A Few of My Favorite Things: Part 1

(One of my goals with this blog was not only sharing recipes and craft projects but bringing you products and places that deserve a shout out! This is the first installment of many to come.)

TJ’s AND DR MIKES TEAM UP FOR DESSERT

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Yesterday was one of those days when 1+1+1=10! I’m talking about dessert last night. It was one of those lazy meals when you put two products together, add your own sauce and the end result is magic in your mouth.

It all started last month as I began feeling really under the weather  about a week before Thanksgiving. Just in case I didn’t feel like baking, I bought Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread Pudding (a frozen, ready to bake dessert). I stashed it in the freezer and quickly forgot about it. As my strength came back,  and I started cooking up a storm the night before Thanksgiving and never needed the stand-by dessert. Then a friend brought me a pint of pumpkin  ice cream from Dr Mike’s Ice Cream in Monroe CT. I still had praline sauce left over from our pumpkin cheesecake (see  November 2014 posts or recipe below) so I decided to serve TJ’s pumpkin bread pudding with Dr Mike’s pumpkin ice cream and my homemade praline sauce. Such a delicious combination I wouldn’t mind serving it to company in the middle of July!

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Dr Mikes Monroe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Praline Sauce:

2 tbs butter

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 tsp flour

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 Tbs maple syrup and 1 Tbs bourbon

1 tsp vanilla

In a small saucepan, melt butter and blend in brown sugar and flour. Add heavy cream, maple syrup bourbon and vanilla. Bring just to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and serve warm to room temperature.

WHY PIE?

butcher block pies

When it comes to holiday baking, I find the gifting of pies gives the most bang for the buck as far as time spent achieving the “Yummm Factor”. You know how it is: You spend a couple days rolling, cutting, baking and decorating dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies to come up with an attractive assortment. There’s flour all over your counter and you’re getting carpal tunnel from repetitive motion. Then you bring your cookies to a holiday dinner and the hostess sits them right next to three other boxes of homemade cookies. Since the invention of refrigerated pie crust, there’s a reason for the expression “easy as pie “ ! (I like making my own from scratch for many occasions but not when I’m time stressed at the holidays.) In a few hours you can bake two, four or six pies for presents. Best of all, when you carry it through the door, it will get noticed and most likely end up on the dining room table for the grand finale!

WHITE CHOCOLATE PECAN CHRISTMAS PIES

Ingredients:

2, 8”aluminum cake pans with clear plastic covers
(these make more stable pies than aluminum pie pans)

 

Makes 2 pies

Allow pie crusts to soften for 30 minutes at room temperature. Unroll and line pastry into cake pans taking care to ease pastry into bottom and sides so as not to stretch it. Trim crust evenly around edge of pan and score edges with tines of a fork. Place pie shells on a large baking sheet. For each pie: Spread 1 1/2 cups pecans in the pie shell and top with 1/2 cup white chocolate chips and 1/3 cup raisins. In a large bowl with wire whisk, beat together, light brown sugar, dark brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, eggs and vanilla extract until smooth. Transfer filling to a large glass measuring cup and pour filling evenly into pie shells. Preheat oven to 350 and bake on lower rack of oven for 45 minutes. Cool completely and drizzle with white chocolate glaze.

Ingredients:

2, 8”aluminum cake pans with clear plastic covers
(these make more stable pies than aluminum pie pans)

1 box ready to bake pie crust rolls.
3 cups lightly toasted pecans*
1 cup white chocolate chips
2/3 cup golden raisins
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
(note the blend of light and dark brown sugars gives the right caramel color)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 bottle (2 cups) light corn syrup
6 large eggs
1 Tbs vanilla extract
White Chocolate Glaze

For White Chocolate Glaze: Melt 1/2 cup white chocolate chips with 1 Tbs vegetable shortening in microwave about 30 seconds. Stir until smooth.

 

crust in pancrimped crustchips & nutsbrown sugarsstream of caramelIMG_1466sliced pie

Start Your Own Tiny Tree Farm

I’ve always felt really “green” whenever I’ve bought a live tree in a pot around the holidays. I don’t have to feel guilty about harvesting a perfectly good source of wood, way before it’s prime, just for my family’s entertainment. (OK– I don’t really feel that guilty about having a  cut Christmas Tree in my living room but it seems so much better knowing I don’t have to put it out of it’s misery when the needles start to fall.) Why not make your own mini live trees from pinecones which are really nothing more than baby trees! Talk about the circle of life. These make unique mantle decor or accent to place settings at the dining room table. Wrap them up and they make great hostess gifts to bring to your next holiday party.

pinecones on mantel

 

 

 

 

 

Materials:

15 mid-sized unscented pinecones (bagged pinecones frequently come in 15 count size)

Large baking sheet

Aluminum foil

1 can sage green colored  satin finish spray paint

15 mini terra cotta pots – 1.5″

High temp hot glue gun

7 1/2 yards 1/4″ silver wired ribbon

Scissors

Arrange pinecones (well spaced) on baking sheet that has been completely covered (top and sides) with aluminum foil. Spray well with one coat of green paint to cover all sides. Allow to dry 2 hours.

Come back and spray second coat, taking care to reposition pinecones to cover any spots missed by paint. Allow to dry 24 hours.

Taking caution not to touch actual hot glue. Pipe a rim around the edge of each terra cotta pot, one pot at a time. Immediately top with a pine cone and apply gentle pressure. (Twisting the pinecone slightly into the pot helps make better surface contact as the glue hardens.) Be sure to work quickly after applying hot glue. If glue becomes too hardened to adhere to the pinecone, peel the glue off with a knife and try again.

When all trees have been glued into pots, cut ribbon into 15″ lengths. Carefully tie ribbon around each pot at the base of the pinecone, taking care to cover the hot glue seam as much as possible. Tie ribbon ends into a bow.

sprayed pinecones trees and hot glue gun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

trees across table

 

 

 

 

 

tree farm with bows

Tis The Season For Silver Bells

“In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas… Soon it will be Christmas Day!” Maybe that should be your cue that there’s still time to trim your tree with some hand made silver bells. The materials are really simple and so is the technique. These are the kind of ornaments you’ll enjoy pulling out year after year or giving as gifts to friends and family. The bells are made out of a durable, air hardening clay, trimmed with gossamer silver wired ribbon. I was tying these together the other night while listening to Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” . I just couldn’t resist jingling away when the classic line came on : “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings”.

bells on tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Materials:
1, 1.2 oz package of DAS white air hardening modeling clay
2 mini muffin trays (12 cups each)
Plastic straw
1 can chrome spray paint
1 can silver glitter spray paint
Aluminum foil
15 yards, 1/4” silver wired ribbon
8 yards 1-1/2″ silver wired ribbon
24 jingle bells
8 silver glitter pipe cleaners
Scissors, yardstick

Divide clay into 24 equal sections and roll into balls. Place each ball into a muffin cup and press into sides with a hollow spot in the middle (similar to forming tart shells). Use straw to pierce a hole in the bottom of each clay cup. Allow to air dry for at least 3 days. Carefully twist clay cups out of muffin cups and place on a tray to dry another 24 hours.

Cover two baking sheets with foil. Place clay cups open side up on foil. Spray with chrome spray paint and allow to dry. Turn over on other side foil and spray with silver glitter paint and allow to dry.

Cut 1/4 ribbon into 24, 22” lengths. Cut 1- 1/2” ribbon into 24, 12” lengths. Cut pipe cleaners into quarters. For each bell: String bell on to 1/4” ribbon and fold in half . Tie in a knot about 1- 1/2 “ from bell to form a clapper. Fold pipe cleaner section in half and tie just above firth knot. This will anchor the bell in place. Invert bell and string 1/4” ribbon ends through the hole. Fold a section of 1- 1/2 ” ribbon into thirds and gather on top of bell. Tie a knot around the wider ribbon with the narrow ribbon to hold in place. Tie a knot at the end of narrow ribbons to make a hanging loop. Shape wired ribbon to make a bow.

muffin tinsbells-inside sprayedbells tying knort for clapper
pipe cleaneer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bells-ribbon foldbells tying ribbon on topbells finished on board

 

 

 

Pomegranate-Pecan Cranberry Sauce

I tend to be a traditionalist with Thanksgiving but I like to try all sorts of deviations with my cranberry sauce. It’s so easy to make whole berry sauce and just a tweak here or there with the ingredients creates a new condiment.

For those less brave or family members who miss their comfort food, I always keep a can of the jellied stuff on hand too.

Pomegranate- Pecan Cranberry Sauce

1, 12 oz package of fresh cranberries
1 cup raw sugar or light brown sugar
1 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces

boiling sauceCombine cranberries, sugar, juice and salt in a medium saucepan.

Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cranberry sauce is ready when the berries start popping and the sauce begins to thicken and becomes glazed. Cool to room temp and stir in pecans.

Refrigerate until serving time.

finished cranberry sauce

Pumpkin Praline Cheesecake

I’m a fan of fall food! I don’t know what it is but when autumn is in the air it’s my appetite’s turn to feel satisfied. I honestly crave roasted root vegetables, acorn squash,  apple cranberry crisps, pear pudding, pecan pie all things gingery, “pumpkiny” and drizzled with praline sauce– not just now  but  all year long!  So this is my time to revel in the season and serve all the dishes I’d secretly like to keep eating all year long. Here’s one of my favorites I hope will become one of yours.

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praline pumpkin cheesecake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PUMPKIN PRALINE CHEESECAKE

Crust:

1/3 cup butter

3 Tbs brown sugar

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs

Filling:

2, 8 oz pkgs cream cheese, softened

2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsps pumpkin pie spice

1/2 cup solid pack pumpkin

2 eggs

Praline Sauce:

1/2 cup toasted pecans

For Crust: Combine butter and brown sugar in a saucepan. Melt over low heat, blending until smooth. Stir in graham cracker crumbs. Spray the bottom and sides of a 10” springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Press crumbs in the bottom. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes until lightly tinged with brown and set (do not over bake).

 

For Filling: Beat cream cheese, brown sugar,vanilla, pumpkin pie spice and pumpkin until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time. Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 5 hours. Serve with Praline Sauce and sprinkle with toasted pecans

 

For Praline Sauce: 2 tbs butter 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar 1 tsp flour 1/4 cup heavy cream 1 tsp vanilla 1 Tbs maple syrup 1 Tbs bourbon In a small saucepan, melt butter and blend in brown sugar and flour. Add heavy cream, vanilla, maple syrup and bourbon. Bring just to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and serve warm to room temperature.

 

 

 

Turkey Time is Here!

Thanksgiving is coming up fast and I have a special place in my heart for wild turkeys as my mother once befriended one. She fed him cereal and he got to the point where he was more finicky than a five year-old. If it wasn’t sweet, he wouldn’t eat. He knew when she came back from the grocery store because he used to follow her from the car to the front door. “Tommy” was a very bold bird!

At the time, I was writing a  Kid Craft column  The Connecticut Post. Mom  had an obsession with picking up pine cones out of our yard. After awhile her collection got so large there were bowls and baskets of pine cones all over the house. That’s when I decided to put two and two together and came up with “pine Cone Table turkeys” they make great Thanksgiving place markers that you can use year after year>

 

botelerturkey copy 2

In the Beginning

reflection

Long before there were blogs, there were books. My first one was published right out of college and it was the last time I’d  ever write one on a typewriter. Times were already changing– but not so fast as now. It’s been suggested that I not talk about such things as I might “date” myself as either a Luddite or, even worse, a middle aged woman! I really don’t care as I’ve learned to accept my strands of gray coming in as being a “seasoned author”.

I got my foot in the door in ways that probably wouldn’t work now in our post-911 society. They were more innocent times and I was able to bribe my way past security guards at WNEW/Channel 5 and NBC with food. I’m not talking deli sandwiches or cupcakes but  gourmet treats that took on whimsical forms like a “Roast Beast” ( a meatloaf creation that resembled a wild boar’s head with tusks) or a “Chocolate Moose” (that looked like a moose with meringue antlers). This tactic got the attention of producers at Midday Live, Wonderama and NBC’s Today Show and they started asking me to come on the air as a guest demonstrating festive ideas for holiday food and decorations.

Today Show  copy

You may ask : What ever happened to that Today Show gig?  So do I– but does the name Martha Stewart ring a bell? She came along at a time when producer, Steve Friedman, was sure working women would stop cooking in the coming decade and convinced him to the contrary . He gave her an exclusive for all the Friday morning lifestyle spots. The rest is history…  just not mine!