusting)

Directions:

1)   Preheat oven to 325.  Coat 10 inch tube pan with removable bottom with nonstick cooking spray with flour.  (flouring your pan the traditional way works just fine)

2)   In a large bowl with mixer on medium high speed, beat granulated sugar, oil and eggs until well blended.  With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour mixture.  Fold in your apples (batter will be thick).  Spoon batter into prepared pan, scattering remaining apple over top of batter and gently press in with fingers.
   
3)   Bake 1 1/2 hours or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Cool in pan on wire rack until completely cooled. Unmold cake, place on serving plate and serve either plain or with a light dusting of powdered sugar.

each serving is about 510 calories, 7 g protein, 65 carb, 26 g total fat, 2 g fiber, 53 mg cholesterol, 315 mg sodium

Spicy Fig Pinwheels

9:10 PM Posted by Geoff

I have a stack of Christmas magazines about 3 feet high thanks to my mom saving them every year.  In 2007 I was busy doing my Christmas Cookie baking and ran across this recipe in the December 2000 issue of "Good Housekeeping".  Though a departure from my regular favorites (and perhaps skill), I thought these might be a welcome addition.  I was right....they are delicious and very easy to make!  These Fig Spirals are semi fragile when compared to hearty gingerbread cookies but really compliment the regular sugary fare.
Ingredients:
(Cookie Dough)
  • 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter (or margarine) = 2 sticks softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
(Fig Filling)
  • 1 orange
  • 1 bag (12 ounces) Calimyrna figs (discard stems)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
Directions:
1)   Prepare Cookie Dough:  In medium bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking soda.  In large bowl, with mixer at medium speed, beat suars with butter until cream, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.  At low speed, beat in vanilla, then eggs, 1 at a time.  Gradually add flour mixture: beat just until blended, occasionally scrapping bowl.

2)   Divide dough in half.  Wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour or until dough is firm enough to handle (Or, place dough in freezer for 30 minutes).

3)   Meanwhile, prepare fig filling:  From orange, grate 1 teaspoon peel and squeeze 1/2 cup juice.  IN food processer, with knife blade attached, process figs until almost smooth.  Add walnuts, sugar and orange peel and juice.  Process until filling is well blended.  Cover and set aside until ready to use.

4)   On a 20 inch length of lightly floured plastic wrap with floured rolling pin, roll half of dough in 17" by 10 inch rectangle:  spread with half of fig mixture, leaving 1/2 inch border al around (fig layer will be very thin).  Starting on one of the short sides, roll dough jelly-roll fashion, lifting lastic wrap as you roll.  Wrap roll with plastic wrap and freeze at  least 2 hours or over night, or until dough is firm enough to slice.  (If using margarine, freeze overnight.)  Repeat with remaining dough and fig mixture.

5)   Preheat oven to 400 deg.  Grease 2 large cookie sheets.  Remove 1 roll from refrigerator to cutting board.  Cut roll crosswise into SCANT 1/4 inch slices.  Place slices, 1 inch apart on cookie sheets.

6)   Bake cookies on 2 oven racks 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned, rotating cookie sheets betwee upper and lower racks halfway through baking.  Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.

7)   Repeat with remaining roll.  Store cookies in tightly covered container up to 2 weeks.

Each Cookie:  About 85 calories.  1g protein.  13 g carbohydrate, 3 g total fat (2g sat), 1 g fiber, 14 mg cholesterol, 55 mg sodium.

Granny's Divinity (Twice Cooked Divinity)

9:05 PM Posted by Geoff

I have a few distinct memories of my grandmother's Divinity.  Once, when I was in the third grade we went over to her house for a visit and were greeted with a bowl full of white, green and pink candies.  I fondly remember biting into those little pieces of heaven.   To me, each bite tasted like a creamy, silky sweet cloud......I knew instantly that I LOVED this candy!   I also remember one year she hadn't placed them in a sealed container and they were like biting into a rock.  And finally during an especially wet winter, she attempted to make a batch.......and instead of the fluffy clouds, they turned into flat, sticky glossy puddles.  Though she was disappointed we all had a good laugh and I learned perhaps the most important lesson when making Divinity:  Don't make it when it's cloudy and snowing!  Medium to high humidity yields flat, glossy, and perpetually sticky pools which aren't any fun at all.  

Twice Cooked Divinity is an "old timey" recipe so when you're making this, you're making history which is kind of cool.

Ingredients:
  • 2 1/2 Cups Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Water
  • 1/2 Cup Light Corn Syrup
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Egg Whites
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Cup Chopped Walnuts (optional)
Directions:
(This can be a difficult recipe so be sure to read the hints)

1)   Cook the first 4 ingredients in a heavy 2 quart saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves and a candy thermometer registers 248 deg F.  --about 15 minutes.  Remove syrup mixture from heat.

2)   Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Pour half of hot syrup in a thin stream over egg whites while beating constantly at a high speed, about 5 minutes.

3)   Cook remaining half of syrup over medium heat, stirring occasionally until a candy thermometer registers 272 deg F (about 4-5 minutes)  Slowly pour hot syrup and vanilla extract over egg white mixture beating constantly at high speed until mixture holds it shape (about 6 to 8 minutes).  Stir in 1 cup chopped walnuts.

4) Drop mixture quickly by rounded teaspoonfuls onto waxed paper and garnish with nuts if desired.  Cool.

Hints: 

Weather and timing are absolutely crucial with this candy.  As I wrote at the beginning, don't make this candy when you have medium to high humidity or it WILL fail.

Recruit a Helper!  Even if you have a standalone mixer, reading a thermometer, pouring hot syrup, mixing and scraping a bowl are MUCH easier tasks with an extra set of hands. 
 
Be prepared! Have everything ready in advance, and that includes reading your instructions.  I've made this for years and when I don't prepare?  It sucks.   Before you begin, roll out some cookie sheet lengths of waxed paper on your table or counter and set out a couple of spoons per person as well as a trivet or dishtowel to set the bowl on. 

Chill your bowl and beaters before whipping the egg whites.

Be vigilant when separating your egg whitesAny speck of yolk will ruin your efforts.  

Pour ingredients GENTLY in your bowls or pans DON'T scrape the sides while stirring.  

Peanut Brittle

9:03 PM Posted by Geoff


Banana Bread

8:55 PM Posted by Geoff


This is my favorite Banana Bread recipe, and I got it from my Grandmother's collection.

To me, holiday breads like banana and zucchini are such a novelty because they're out of season, and they taste fabulous when it's cold and snowy outside.







Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla (or 1 1/2 tsp imitation)
  • 1 1/2 cup mashed ripe bananas

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Directions:

Cream butter and sugar, beat in eggs and the rest of your wet ingredients.  Then add your combined dry ingredients.   Mix only until well blended, stir in nuts if so desired and bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes.

I make large loaves for myself and family, but for shipping I make mini loaves.   I buy the small aluminum tins at the grocery store and they are perfect for mailing.   I simply leave each loaf in its tin, wrap with foil and freeze.  When I assemble the mailing boxes I wrap them in colored cellophane and "Voila!" they're gorgeous and ready to go! 

Jills P'nut Butter Balls

8:42 PM Posted by Geoff


I received this recipe from my bosses wife inbetween my college days.   I was working at a restaurant supply store and she made these for the staff every christmas.  

I LOVE these, and although I don't know where she got the recipe from originally, I can't help but give her the credit, even though I wish I had a better name for them.





Ingredients:

  • 1 stick butter or margerine
  • 2 cups crunchy peanut butter
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 cups Rice Crispies cereal
  • Dipping chocolate for coating
Directions:

Mix dough ingredients by hand, and form into one inch balls.   (coat your hands with a small bit of butter and it won't stick so much). Insert a toothpick in each ball for dipping, and then place the balls in the freezer while you slowly melt the dipping chocolate.  

Lay a sheet of waxed paper on the counter (I wet the counter with a washcloth so the paper doesn't slip around) and you're ready to begin.  

Dip the balls and set on the paper.   Once the chocolate loses it's gloss I remove the toothpick and then with a small spoon, I dab a drop of chocolate on the hole left by the toothpick, then I place a silver or gold dragee on top and they're done!   If you do this assembly line style it goes really fast  (Dip all at once, remove the toothpicks all at once and dab the choclate etc)

This candy can be frozen ahead of time, it keeps perfectly,  and it tastes absolutely wonderful.