Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Breakfast

“Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?”-Clark Griswold, Christmas Vacation

Yep, it’s Christmas.  A wonderful time, spent with family and friends, enjoying every second with each other, right?  Ok, sometimes it’s not all that easy and smooth.  Christmas can be stressful.  But do you know what doesn’t have to be?  Christmas morning breakfast.  That can be the easiest part of this whole darn season.

I think what makes a spectacular breakfast easy is making it the night before.  Christmas morning?  Throw it in the oven and call it done.  My Christmas morning menu consists of a Baked Gingerbread French Toast that is assembled Christmas Eve and baked off Christmas morning.  Not only can you make it the night before, you really have to.  I will also show you how to make my Maple Apple Sausage Patties….also made the night before and cooked in the morning.

For my Gingerbread French Toast, I use a big loaf of French bread.  I buy one that hasn’t been sliced yet.  I usually get a fresh one from the bakery at the grocery store, but you can get any kind of French bread and keep it in your freezer until the day you are ready to make this.  Take it out of the freezer in the morning and let it defrost.

I start the recipe by melting a stick of butter with some brown sugar and my gingerbread spice mix.  My gingerbread spice mix is some cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves, ground allspice and ground nutmeg all mixed together.  I keep it on my kitchen counter all season long and add it to all baked goods, pancakes, coffee, etc.  I can’t get enough.

I spread the butter/spice mix all over the bottom of a large baking dish.  Then I layer half of the French bread, all cubed up, over the butter.  On top of that I dollop some sweetened cream cheese, then the last layer of remaining cubed bread.

I pour a mixture of eggs, more gingerbread spice mix, and whole milk (that has been beaten together) over the whole thing, and then I mush the bread down into the egg mixture.  I just want to make sure all the bread cubes are coated.  The whole thing gets covered in foil and refrigerated overnight.

In the morning, the bad boy bakes for about  forty-five minutes or until the outside is crunchy but the inside is tender and moist.  I top the whole thing off with maple syrup and powdered sugar.

This French toast is not only easy, it tastes amazing too.  It is rich, warm and spicy all at the same time.  And the gingerbread flavors are so Christmassy!!

As for my sausage….oh kids, you’re in for a treat.  I blend together maple flavored bulk sausage with minced apple, minced onion and poultry seasoning.  The patties can be formed well in advance and then just tossed in a skillet and cooked when you are ready.  Easy peasy perfection.

Have a great holiday!  Enjoy the season and your family and friends!

Gingerbread Spice Mix

2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon

1 Tablespoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground cloves

2 teaspoons ground allspice

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

Blend together and keep in a tightly sealed container.


Baked Gingerbread French Toast

½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted

½ cup brown sugar

3 Tablespoon Gingerbread Spice Mix, divided

1 loaf French bread, cubed

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

½ cup powdered sugar

6 eggs

1 ½ cups whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Stir together melted butter and 1 tablespoon gingerbread spice mix.  Spread butter mixture in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.  Layer ½ of bread cubes over that.

In a small mixing bowl, blend together cream cheese and powdered sugar.  Dollop cream cheese mixture over bread cubes as evenly as possible.  Top with remaining bread cubes.

In another mixing bowl, beat together eggs, milk, vanilla and remaining spice mix.  Pour egg mixture over bread cubes.  With your hands, slightly press down on bread cubes to encourage absorption of egg mixture.

Cover with foil and chill in refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, covered.  Uncover and bake another 15 minutes or until top is slightly browned.

Let sit for 10 minutes before slicing. 

Serve with maple syrup and powdered sugar.

Serves 8


Maple Apple Sausage Patties

2 16 ounce packages ground pork sausage, maple flavored (Jimmy Dean)

2 green apples

1 white onion

1 tablespoon Poultry Seasoning

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Blend apples, onion and poultry seasoning in a food processor until minced.  Mix apple mixture, by hand, into sausage until thoroughly mixed.  Form patties of equal size (about 24) and chill in refrigerator overnight.

Add oil to a large skillet and preheat over medium heat.  Brown sausage patties on first side for about 4 minutes.  Flip and brown second side for another four minutes or until sausage is cooked through.

Serves 8

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Holiday Gifts to Share

The holidays are upon us.  The season of giving….and eating.  Don’t you think we should combine the two?  I’ve always been a firm believer that food makes an excellent gift.  Especially if you have friends that love to eat, but don’t really love to cook.  Something homemade, from your kitchen, is the best way to tell someone you care about them.  You took your time to make something especially for them.  Who doesn’t love that?

Today I have four recipes for you that make treats that are perfect for giving.  I have two recipes for pound cake (using a mix!).  The first is a yummy Egg Nog Pound Cake with a Rum Glaze and the second is a fantastic Gingerbread Pound Cake with a Lemon Glaze.  My third recipe is for Apple Pie Fudge, and my last recipe is for a knock-off of a certain coffee shop’s Cranberry Bars.  Don’t you think that you have a friend who  would love to receive a treat like that?

To make the pound cakes, I use a boxed pound cake mix.  For the Egg Nog Pound Cake, I use rich, thick egg nog instead of water.  I also use an extra egg and melted butter, just like the box calls for.  To make it taste even egg noggier, I add a teaspoon of rum extract and ½ a teaspoon of grated nutmeg.  This cake really does taste just like egg nog!

I top the cakes with a glaze made from powdered sugar and rum….or rum extract if you will be feeding little ones.

I bake my cakes in little mini loaf pans, so I get about 3 per box of cake mix.  I always by the disposable mini loaf pans that come with lids.  Perfect for giving!  And what’s even more perfect is that the cakes were super easy because you used a mix, but nobody will ever know!

I use the same boxed mix for my Gingerbread Pound Cake.  I use milk, eggs, butter and a mix of ground ginger, ground cloves, cinnamon, ground nutmeg and ground allspice.  I actually keep a little container of these spices around all season long.  I add my gingerbread spice mix to pancakes, waffles, hot chocolate, coffee, etc.  I love this stuff.

The gingerbread Pound Cakes get topped with a glaze made from powdered sugar and lemon juice.  I have always loved gingerbread and lemon together, but you could always use milk instead of lemon juice.

My third recipe is my Apple Pie Fudge.  Making candy can be kind of a project (a project most people don’t want any part of), but this fudge is actually really easy as long as you have a candy thermometer.  I combine sugar, milk, corn syrup, apple sauce, vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spice, butter, dried apples and cinnamon chips.  The flavors of apple, spices and cinnamon chips comes together to make this fudge taste just like apple pie, but maybe better??

I start by bringing milk, sugar, corn syrup and apple sauce to a boil in a pot, stirring the whole time.  Then, I reduced the heat to medium and let the mixture come to 235 degrees, which is “soft ball” stage.  Don’t try to do this the old-fashioned way….use a candy thermometer.  And oh yeah, during this part, you don’t stir.

Then, I removed it from the heat and whisked in the butter, vanilla and pumpkin pie spice.  Once that was whisked, I had to let it sit for a while to wait for the temperature to drop to 110.  Once it was cooled, I went at it with my hand mixer until the mixture was less shiny and thick.  I know “less shiny” sounds weird, but you really do beat it until it loses its “gloss”.

The last step is to stir in some chopped dried apples and the cinnamon chips.  Then, the whole mixture gets poured into a lightly greased 8x8 pan.  This chills in the fridge for a couple of hours, then it’s good to go.  Package it up in something cute, and you have an amazing gift to give!

Finally, if you are still with me, my last recipe is what I call Cranberry Bars.  Like I said above, it is a knock-off of a famous coffee shop’s cranberry bars.  My version tastes just like ‘em.  And they are so pretty and delicious….the perfect gift!

The bars start with a cookie crust.  The usual suspects are in this cookie crust….sugar, flour, butter, etc.  I also stir in white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.  The cookie crust gets topped with an orangy cream cheese frosting that is to die for. The last step is to drizzle more white chocolate over the top and then sprinkle on some more dried cranberries.

These bars just look like the holidays, and they are the perfect gift to give….maybe with a gift card to the coffee place that has gone unnamed?

This holiday season, when you are wondering what to give your child’s teachers, bus driver, the lady that does your nails, etc.  How about some sweet treats?  Like I said above, food is always a great gift!

Egg Nog Pound Cake

1 box pound cake mix

2/3 cup egg nog

½ stick (1/4 cup) butter, softened

3 eggs

2 teaspoons rum extract, divided

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg, divided

2 cups powdered sugar

1-2 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease loaf pan (I used 3 mini loaf pans-4 ½ x2 ½ x1 ½).

In a mixing bowl, beat together mix, egg nog, softened butter, eggs, 1 teaspoon rum extract and ½ teaspoon nutmeg with a hand mixer.  Beat batter for about 3 minutes.  Pour batter into greased pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

While cakes cool, whisk together powdered sugar, remaining extract, remaining nutmeg and 1 to 2 tablespoons of milk.  How much you use will depend on your desired consistency.

Drizzle glaze evenly over cooled cakes.

Makes 3 mini cakes.

Gingerbread Pound Cake

1 box pound cake mix

2/3 cup milk

½ stick (1/4 cup) butter, softened

3 eggs

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups powdered sugar

1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease loaf pan (I used 3 mini loaf pans-4 ½ x2 ½ x1 ½).

In a mixing bowl, beat together mix, milk, softened butter, eggs, and all spices with a hand mixer.  Beat batter for about 3 minutes.  Pour batter into greased pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

While cakes cool, whisk together powdered sugar and 1 to 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.  How much you use will depend on your desired consistency.

Drizzle glaze evenly over cooled cakes.

Makes 3 mini cakes.


Apple Pie Fudge

2 ½ cups sugar


1 cup whole milk


3 tablespoons light corn syrup


½ cup apple sauce


1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract


1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice


½ cup butter (one stick)


½ cup dried apples, chopped


¼ cup cinnamon chips


In a large sauce pan, bring milk, sugar, apple sauce and corn syrup to a boil over high heat, stirring the entire time.  Once the mixture boils, reduce heat to medium and bring mixture to 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Do not stir mixture.


Once mixture hits 235 degrees, remove from heat and whisk in butter, vanilla and pumpkin pie spice.  Let mixture sit until it reaches 110 degrees.


After the mixture has cooled to 110, beat with hand mixer until mixture is thickened and loses shininess.  Stir in dried apples and cinnamons chips and pour into a greased 8x8 pan.  Let chill for 2 to 3 hours.

Makes 1 8x8 pan.



Cranberry Bars

2 sticks butter plus ½ stick, softened

1 ¼ brown sugar

3 eggs

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch salt

1 ½ cups flour

1 1/4 cup dried cranberries

1 12 ounce bag white chocolate chips

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon orange extract

3 cups powdered sugar

In a mixing bowl, beat together 2 sticks butter and brown sugar until smooth.  Add eggs, vanilla, ginger and salt and mix well.  Slowly add in flour.  Once the batter is smooth, stir in ¾ cup dried cranberries and 6 ounces chocolate chips.  Pour into a 9x13 pan that has been lined with foil and greased.  Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.


Cream together ½ stick butter and 4 ounces cream cheese until smooth.  Add orange extract.  Slowly beat in powdered sugar.  Frost cooled bars.

In a microwave safe dish, melt 6 ounces white chocolate chips.  This will take about 45 seconds.  Stir until smooth and drizzle over frosted bars.  Top with the rest of the dried cranberries.

Remove bars from the pan using the edges of the foil.  Cut into bars to serve.

Makes 1 9x13 pan.



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Party Nibbles....Including Homemade Ricotta!

The Holiday season is upon us.  That means parties, dinners, Open Houses, etc.  It also means that you need to have some quick appetizer or snack ideas up your sleeve.  In a season that is filled with cocktail parties and potlucks….you need a quick appetizer idea that you can whip out at a moment’s notice.  And I know you want it to be fast and easy, but you also what it to be a show stopper.  You want people to say “Wow, you made this?”  Admit it, you want that. 

During the Holidays, sure, people love a good dip.  But I think that an appetizer that can be passed around and eaten in one or two bites is the best way to go.  Today I have three ideas for you that all have the same base, a toasted baguette slice.  Once you have the vehicle, the toppings are a snap.  My first topping is a delicious mix of mushrooms, wine, cream and cheese.  My second two toppings involve homemade ricotta cheese.  And there is your show stopper.

Yes, you can make ricotta cheese at home!  It is actually really easy, and it is really yummy.  Your friends and family will think you are amazing.  But we will get back to the amazingness in a bit.  First, let’s cover the mushrooms.

In a sauté pan, I sauté mushrooms and garlic in butter, until a little brown and softened.  Then, I add in white wine and heavy cream.  Sounds crazy delicious, yes?  I highly recommend using white wine for presentation purposes, but you could use red if that is what you have.  I let the sauce reduce until it is thick.  Then I spoon over toasted baguette slices and top with parmesan.  Fontina would be delicious here too.  You can toss these under the broiler to melt the cheese, but the warm mushrooms will also do the trick.

Now if that didn’t grab your attention, and you really just want to hear about homemade ricotta, let’s move on.  It’s almost embarrassing how easy it is. 

To make homemade ricotta, all you need is half and half, salt, pepper, white wine vinegar, lemon juice and cheese cloth.  The cheese cloth is not debatable.  It is a must.  You can usually find it any grocery store.

I make my ricotta by bringing my half and half, salt and pepper to a boil over medium heat.  I stir occasionally so that I don’t burn the bottom.  Once it comes to a full boil, I remove it from the heat and stir in my vinegar and lemon juice.  Pretty much immediately, curds will form.  Give it a minute to get all curdy, then pour the mixture into a colander lined with damp cheese cloth.  I let the ricotta drain for about a half an hour. Once it is drained, I am left with thick, rich ricotta. 

This ricotta is nothing like what you buy at the store.  You will be amazed at the difference.  It is pillow soft and absolutely perfect. 

Now that we have the ricotta down, let’s talk about the two toppings that I like to put on toasted baguette slices that have been slathered with ricotta.  The first is easiest….I use Gourmet Rooster Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Spread.  The combination of sweet roasted red peppers, balsamic vinegar and garlic is to die for.  And how easy is it to open a jar?

My second topping is a typical bruschetta topping of tomatoes, red onion, garlic, olive oil and basil.  Super simple, but ten times better when you make it yourself instead of buying it.  The flavors are stronger, and you control the oil.  I also like to top my ricotta tomato bruschetta with a drizzle of pesto.


Are you picturing the three amazing toppings for toasted baguette slices?  All of them are amazing.  If you have mushroom lovers, go with that one.  If you have cheese lovers, make some ricotta!  Top the ricotta with delectable Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Spread or homemade tomato topping.  Any way you go, you can’t lose!  These appetizers will make your holiday party!

Mushroom Bruschetta

3 Tablespoons butter

8 ounces sliced mushrooms

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

¼ cup wine

2 Tablespoons heavy cream

Parmesan cheese

1 baguette, sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoon salt, divided

2 teaspoons black pepper, divided

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sauté mushrooms and garlic in butter until brown and softened (over medium high heat), about 7 minutes.  Add wine and cook for 1 minute.  Add cream, season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and cook until sauce is reduced, about 5 minutes. 

Drizzle sliced baguette with oil and remaining salt and pepper..  Toast in 450 degree oven for 5 minutes.  Top with mushroom mixture and parmesan cheese.

Makes 24


Homemade Ricotta

6 cups half and half

2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Bring half and half, salt and pepper to a rolling boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Once boiling, remove from heat and stir in vinegar and lemon juice.  Curds will start to form.  After about 1 minute, pour mixture into a colander lined with damp cheese cloth.  Let sit for about 30 minutes.  Keep refrigerated.

Makes about 3 cups.


Perfect Tomato Bruschetta

1 baguette, sliced

¼ cup olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons salt, divided

1 teaspoon black pepper

3 medium tomatoes diced and squeezed to remove liquid

¼ cup red onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced

2 cups ricotta

2 tablespoons pesto, jarred

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Drizzle sliced baguette evenly with 2 tablespoons oil and 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.  Toast in 450 degree oven for 5 minutes. 

In a bowl, gently mix together diced tomatoes, diced red onion, minced garlic, minced basil, remaining olive oil, and remaining salt and pepper.  Chill until ready to use.

Top toasted baguette slices evenly with ricotta, then tomato mixture.  Drizzle with pesto.

Makes 24