Monday, November 24, 2008

Mashed Potatoes--Creamy & Rich (make ahead)

My Aunt Joanne cooked many a meal for her brood of five children, extended family, and many friends. She knew how to please a crowd with her food...and endless supply of candy and soda pop! These potatoes are one of her crowd-pleasing recipes. After tasting these super creamy and rich mashed potatoes, you won't go back to the plain dab-of-butter-and-bit-of-milk mashed potatoes again.

What, you say, could make this recipe even better? These spuds can be made ahead of time, refrigerated, then baked on the day of your special meal. These are one of our Thanksgiving meal favorites.

5 lbs. potatoes, your favorite kind (our crew likes Yukon Gold)
1-8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
8 oz. sour cream
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 TBSP Lowrys seasoned salt (using regular salt is okay too)

Dice potatoes to a uniform size--about 1-1/2 inches. You can peel the potatoes if you prefer, but if I'm using potatoes with a thin skin like Yukon Golds, our crew prefers them unpeeled. Cover with cold water; add 1 tsp. of salt to the water and bring to boil until fork tender. Drain all moisture out very thoroughly. With potatoes put back into the pot, add the cream cheese, sour cream and salt and allow them to warm together for a few minutes. Add the softened butter and mash potatoes by hand with a masher until you reach your desired consistency. If the potatoes aren’t smooth enough after using a masher, use your mixer briefly to whip them to your liking, being careful to avoid overmixing.

If making ahead: Store potatoes in a greased oven-proof covered casserole dish overnight. When ready to reheat, place foil covered casserole dish in the oven at 350 degrees (or whatever moderate temperature other food is being cooked) for at least 1-1/2 hours. You can reduce reheat time by setting out the potatoes for an hour or two before reheating them in the oven.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies

Ah yes, fall versions of our favorite classics. I'm not sure if I could go through the holidays on just cutely decorated sugar cookies--more specifically, without a hit of chocolate. With Christmas in the air, chocolate seems to fit in nicely with Cashew Clusters, the showy Truffle Tree (stay tuned for that one), and even Caramel Morsel Bars. For Thanskgiving, however, I've usually just offered Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie. There's also the traditional pumpkin and pecan pies. Hey, where's the chocolate?

When I was asked to bring something to the kids' fall violin performance for the reception afterwards, I was most certainly thinking chocolate. Hmmm, basic brownies just might not cut it, I figured. Yes, something chocolate with a fall twist.

Pumpkin cheesecake brownies would fit the bill.

The recipes online that I thought about trying only made a small batch. Also, I wanted the chocolate to stand out more than the pumpkin. If you only need an 8 x 8" pan, check out this recipe. (I still have yet to try it but will soon.) If you need to make a bigger batch (or use a boxed brownie mix), and want to keep it a bit chocolatier, read on.

For the chocolate brownie batter, I doubled my recipe for Double Chocolate Brownies (without the extra chocolate chips), but you can use a boxed version for this as well.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare brownie batter, boxed or homemade, or this--as long as it's for a 9 x 13 pan.

Pumpkin cheesecake topping:

1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 TBSP flour
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
(Instead of using the cinnamon, cloves and ginger seperately, you could just add one teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice if you wish.)

Cream together the cream cheese and sugar; mix in the pumpkin, egg and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and blend just until all ingredients are incorporated.

Pour 2/3 of chocolate batter into a greased 9" x 13" baking dish. With large spoonfuls, drop cheesecake mixture over the top of the chocolate--leaving some of the chocolate still showing. Add the remaining chocolate batter in large dollops over the top--again so both the chocolate and cheesecake batters can be seen. Take a knife and run it back and forth lengthwise through the dish (touching the bottom) just a few times. If you'd like more blending, run the knife through a few more time in the other direction.

Bake for about 5 minutes longer than the regular brownie recipe/mix calls for (that's about 35 minutes for the Double Chocolate Brownies). They're done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow brownies to cool before slicing.

Gobble 'em up!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fresh Cranberry Relish

The tastes of Thanksgiving are upon us. This is one little dish our whole family can't get enough of. Instead of thinking of it as an accompaniment for the turkey, we think of it as a side. Because it's fresh, all the vitamins are in tact and there for the taking. This side is the splash of bright life for which the rest of the hearty meal gobbles.

Before I go on, I must first make a confession. Yep.

Okay okay, I'll confess.

Yes, I used to be quite content with that jellied stuff in the shape of a can that went schluuuuuuppppe-whap! onto a plate where it was then (eek!) sliced--complete with the ridges of the can as its textural decoration.

I've made amends with that part of my life. I've tried many different cranberry sauces and relishes, and this one is just plain good and liked by all. It doesn't have those chewy rinds or nuts my kids don't like. It doesn't have alcohol or spices in it either. It's pure and simple.

Just take a bag of fresh cranberries.Now, rinse them and give 'em a whirl in your processor. (Tap them down 2-3 times so they end up a consistent small size.) Pour them into a large bowl.

Peel a couple of large oranges and separate the sections. Cut each section into 3-4 pieces, let them do the ring-around-the-processor, then add them to the cranberries. Sometimes the processor doesn't do well with a whole section.

Oh yes, I mustn't forget to mention that you really should taste your orange before you add it to cranberries. I once made the entire recipe without tasting, and the oranges had an unpleasant taste. It'll ruin your dish if you're not cautious about your ingredients. Same with apples--give 'em a taster first.

Core and peel the apples. Cut them into processor-friendly sizes and let them spin. You may need to scrape them down a couple of times to get a consistent size. Add them with the cranberries and oranges.

(Note: Adding the oranges first will prevent the apples from browning once they join the party.)

To the prepared fresh fruit add 2 cups of sugar and mix well.
Allow to sit out for an hour or so to allow the sugar to dissolve.
Voila! A fresh cranberry side to your Thanksgiving meal.

3 cups washed raw cranberries (a 12 oz. bag = 3 cups)
2 skinned and cored medium-sized apples, (or 1 mombo-sized Honey Crisp)
3 large seedless oranges (1 of them is for juice only)
1-1/2 cups sugar

Run fruit through a grinder or process in a food processor. Add sugar. Let sit at room temperature until sugar dissolves. Lasts for a week or so in the fridge.

Sometimes I make two batches and give one batch away to neighbors in pint-size jars. If I do this at Thanksgiving, then I don't feel as badly if I don't get around to making or distributing goodies at Christmastime. Man, does it get busy in December.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lemon Bars

These are Kathleen’s new favorite bars. As we were being spoiled in Chelan at Grandpa Terry and Grandma Doogie’s house with way too much good food, Kathleen kept eyeing these bars…and slowly (and slightly mysteriously) they disappeared throughout the course of a day! These are like a buttery-rich short bread made refreshing with the lemony citrus topping. I think the key to this recipe is the powdered sugar in the crust. It seems almost creamy.

Now, Kathleen has been on a mission to make these bars since we've been home! We’ve got the recipe…and we’re sharing the wealth! Here it is

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

With two knives, have one of your children cut in the following crust ingredients:

1 cup flour
1 stick softened butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar
If you're using salt-free butter, also add 1/8 tsp. salt

Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it's the size of small peas.

You can also put the ingredients in your processor and just give it a twirl. Or, if you'd like throw pastry caution to the wind, then just beat it up a bit with your electric mixer. I won't tell anybody. I just don't have my kids use these power tools on their own yet.

Dump the crust mixture into an 8" x 8" baking dish.Don't forget to clean up your mess!
Pat down the crust mixture firmly and evenly. (Kathleen had to get up on the counter top to make sure it was even.)
Pop the crust into the oven for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, let your kiddo make a mess of her face while eating all the crust bits off her hand. Letting her do this helped pass the time that the crust was baking. Kids don't like to wait very long!

Now, mix the lemony filling by beating the eggs, then adding the sugar,
(Never mind that Kathleen added the sugar before the eggs then had to pour it back out.) Carry on...add lemon juice (heck, throw in a tablespoon of the rind if you're using fresh lemons), and a pinch of salt.

Fold in the flour and baking powder, then pour the filling into the baking dish over the shortbread crust.

Bake for 18 minutes until the "middle doesn't jiggle" and the top is slightly browned.Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. (Again, this is where kids don't like to wait. So, please begin your lessons on the virtue of patience, read an Aesop's Fable about the downfalls of instant gratification (there's gotta be one), or let them pre-run off their lemon bar calories by sending them outside to play.

To serve: Cut into squares or triangles (unless cutting things into triangles means the kiss of death like it does in Joe's family. They never cut their sandwiches into triangles. I figured, with the engineers and mathematicians in their family they would have cut their sandwiches, bars and cakes into every conceivable geometric shape...but NO. Remember, it was the kiss of death. Their own words, not mine.) Personally, I like triangles. Am I getting off the subject?

After you ponder your perceived kisses of death, generously sprinkle confectioner's sugar all over the top, then serve. Pure loveliness!

Tip: Depending on how many bars you want to make, either make this single recipe or double the ingredients and use a 9" x 13" baking dish.

Okay, okay, I've fooled you all. This hasn't been Doogie's recipe. Below is the recipe she gave us. I just had to write down everything else so I'd remember how to make them. I need support that way. Otherwise, I often doubt myself.

The actual words on Doogie's recipe card:

1 cup flour
½ cup butter
¼ cup powdered sugar
Press into bottom at 8” x 8” pan and bake 15-20 minutes.

2 well-beaten eggs
1 cup sugar
3 TBSP lemon juice (Using the bottled stuff is just fine. Doogie gave me permission to say that.)
Dash salt

Fold in 2 TBSP flour and ½ tsp. baking powder. Pour this mixture over crust and bake 15-20 minutes. Cool slowly.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Birthday cake by Dad

Yep, Joe made this one since there was no time on Halloween (the day before Jimmer's birthday) and no time in the morning on his birthday for me to make one. I'm the kids' violin coach and had to take them to lessons.

Jimmer requested a camper cake--reminiscent of our recent Canadian Rockies trip in a 31-foot RV.

I was confident that Joe's structural engineering talents would shine and that he'd be able to pull it off. I just gave him materials suggestions. He didn't even have to use steel or concrete for this structure, although a couple of toothpicks were used for reinforcement. Some extra special touches--green sprinkles for grass, a couple of chimps (Jimmer's faves) and other fun animals, trees, and even (ahem) a dump station. He made me proud--not because of the dump station but because he didn't even use a measuring device OR a level...not even blue prints! (Doing things "Willy-Nilly" like that usually goes against every grain in an engineer's being.)

I'm thinking he did such a fine job, we may just share this job of requested birthday cake creations.

Jimmer really liked his camper cake.

Checking out the front of the camper.
Checking out the ladder in back.
"Aw, Dad, is that the sewer water hose?"

Yep, sure is. (Leave it to Dad to include a dumping station.)

Make a wish...

Camper Cake
Building Supplies:

3 frozen pound cakes, thawed
2 containers white frosting
fruit roll-ups, he used red
mini donuts (not necessary)
Life Savers
licorice whips
couple of toothpicks
plastic animals of choice
green sprinkles

Blue Print/directions:

None available
(Engineer's tip: Just wing it!)