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Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015

If dear Baby Jesus had been born today,
In a small cove, inlet or bay,
Would we receive Him as one of our own?
Or would He be born– rejected, alone?

If into my town Mary and Joseph did trudge
Would I stare with distain and smugly judge?
Would I look through my window this frosty night
And see the poor couple’s terrible plight?

If Joseph came to my home on the street,
Plodding through snow and the cold, wet sleet,
And asked for a room where their Child could be born,
Would I rudely dismiss him with coldness and scorn?

There’s no room in my home for people so strange!
Surely some centre or church could arrange
Help for the unwanted and helpless and poor,
Why did they come knocking at my front door?

Oh how I’d miss such a blessing tonight,
If I closed my door and turned off the light,
Went to my bed and said my prayers,
Without any worry or concern for their fears.

I pray that my door would open so wide,
To bring the weary couple inside,
Where the Blessed Christ Child would be born this night,
In my soft bed with glowing warm light.

O, Jesus, I pray as each day passes by,
Please keep my heart open to You, to supply
Needs of the least of my sisters and brothers,
With loving compassion to give unto others.

©Lois Gill
December 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Gingerbread House~2015

I don't always make a gingerbread house every year but here I am with another one this year.  I made one last year and all the instructions for making the cookie dough and icing are given here.  This year I still had lots of left-over candies languishing in the cupboard waiting to be used up so this year's gingerbread house is vaguely familiar to last year's.  

I use the same dough each year but if you want to make your own from your favourite gingerbread man recipe, it will work just as well.  Just make sure you bake the house parts until they are dry.  You may have to lower the temperature and let the pieces bake a little longer.  

So here is my new house.  I'm not giving the recipe again as you can find it here with all the instructions.  I'm just including a few pictures of how I made the windows this year and of course pictures of the finished house.

I racked my brain trying to figure out how to make nice neat windows for my house.  Then I spied the spice/herb can. It was the perfect size to imprint  the window patterns on the dough.

Once the pattern was imprinted, it was easy enough to cut around with a pointed knife.

Last year I used a hammer to crush the butterscotch candy into small pieces.  That ruined one of my dish towels so this year I thought I'd give the candies a whirl in the blender.  This turned the hard butterscotch candies into sugar which worked really well and I didn't "do in" another dish towel.  Spoon the crushed or pulverized candy into the baked window holes and place in a low oven until melted.

I had a few spots that needed patching so I rebaked with fresh pulverized butterscotch candy filling in the cracks.  

Ice cream cones are great for making evergreen trees.  This year I tried a different approach by stacking several cone tops onto a single cone.  I used one of the cut off cones to make a smaller tree.  You can see both trees in the picture below.

If you look at the back of the gingerbread house on the left, you can see two small battery operated tea candles. These go inside the back of the house and provide a lovely flickering light in the dark of the night. All the white snow on the ground and roof is royal icing. The lamp post is made from a rolled wafr with a gumball stuck down the middle.  A few foil covered chocolate balls form a decoration around the base. 

Bubble gum "lights" trim the roof.  Spearmint candy leaves are ornamental bushes around the house.

If you look carefully, you can see the back door is not stuck to the house.  I leave it leaning against the house so I can insert the battery operated candles.

The back deck of the house is made from graham wafers.  The step is coloured licorice sticks. 

The poor, little snowman is made from two sizes of gumballs covered in a thin layer of royal icing and dusted with icing sugar.  His hat is a Hershey kiss stuck on a chocolate baking wafer.  His eyes and nose are little pieces of gumdrops and his scarf is a piece of strawberry licorice string.  

The logs and firewood are made from rolled wafers. 

The chimney is made from gingerbread cookie covered with rock candy.  The "mortar" is grey coloured royal icing.

Last year I found brick shaped candies.  This year I had a few left so I sliced them and used them to pave the walk-way in front of the house. 

The trees made from ice cream cones covered in green royal icing and cake decorations.

Merry Christmas from my house to yours!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Linzer Tart Cookies

Wonderfully nutty and crunchy, with a spread of your favouite jam, these Linzer Tart Cookies make a handsome and toothsome addition to your entertaining dessert menu. 

A Merry Christmas to you all.  Hope you are all surviving the pre-Christmas day rush.  I've been so terribly busy practicing and preparing for our church Christmas program that I haven't been posting but I have been doing a little baking.  Thankfully, all prepartions and practices have paid off and the program was delivered in grand style, although I had doubts about my ability to sing my solo because of a throat infection or something like it.  The throat's still a bit wonky but I did get through the solo and even had a few compliments thrown my way.  (I do have my small, but faithful, fan club.)

One of my new favourite cookies are these Linzer Tart Cookies from Gretchen's Bakery.  Gretchen has gone through a certain amount of upheavel with her blog and YouTube channel in the last year or so but she's back on track now.  This is one of her recipes but she hasn't had time to repost it yet.  I'm so glad I kept a copy of the recipe because the cookies are absolutely scrummy!  Gretchen has given me permission to share this recipe on my blog so my family and friends can make them any time they want. Thanks Gretchen!

I made these cookies a couple of weeks ago and I've been jealously guarding them for my own eating pleasure.  Well, I have shared a few with friends who have dropped by but they didn't go to the church Christmas program--no way!  They're mine, mine, all mine.   

Gretchen's original recipe uses raspberry jam but I've taken the liberty to use abricot jam as well and I think any favourite jam would be just as marvelous in these nutty jam sandwich cookies.  (I suspect a chocolate filling would be wonderful as well.)

Linzer Tart Cookies
1 cup butter, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup hazelnuts (filberts), ground fine
2 ¾ cups cake flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder 
½ teaspoon salt (my addition)
Raspberry or apricot jam as needed for filling cookies
Icing sugar for topping cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper for easy clean up.

Cream butter and sugar.  Add egg and beat until fluffy.  Mix dry ingredients with the ground nuts.  Add dry ingredients to butter mixture until combined.  Chill dough for at least 2 hours. If you chill longer than 2 hours you may have to let it warm up a little so it will roll easily.  

Roll dough out to about ⅛-inch thick and cut out with 2½-3-inch round cookie cutter.  I like to use my fancy scalloped cutter. Cut middle out of half the cookie circles.  Bake 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from pan to cooling rack and let cool.

To assemble cookies sprinkle icing sugar over the cookies with middles cut out.  Spread jam over the whole cookies and top with sugared cookies.  

Makes about  2 ½ dozen sandwiched cookies.

I use a food processor to grind the nuts.  I like to leave a few larger chunks.

Awful photo of the egg!!!  But, that being said, cream the butter and sugar together.  Add the egg and beat until fluffy.

Mix the dry ingredients together with the ground nuts.  Add to the creamed mixture until combined.  Do not overmix or the cookies will be tough.

 Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refigerate at least 2 hours.
When the dough has chilled roll out and cut with a round cookie cutter.  I like to use my scalloped cutter just to make them fancier looking.  Use a small round cutter for the middles.  I don't have a cookie cutter that small so I improvise with a citrus juicer.   A small pill container or frosting decorator tip will work as well.

Place the cut out cookies on a cookie sheet.  I bake half full cookies and half with the middles cut out.
 One pan baked and another awaiting the oven.

 Bake until the edges are a golden brown.

When the cookies have cooled down, sprinkle the hole-in-the-middle cookies with icing sugar.   Spread jam on the full cookies.  You can see I made half with raspberry jam and half with apricot jam.

When both sides of the cookies have been prepared sandwich them together for the full deal.
So good I don't think Santa will even get one of these! But don't they look pretty?  They'll look so nice on a mixed plate of Christmas cookies.

  Yummy, scrummy Linzer Tart Cookies. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Whipped Shortbread Cookies

Shortbread Cookies are the classic Christmas cookie.  Made with real butter, they are so tender and rich they stand alone or go great on a festive tray of mixed Christmas cookies.   But, with only three main ingredients, I think the best thing about these cookies is how easy they are to make.  Because these are Whipped Shortbread Cookies there is no rolling and cutting of the cookies.  You just drop them from a spoon or cookie scoop and they're ready for the oven.  Of course,  they lend themselves to a little decorating quite well.  I like them with a cherry half stuck in the middle but the kids may like a few sprinkles or a gumdrop middle.  

And the taste!  Oh, so good and buttery with just enough sweetness to make you want to have another and then another cookie.  A simple little cookie for sophisicated taste buds.

Traditionally, shortbread cookies are not overly sweet but you can adjust the sugar to make them a little sweeter if you wish.  

Whipped Shortbread Cookies
1 cup butter, room temperature
½ cup icing sugar (powdered sugar)
1¾ cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla, optional

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line cookie sheet with parchment paper, if you wish.  Because the cookie dough has so much butter there is no need to grease the cookie sheet.

Cream the butter and icing sugar together.  Beat on high until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla if using.  Turn the mixer speed to low and add the flour and salt, mixing until just combined.  (Or you can alternately whip the whole mixture for 5 minutes.  This will give you a lighter airer cookie.  You can use a cookie press or pastry bag with a star tip to squeeze the cookies unto the cookie sheets.)

Drop by tablespoonfuls onto the cookie sheet. You can also use a cookie scoop if you have one.  Leave them plain or decorate with cherry halves, gumdrops, sprinkles, etc.  You can also press them down using the tines of a fork. 

Bake 18-20 minutes in the preheated oven.  The cookies should have golden edges when they are baked.  Let cool on a baking rack and then store in a covered container.  These cookies store well for about weeks in a cool place or can be frozen for several months.

Makes about 2 ½ dozen cookies.

Cream the butter and sugar together and then whip until light and fluffy.  Add the flour on a low speed until the dough is just combined.  Drop the dough by spoonfuls on parchment lined pans.  Decorate as desired or leave plain.

Here are the cookies ready for the oven. My favourite decoration for Whipped Shortbread Cookies is the half cherry plunked right down in the middle.

 Baked to perfection--golden brown around the edges and light golden on top.

 The cookies will spread a little while baking. 

 You'll always be ready for last-minute guests with a pile of Whipped Shortbread Cookies. 

I'm ready for a late-night visitor!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

No Bake Strawberry Chiffon Squares

Strawberry Chiffon Squares are so quick to put together and make a great dessert after a heavy holiday meal.  

It's been a month since my last post. . . sigh. . . It's not because I stopped cooking and baking but technical problems have plagued my progress in the blogosphere.  I have a new laptop and, let's just say, we had problems adjusting to each other.  We're not best friends yet but we're definitely on speaking terms, ha, ha.  Anyhoo, here I am, actually typing on the new keyboard with the shift keys away off to the left and right.  So if you happen to see something like this:  "/ello, how are you doing/" , you'll know I missed the shift key and hit the back or foreward slash key.  But, I ramble on. . . . . .

Back to the subject (or I should say the dessert) at hand.  Strawberry Chiffon Squares are a delightfully, light and creamy dessert perfect to finish off one of those heavy meals that are so happily served at the Christmas season.  

I've had this recipe for years and years but only made the squares a few years ago.  It's in a little booklet with recipes using sweetened condensed milk.  I usually make my own condensed milk and it works equally as well in this recipe as the purchased milk. 

The recipe contains miniature marshmallows but they can be easily left out if you don't like them. 

Strawberry Chiffon Squares

1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup melted butter, plus more if needed
1 4-serving package strawberry Jell-o (other brand works equally as well)
¾ cup boiling water
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups frozen, thawed sliced strawberries (or a 15-ounce or 500 ml container)
3 cups miniature marshmallows, white or the coloured fruit flavoured ones
1 cup whipping cream, whipped (or use the equivalent in a whipped topping product)

Mix the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter together.  If you find the crumb mixture too dry add an additional tablespoon or two of melted butter. Pat firmly in the bottom of a 9x9-inch pan or as the filling is quite generous you can go a little larger to an 8x11½-inch pan.  I always use the larger pan.

In a large bowl, dissolve the Jell-o in the boiling water.  Stir in the sweetened condensed milk, strawberries and marshmallows.  Fold in the whipped cream or topping.  Spread over the crumb crust.  Chill at least 2 hours but the longer they set the better they cut.  These can be made the day before for best results.

Makes about 16-20 squares.

I find it just as easy to mix the crumbs and butter in the baking dish. Then there's not so many dirty dishes to clean.

Pack the crumbs firmly in the dish.  If the crumbs seem too dry and crumbly, add another tablespoon or two of melted butter.

In a large bowl dissolve the gelatin dessert in the boiling water.  Add the sweetened condensed milk and stir to combine.

Whip the cream or whipped topping to medium stiff peaks.
Fold the whipped cream, marshmallows and strawberries into the Jell-o mixture.  Mix well.

Pour the mixture onto the prepared graham cracker crumb crust and smooth the top.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours but overnight is better. 

Cut into squares when ready to serve.  Although the squares are firm enough to eat from your hand they are much easier to eat with a fork.

Creamy, smooth Strawberry Chiffon Squares 
make a delightful holiday dessert.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Oatmeal Florentine Cookies

Can you believe Christmas is just around the corner? I know, it's too early but before I know it I'll be in the midst of the frantic Christmas rush.  A few people in town have their Christmas trees blazing already but I can't do that--that's really too early for me.  How do you dust a Christmas tree, anyhow??

Even though I'm not ready to "deck the halls" my mind is definitely on Christmas-- choir practice for our church Christmas program being the top priority at the moment.  And along with the practicing and singing of Christmas carols comes the baking of Christmas cookies.  

One of the cookies I've been making the last few years are these Oatmeal Florentine Cookies.  They are a bit fussy to make so I like to make them well ahead, before all the Christmas fury begins. Each cookie has to be spread out on the baking sheet by hand and then after they are baked and cooled two cookies are sandwiched together with melted chocolate to make the full cookie.  So you don't want to make these when you are pressed for time.  But, that being said, you will be happy if you find the time to make them.  They are delicious.  So that's why today, six weeks before Christmas, I'm making Oatmeal Florentine Cookies and packing them away in the freezer.  I'm feeling good to have these babies ready to go.

Now, if I could learn that new Christmas song I'm working on and freeze that in my brain... 

Oatmeal Florentine Cookies
⅔ cup butter
2 cups quick oats
1 cup sugar
⅔ cup flour
¼ cup corn syrup
¼ cup milk or cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt

Optional ingredients
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons grated orange peel

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt butter in saucepan. Remove pan from heat and stir in oats, sugar, flour, corn syrup, milk or cream, vanilla and salt. Mix well. Add any optional ingredients. (I think the grated orange peel is especially good with the chocolate filling,)  Drop by level teaspoons, about 2 inches apart, onto parchment lined baking sheets. Spread thinly with back of spoon or your fingers. 

Bake for 6 to 8 minutes or until golden brown. Make sure you watch these as they can burn quickly if you are not careful.  Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes. Remove from parchment.  

Makes about 100 single cookies.

To Fill: Melt 1¾ cups chocolate chips, semi-sweet, milk chocolate or white (or some of each). Spread a thin layer of melted chocolate onto flat side of half the cookies. Top with remaining cookies to make sandwiches.  Or you may drizzle chocolate over the top of single cookies. 

These cookies will last for about 6 weeks in an airtight container.  I have also frozen the chocolate filled cookies very successfully. 

Melt butter and then add the remaining ingredients.

When mixed, drop the dough by level teaspoons.  Flatten out using the back of the spoon or your fingers.  Spread rather thinly.  Dipping your fingers in water will make the spreading much easier.

Bake the cookies to a golden brown.  You will only need 6-8 minutes.  When baked, let cool for a minute or two and then remove to wire cooling rack.

Do not burn the cookies.  One pan of my cookies burned at 7 minutes.  Six minutes was just enough. One extra minute makes all the difference! Watch, watch, watch.

I used both milk and semi-sweet chocolate to sandwich between the cookies.  I melted the chocolate chips over a barely simmering pot of water.

Spread one side of the cookie with melted chocolate and top with a second cookie.

Place the chocolate sandwiched cookies on a tray to set.  The cookies can be stored at room temperature in a covered container but if the room is warm I find it best to store them in the refrigerator.

What a tasty treat.  Milk or semi-sweet chocolate is sandwiched between these lacy, crunchy cookies.

Perfect for any occasion but especially Christmas!