Easy and Healthy Christmas and Holiday Gift Idea-Dried Fruit Mix

img_0848

Some of you may know that my background and love is really in healthy and light cooking, but I know with the holidays, it’s hard to focus on that. Even in my profession of being a Recipe Developer, I deviate from my healthy schedule, especially when working on holiday recipes. Usually, most magazines work six months in advance so I am preparing heavy holiday foods in the summer (during bathing suit season), and am grilling light summery food in the winter (luckily, I live in the south). As far as healthy gift ideas, I thought I would share one of my (and my kid’s) favorites-dried fruit mixed with a touch of ground cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. We went threw our jar in less than one day, so I hope this will be as popular as it was at our house.

 

Dried Fruit Mix

Prep: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup dried apples

3/4 cup pitted prunes

3/4 cup dried aprictots

1/2 cup dried blueberries

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Preparation

1. Layer all ingredients in a 1-quart jar in the order given; tightly seal. Makes 1 gift jar.

Homemade Food Gifts-Chocolate Butterscotch Bar Cookie Mix

img_0860

Homemade treats and gifts are so comforting during the holidays, and who wouldn’t love a gift that looks like this? I made a few of these, and everyone went nuts over them. I couldn’t make them fast enough. Not only is this the easiest gift in the world to make, but the finished product is beyond awesome (and when I say that, it’s good). You can find one-quart jars almost anywhere, but if you’re having trouble, check Walmart or your local grocery store. These recipes can be made ahead, and don’t forget to make a few extra batches to keep on hand for family munching, drop-in guests, or any time of the year.

 

Chocolate Butterscotch Bars

Prep: 5 minutes

YIeld: 3 dozen

Ingredients

11/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate morsels

2 cups (12 ounces) butterscotch morsles

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preparation

1. Layer all ingredients in a 1-quart jar in order given; tightly seal. Makes 1 gift jar.

Chocolate Butterscotch Bar Cookies: Combine Chocolate Butterscotch Bar Mix and 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk. Press into a greased aluminum foil-lined 9-inch square pan. Bake at 350F for 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely and cut into squares.

Chocolate-Pistachio and Cherry Bark

img_0926

Last week I posted White Chocolate, Pistachio and Cherry Bark, and it was an instant hit. For those of you who don’t love white chocolate or who may want to give a gift combination of white and dark chocolate, here is the option of using semisweet or dark chocolate. The recipe worked great (the dark chocolate is my favorite), and is so easy that it doesn’t seem possible it could taste this delicious. Enjoy, but beware…it is very addictive!

Dried Cherry and Pistachio Bark

Feel free to double or triple this recipe. To see White Chocolate version, see last weeks post.

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 1 minute

Yield: 11/2 pound

Ingredients

1 (12-ounce) package semisweet or dark chocolate morsels or chunks

1 cup pistachio nuts, shells removed and toasted

1 cup dried cherries or cranberries (or half-and-half)

Preparation

1. Place chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, covered with wax paper on HIGH 1 to 2 minutes or until melted, stirring once. Add pistachios and cherries, stirring well. Spread on large baking sheet covered with parchment paper.

2. Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm. Break bark into pieces. Store in a tightly sealed container in refrigerator up to 1 month. Pack in decorative boxes or tins lined with wax tissue paper or colored cellophane for gift giving.

Christmas Cookie Winner! Double Chocolate Chip Peppermint Cookies

img_0289

This recipe is so easy, and so fun to make. I saw a similar recipe in the Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, and my daughter, Leigh, begged me to make some. She made the orignal recipe all by herself, and we were all impressed. Since, as a Recipe Developer, I get paid to create recipes for a living, I decided I would try to rival her with this variation. Try them for yourself and let me know what you think. 

 

Super-Duper Chocolate Peppermint Kisses

Prep: 20 minutes

Bake: 8 minutes

Yield: 20 cookies

Ingredients

1 (161/2-ounce) package chocolate chip cookie dough

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 cup chocolate-flavored sprinkles

20 peppermint chocolate kisses, unwrapped (chocolate kisses may be substituted)

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet; set aside. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine cookie dough and cocoa powder. Seal bag; knead with your hands until dough is well mixed. Remove dough from bag.

2. Place chocolate sprinkles in a shallow dish or small bowl. Place milk in a shallow dish or small bowl. Shape dough into 1-inch balls, Dip balls in milk to moisten, then roll balls in chcolate sprinkles to coat. Place balls 2-inches apart on prepared cookie sheet.

3. Bake in a preheated oven about 8 minutes or until edges are firm. Immediately press a peppermint kiss into the center of each cookie. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool. 

To store: Place cookies between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Homemade Christmas Gifts-White Chocolate, Pistachio and Cherry Bark

img_08181

Everyone loves white chocolate bark during the holidays, but this version has a twist with pistachios and dried cherries which gives it a sweet and salty taste with a crunch. This recipe is so easy and takes no time at all. Be sure to purchase already shelled pistachio nuts in the nut section of your local grocery store. You may also substitute sliced almonds for the pistachios and dried cranberries for the cherries (sometimes dried cherries are hard to find). If you give these as gifts, make sure you put a note on the gift tag to keep the bark refrigerated until ready to enjoy, but up to one month for best flavor.


Dried Cherry and Pistachio Bark

Feel free to double or triple this recipe.

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 1 minute

Yield: 11/2 pound

Ingredients

1 (12-ounce) package white chocolate morsels or any white chocolate

1 cup pistachio nuts, shells removed and toasted

1 cup dried cherries or cranberries

Preparation

1. Place white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, covered with wax paper on HIGH 1 to 2 minutes or until melted, stirring once. Add pistachios and cherries, stirring well. Spread on large baking sheet covered with parchment paper.

2. Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm. Break bark into pieces. Store in a tightly sealed container in refrigerator up to 1 month. Pack in decorative boxes or tins lined with wax tissue paper or colored cellophane for gift giving.

Easiest Christmas Cookies Ever-Gingerbread Cookies

img_0597

These are the easiest gingerbread cookies ever. My daugther, Leigh, and son, Zachary made these all on their own. We used the Pillsbury slice and bake gingerbread cookie dough (found in your refrigerator section of your local grocery store), and everyone thought they were made from scratch. Purchase colored sprinkles, icing or decorator crystals for your kids to decorate, and they will have a blast.

img_0593

img_0594

Southern Thanksgiving Dessert-Pralines and Praline Bundt Cake

img_04271

img_0430

img_0426

I was working in New Orleans last week, and one of my closest food friends took me into a fabulous classic New Orleans candy shop where they were making Pralines, Fudge and other homemade confections. It’s “Southern Candy Makers“, and next time you head to New Orleans, put this stop on the top of your list. It inspired me to try a new recipe with pralines for Thanksgiving. It’s really simple to prepare and my kids loved it for breakfast, a snack, dessert and especially for Thanksgiving.

img_04912

Praline Bundt Cake

Prep: 25 minutes

Cook: 1 hour

Cool: 1 hour

Yield: 12 servings

Ingredients

1  cup  chopped pecans

1  cup  butter, softened

1  (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened

1  (16-oz.) package dark brown sugar

4  large eggs

2 1/2  cups  all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon  baking powder

1/2  teaspoon  baking soda

1/4  teaspoon  salt

1  (8-oz.) container sour cream

2  teaspoons  vanilla extract

Praline Icing

Preparation

1. Arrange 1 cup pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 5 to 7 minutes or until toasted. Cool on a wire rack 15 minutes or until completely cool. Reduce oven temperature to 325°.

2. Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add brown sugar, beating until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

3. Sift together 2 1/2 cups flour and next 3 ingredients. Add to butter mixture alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat batter at low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in toasted pecans and vanilla. Spoon batter into a greased and floured 12-cup Bundt pan.

4. Bake at 325° for 55 minutes to 1 hour or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack, and let cool 30 minutes or until completely cool.

5. Prepare Praline Icing, and spoon immediately over cake. Sprinkle top of cake with Sugared Pecans.

Praline Icing

Ingredients

1  cup  firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2  cup  butter

1/4  cup  milk

1  cup  powdered sugar, sifted

1  teaspoon  vanilla extract

Preparation

1. Bring first 3 ingredients to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly; boil 1 minute. Remove from heat; whisk in powdered sugar and vanilla until smooth. Stir gently 3 to 5 minutes or until mixture begins to cool and thickens slightly. Use immediately.

Southern Candy Makers has two locations on Decatur Street. See http://southerncandymakers.com

Recipe adapted from Southern Living Magazine see http://southernliving.com

Easy Chocolate Lava Cakes for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years

img_0568

I have always wanted to learn how to make Chocolate Lava (molten) Cakes, as it is one of my favorite desserts. I have been searching for a way to prepare these without a lot of effort, and I finally hit the jackpot with this recipe. These are simple to prepare, and you can even make the chocolate mixture at least 12 hours ahead of time. Pour the mixture into ramekins, cover and refrigerate. Be sure to bring to room temperature 30 minutes before baking. I also had a couple of baked and prepared ones left over, and I left them in the ramekins and reheated them in the microwave for 15 seconds, and they worked great! Try them on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years or just for a weeknight or weekend surprise. Serve with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or just with confectioners sugar.

 

Easy Chocolate Lava Cakes

Dark chocolate may be substituted for semisweet in this recipe.

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 ounces semisweet baking chocolate (I used Ghirardelli)

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup confectioners sugar

2 eggs

1 egg yolk

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Lightly grease 4 (8-ounce) ramekins (custard cups or souffle dishes). Place on a baking sheet.

2. MIcrowave chocolate and butter in a large microwaveable bowl on High 30 seconds or until butter is melted. Whisk until chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in vanilla and confectioners sugar until well blended. Whisk in eggs and yolk. Stir in flour and pour batter evenly into prepared custard cups.

2. Bake 13 minutes or until sides are firm but centers are soft. Let stand 1 minute. Carefully loosen edges with a knife. Invert cakes onto serving plates and sift powdered sugar over the top. Serve immediately.

Pecan Pie-Traditional Thanksgiving Dessert with a Twist

img_0506

Pecan pie is the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert, and I thought I would feature two of my favorite tried and true recipes. The first is laced with the incredible combination of bourbon and semisweet chocolate. How can you go wrong? The second is a White Chocolate Pecan Pie recipe that I developed for a holiday menu for Oxmoor House books a few years ago. This is for those of you, like my husband, who are white chocolate lovers. Just remember, be sure to save room for dessert.

 

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 1 hour

Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie or 8 servings

Ingredients

1/2  (15-ounce) package refrigerated piecrusts

1 1/2  cups  chopped pecans

1  cup  (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate morsels

1  cup  dark corn syrup

1/2  cup  granulated sugar

1/2  cup  firmly packed brown sugar

1/4  cup  bourbon or water

4  large eggs

1/4  cup  butter or margarine, melted

2  teaspoons  cornmeal

2  teaspoons  vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon  salt

Preparation

1. Fit piecrust into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate according to package directions; fold edges under, and crimp.

2. Sprinkle pecans and chocolate evenly onto bottom of piecrust; set aside.

3. Combine corn syrup and next 3 ingredients in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

4. Whisk together eggs and next 4 ingredients. Gradually whisk about one-fourth hot mixture into egg mixture; add to remaining hot mixture, whisking constantly. Pour filling into prepared piecrust.

5. Bake at 325° for 55 minutes or until set; cool on wire rack.

 

White Chocolate Pecan Pie

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 1 hour

Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie or 8 servings

Ingredients

1/2 (15-ounce) package refrigerated piecrusts

1/4  cup  butter or margarine, melted

1/2  cup  sugar

1/2  cup  light corn syrup

3/4  cup  chopped pecans, toasted

1  teaspoon  vanilla extract

1/4  teaspoon  salt

2  large eggs, lightly beaten

6  (1-ounce) premium white chocolate baking squares, chopped (I used “Bakers”)

1  cup  pecan halves

Preparation

1. Unfold piecrust, and press out fold lines; sprinkle with flour, spreading over surface. Place crust, floured side down, in a 9″ pieplate; fold edges under, and flute. Bake at 450° for 5 minutes.

2. Combine butter, sugar, and corn syrup; cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves. Let cool slightly. Add chopped pecans and next 3 ingredients; stir well. Pour filling into prebaked piecrust; sprinkle with two-thirds of chopped white chocolate. Top with pecan halves.

3. Bake at 325° for 50 to 55 minutes or until set. Cover with aluminum foil during last 10 minutes of baking to prevent excessive browning. Let cool on a wire rack.

4. Place remaining chopped white chocolate in a small heavy-duty, zip-top plastic bag; seal bag. Submerge bag in hot water until chocolate melts. Remove bag from water. Snip a tiny hole in one corner of bag, using scissors; drizzle chocolate over pie.

Thanksgiving Apple Cranberry Cobbler

img_04161

I have always loved cobbler, and it is so easy to make. I am not sure if it’s the freshness of the fruit or the warmth with cool ice cream on top that makes me crave it. Since I grew up and am still living in the South, I have had a lot of cobblers, but most were made with fresh peaches, blueberries and blackberries. Now, I make cobbler with all types of fruits and enjoy them all year long. Feel free to use fresh cranberries instead of dried in this recipe since now is the season. This is a delicious and comforting dessert, and it is one of my family’s favorites. I made individual servings for my kids one afternoon after school, and they were truly in heaven. 

 

Apple Cranberry Cobbler

This is a great Thanksgiving dessert option. It can be made a day ahead. Just warm and serve.

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/4 cup regular oats, uncooked

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened

3 cups peeled, cored and diced cooking apples (I used Braeburn and Honey Crisp)

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

Vanilla Ice cream

Preparation

1. Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl; cut in butter with a pastry blender until crumbly.

2. Combine apples, cranberries, sugar and honey in large bowl, mixing well. Spoon in a lightly greased 8-inch baking pan or 41/2 x 41/2 individual ramekin or square baking dishes. Spoon flour mixture evenly over top and drizzle evenly with 2 tablespoons melted butter.

3. Bake at 350F for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden. Serve with vanilla ice cream, if desired.