Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Hanukkah!

Latkas, or potato pancakes are delicious no matter is you are a chosen one, or a gentile like me.

Happy Kwanzaa!

Kwanzaa is a new holiday, introduced in 1966, so I will cut it some slack for having an evolving menu.

Boxing Day!

December 26th is Boxing Day across the pond . . . time to eat up, and box up the leftovers, and generally do weird but charitable stuff.

Traditionally, Boxing Day is when the elite give boxes bearing gifts to their servants. . . sort of like Christmas for the lower class.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

When Houses Fly . . .

Histor-tainer Charles Phoenix is never one to let an opportunity pass, so when he made a Gingerbread house under the tutelage of master baker             he thought hmmmm, and let his inspiration soar . . . . let's send it aloft!

Stuffing made with stale bread, old apples, and dried cranberries

I hate wasting food, and stuffing is the perfect use for old bread, but I wonder how many modern cooks have actually used bread as opposed to buying stuffing already dried, cubed and seasoned.

Cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve

A couple of days ago I made No Fail Chocolate Chip Cookies and they are still edible. I'm not sure I should be offering "Aged" cookies to the great bearded one, and they taste pretty good!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dollar Store Christmas Candy

Sure, I like Godiva chocolate, I eat it when someone gives me some, but it isn't something I'm going to go out and buy for myself. Instead I'm going to stock up on Dollar Store Christmas Candy, and eat it, share it, and use it to decorate baked goods and stuff stockings.

It may not taste the best, but it sure is festive, and the price is right.

Most of the chocolate you'll find in the Dollar Stores is made by Palmer Candy of Reading, Pennsylvania , not to be confused with Palmer's Candy of Sioux City, Iowa. Palmer has been making candy since 1948, and Palmer's since 1878, and both are proudly made in the U.S.A.

Palmer has plenty of wonderful Christmas candies but they are best known for their Chocolate Bunnies -- here is how they are made -

Thursday, December 22, 2011

S'more please

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I have mixed feelings about the Cupcake craze . . . I hear it is finally waning, and Cake Pops are the new thing, but before we put all those Cupcake centered blogs to bed . . .

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Counterbalance Soup

What do you eat when you've been surviving off of Christmas Cookies, and other sweets for days? I like to make what I call "Counterbalance Soup".

I has veggies, but not too many . . . it also have cheese and beer, so you know it is going to be delicious.

This version was made with carrots, cauliflower, white beans, Ro-tel and onions simmered in a chicken broth with beer. I added Pace cheese sauce, and viola! One of the tastiest counterbalance concoctions you'll ever encounter!

When Grocery Stores Beat the Dollar Store

Okay, I admit it . . . sometimes it happens. Sometimes your local grocer may beat the prices at the Dollar Store. Today I went to Smith's (part of the Kroger conglomerate) and I was pleasantly surprised to find Pillsbury Super Moist cake mix for a buck (when swiping your Kroger card) and a 32 oz bag of powdered sugar for $1.25 -- which beats the hell out of a 16 oz box of C&H for a dollar at . . . you know where.

They also had foil cupcake holders for 89 cents, and Nestle Toll House Limited Edition Mint and Dark Chocolate chips (so good) for $2.00. Oh and to top it off - Marshmallow Fluff for $1.00.

Maybe it is the influx of Dollar Stores that has driven the market prices down . . . but hey, I am not complaining. That is what made this country great . . . free enterprise, free market.

Personally, as poor as I am, I have never eaten better.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Classic No Fail Chip Cookies with Blue Bonnet Margarine

I know some cooks and bakers turn up their nose at margarine, but if even a french master chef can't taste the difference, it is good enough for me, and always available at any Dollar Store with a fridge.

Here is Blue Bonnet's America's Classic No-Fail Chocolate Chip Cookies. I love this recipe because they put NO-FAIL right in the title, and that does inspire confidence, because let's face it, I am NOT a french master chef.

So here we go -

Hands on: 20 Minutes, Total: 40 Minutes, Makes 26 Servings (1 cookie each)

Now I hate to interrupt so soon, but if you are anything like me, you can pretty much double the time, and half the servings . . . because let's face it, who is going to eat just one cookie.

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup Blue Bonnet stick (melted, cooled) 1 cup = 2 sticks
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cup semi sweet chocolate morsels

1. Preheat over to 375 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, salt in medium bowl and set aside.
2. Beat Blue Bonnet, granulated sugar, and brown sugar by hand in large bowl until combined.

Classic Christmas Cookies

Who doesn't love classic Christmas Cookies - the ones that look like Santa Claus, Christmas Trees, and Bells, and Stars?

This is great recipe, but it does require butter as opposed to margarine, and that is not always available at the true dollar stores, though it can be bought for a bargain at the Dollar General Market.

  • 1 1/2 cups butter, softened

  • 2 cups white sugar

  • 4 eggs

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • Directions

    1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
    2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
    3. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

    The frosting is pretty simple too . . . 

    Luckily the 99 Cent Only Store had dusting sugar and sprinkles, and I still have some mini chocolate chips left over for eyes and buttons.

    Saturday, December 17, 2011

    I love any recipe that requires a hammer, and no baking !

    Tonight I deck a rum ball tree! I've been waiting all week for this, and the time has come to smash Bud's Best Vanilla Wafers to smithereens! I just love any recipe that requires a hammer, and to make rum balls you have to crumble some cookies.

    I suppose in the kitchen, the civilized way would be to use a mallet, or a rolling pin, but screw that . . . I'm using a regulation size hammer. Bye, bye Bud's Best . . . you sure looked purty in your package, sporting that proud "Made in the U.S.A." flag.

    My weapon of choice --

    Okay, it is a "Light Duty 13 oz" (I'm not sure if that is "regulation size") hammer, but it is a Stanley, and it is Made in the U.S.A too -- Yee Haw!

    So here's the recipe -

  • 1 (5 ounce) can evaporated milk

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

  • 1/2 cup brandy or rum

  • 1 (16 ounce) package vanilla wafers, crushed very fine

  • 2 cups finely chopped walnuts (optional)

  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar for rolling

  • Directions

    1. In the microwave or in a metal bowl over a pan of simmering water, melt evaporated milk and chocolate chips, stirring frequently until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the crushed vanilla wafers and brandy until well blended. Roll the dough into small balls and roll the balls in chopped walnuts (or not), then in confectioners' sugar. Store covered in the refrigerator.
    Notice it says "crush very fine", but it doesn't tell you *how* to crush them . . . You might try running over them with your car or tractor (though somehow I don't think tractor tires would do a very good job), or you could try a food processor (boring), or you could just whack the hell out of them the old fashioned way . . . which leads me to believe an iron skillet might do a fine crushing job as well.

    I was able to get all my aggressions out with a hammer until my downstairs neighbors started mimicking my hammering with a broomstick on their ceiling . . . and it wasn't even 9 o'clock yet!

    Now, my Bud's Best cookies from Dollar Tree come in a 10 oz. package, so I'll have to scale down my recipe a bit, but that's okay, 'cuz I got plans to make all sorts of other balls with other stuff I've accumulated. I might even make some of these . . .

    But, I digress . . .

    What crumbled cookie bits you choose to make your balls with, and what you choose to roll them in is completely up to you - I mean, it is a free country right?

    There are lots of options available at the Dollar Store -- almond cookies -- rolled in coconut and almonds, peanut butter cookies rolled in peanuts and Reese's Pieces, or even mint cookies rolled in candy canes.

    Make a bunch and make a rum ball tree, much the same way as the Astro Weenie Christmas Tree. Have fun, and don't piss off the neighbors! Well, maybe just a little . . .

    Great Holiday Packaging

    Who wouldn't want a big tub of Vanilla Snow Cotton Candy for the Holidays?!

    I don't know what I'm going to do with it just yet, right now I just like looking at it.

    I got this at the 99 Cent Only Store.

    I guessing it will end up on cupcakes, but I might have to go all out and make a gingerbread house . . .

    Friday, December 16, 2011

    One door closes, another door opens . . .

    Earlier this year I bemoaned the loss of the 98 Cent Dollar Super Store just a few months after it had opened in a shuttered Longs Drug Store. I love independent Dollar Stores with superfluous or contradictory names a la "98 Cent Dollar" because they usually signal an exciting, unexpected mix of merchandise. While I'm not one to buy food from China, I do love their exuberant embrace of American Pop Culture and over the top (and cheap) products that are so darn festive, like this Christmas Card for example . . .

    It is pink, and sparkly, and Santa is playing a fiddle which I love, and you open it up and you get a heart that lights up, says Merry Christmas, and plays Jingle Bells, and I Wish You a Merry Christmas.

    So, I took the opening of a Dollar General Market, with it's clean but corporate aura with a grain of salt. I knew all about Dollar General from my foray in the South, and I shopped there often, but I don't consider it a "true" dollar store, as most merchandise is not a dollar. Still, there are bargains to be found, and some even surpass those at the local Dollar Tree or 99 Cent Only Store.

    Oh, and they sell booze, and cigarettes . . . and they have plenty of holiday accoutremants made in China.

    I couldn't resist a $3 bottle of merlot from Spring Creek of California. I think 2 Buck Chuck aka Charles Shaw from Trader Joe's is $2.99 a bottle, so I'll spring for the extra penny, and try this out. I got a beautiful bottle box from the 99 Cent Store, and a very gaudy bauble from the (independent) Dollar Discount Store still open (though the closed for a time), put it all together for a lovely gift for around $5.

    The Dollar General Store did beat everyone for their assortment of Holiday Muffin Cups with festive matching picks.

    You get 20 per package, so I'm all set for my cupcake baking.

    All in all, the Dollar General Store is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, and though not a "true" dollar store, with definitely be on my route.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Astro-Weenie Christmas Tree - Dollar Store Edition

    One of Charles Phoenix's most enduring and endearing culinary celebrations is the Astro-Weenie Christmas Tree. It is also one of the easiest to prepare, as it is really an assemblage of ingredients and requires no cooking. He demonstrates thusly:

    The Astro-Weenie Christmas Tree is so versatile, it can be adapted to nearly any occasion and the variations are endless.

    You can get all sorts of weenie products at the Dollar Store, but I decided to stick with the vegetarian version for my tree. Dollar Tree has styrofoam tree forms, but note, that they are small and rather stumpy, more of a Astro-Weenie bush, than a tree . . . but I pressed on, using the scaled down version as the center of a cheese and cracker tray.

    The tray, foil, cheese, olives, and all the veggies were purchased at the 99 Cent Only Store. The crackers are from the Dollar Tree.

    I lucked out finding radishes (the star on top is cut from a radish), and small colorful peppers, but you really can't go wrong no matter what you pick up.

    You'll have enough stuff to make an extra tray of veggies, cheese and crackers, or two trees, or you can splurge, go to a craft store and get a full size cone, if you are not into mini-trees.

    Oh, and don't forget the dip. I like to use a combo of ranch dressing and cream cheese.

    A few tips - I start with the broccoli, and the cauliflower, then fill in with the others, leaving the olives for last - sort of like the ornaments of the tree. Also I found shoving the toothpicks in first, and placing the veggies on the picks worked well. Of course, I was careful not to shove a finger into the picks, because really nobody likes an Astro-Finger Christmas tree . . . just sayin'.

    Check back in a few days when I make an Astro-Rum Ball Christmas Tree for my Office Christmas Cookie Party.

    Saturday, December 10, 2011

    A Fruit Cake That Will Actually Get Eaten

    People like fruit, and people like cake, but put those two words together and it usually causes a gag reflex.

    So I don't call my concoction "fruit cake", I call it "Fruit Basket Brandy Bread."

    It will function as a door stop, but it will most likely get spared that fate, and actually get eaten. This recipe makes very nice muffins too.

    I actually put this together to get rid of Thanksgiving leftovers . . . some whole cranberry sauce, and small pears and apples that are really, really ripe now. I also added some crushed pineapple, and dried cranberries to the recipe. You can add just about anything. Here is the basic recipe -

    1 large egg

    1/2 cup milk or yogurt (sour cream would probably work too)

    1/4 cup melted butter or margarine

    1 1/2 cup flour

    2/3 cup sugar

    2 tsp baking powder

    3/4 tsp salt

    1/2 tsp cinnamon

    1/2 tsp nutmeg

    1/4 brown sugar (for topping)

    So mix everything but the brown sugar - this is to sprinkle on top. The dough will be very thick, so add 1/8 to a 1/4 cup of brandy. Now start adding fruit. I had 1/4 cup crushed pineapple in juice, and 1/4 cup cranberry sauce. This was enough fruit in liquid to get the dough/batter to just the right consistency. I then chopped a couple of small pears, and small apples, about 1/2 cup of each. Then I threw in about 1/4 cup dried cranberries.

    Stir everything by hand, and either spoon into greased muffin tins, or line with paper cups. This also makes a nice loaf, so if you choose pour into a greased loaf pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top, and bake 15 minutes for muffins, or 30 minutes for the loaf, or until toothpick comes out clean.

    Cool, and serve to your guests. Just don't call it Fruit Cake.