Cream Cheese Filled Bananas Foster Pancakes

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I had such a craving for bananas last week.  You know, weeks and weeks can go by, and I don’t give them a second thought, but then all of a sudden, one day, I need a banana. Who knows why that is, but it is.  I tend to do that with fruit. Don’t get me wrong…I do manage to get my daily servings of fruit in (or try to). Oranges, apples, bananas, grapes… sometimes I can’t get enough of them, and other times, I forget all about them until the craving strikes.

Except black cherries and nectarines.
They’re my favorites, and I’d eat them everyday if I could get my hands on them.

So, last week I went a bought a bunch of bananas; and I ate a couple of them a day for about three or four days until I had my fill of them.  It seems that the rest of the family did not share my craving, because this morning I noticed that there were still three of them sitting on the counter, and they were in pretty rough shape.  I came really close to just tossing them, when the idea hit me…  Banana pancakes.

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I was just about to make breakfast anyway… which was going to be breakfast sandwiches, but now I had a change in menu. I started to gather all of the ingredients, and knew that I had half of a bag of pecans leftover from Christmas cookies. I thought that they would be really good in the pancakes too.  I opened the fridge to grab some eggs, and noticed a container of leftover whipped cream. With the pecans on my brain, and the whipped cream… another idea hit me… Bananas Foster pancakes.

Ok, so the plan was to make plain pancakes, and serve them with Bananas Foster drizzled on top with a dollop of whipped cream.  Sounds really good, doesn’t it?

Well…as I was digging through the fridge, I found a block of cream cheese. And of course, yet another idea hit me.  Stuff the pancakes with a cream cheese filling, Bananas Foster on top, and a dollop of whipped cream.

Perfect.
And they were.
And Delicious.

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Since I wanted to stuff the pancakes, I wanted them to be on the thinner side.  But not so much a crepe, because I still wanted the fluffy cake of the pancake, so I used my regular pancake recipe..and reduced the flour to two cups. I didn’t want the cream cheese filling too sweet, so that the pancake, along with the filling, helped to balance the sweetness of the bananas.  It all worked perfectly.

I just know you’ll love these pancakes, not only for their wonderful taste, but for the ease of preparation!

Cream Cheese Filled Bananas Foster Pancakes

The Pancakes
Makes 8 pancakes

Just a quick note…  Since these pancakes spread out in the pan, I used a larger frying pan, and cooked one pancake at a time.

There were four of us this morning, and I figured two pancakes per person.  Wrong.  One pancake per person is more than enough.  Well, for the normal eater, that is.  For a big eater, then I’d figure on two pancakes.

2 cups cake flour
2 eggs
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cups milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
Vegetable oil for greasing pan

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, eggs, sugar, baking powder, salt, milk and vegetable oil just until the ingredients are moistened and blended.

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Grease the frying pan with a little bit of vegetable oil, and heat over medium-low heat. It’s ready when a drop of water dances when splashed onto the pan. For each pancake, add 1/3 cup pancake batter to the pan. When the top of the pancake begins to bubble, it’s ready to flip. Cook for about another minute and a half. Remove from the frying pan to a dish. Repeat until the batter is gone.

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The Cream Cheese Filling
1 8 oz block cream cheese
1 cup whipped cream
½ cup powdered sugar

In a small mixing bowl, cream together the cream cheese, whipped cream, and powdered sugar until light and fluffy.  Set aside.

Bananas Foster
I kind of winged it with the Bananas Foster, so I’m not even certain this can be called authentic. I know that whipped cream in the mixture sounds unusual, but I had so much leftover, I wanted to use it up.  Honestly?  It made the sauce on the creamy caramel side, and it really worked.  If you don’t have whipped cream, then use heavy cream.  I think it would work just was well.  It’s a pretty basic recipe, and you really can’t go wrong with the butter and brown sugar measurements. If you want a little more butter, go for it.  If you want it a little more caramelly, then add more brown sugar. The measurements in this recipe made the sauce a little on the thick side.

3 bananas, your preferred slice
½ stick butter
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup whipped cream, or heavy cream
3/4 cup chopped pecans, walnuts, or even hazelnuts
1 tsp vanilla paste (extract will be just fine too)
½ tsp salt
¼ cup dark rum

Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the brown sugar and cook on low heat until the sugar melts into a caramel sauce.  Add the pecans, vanilla, salt, and whipped cream.  Simmer on low for about three minutes. Add the bananas and cook for about a minute.  Stir in the rum, and then CAREFULLY with a kitchen torch, ignite the sauce.  It will flame for about 45 seconds or so, and then will go out on it’s own.  I couldn’t get my camera to capture the flame, and that’s so sad, because it’s so pretty when it’s flaming.  Remove from heat.  Serve immediately on the pancakes (or ice cream, or French toast, or waffles, or on a spoon directly to the mouth… )

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Assembling the Pancakes
Fill each pancake with about 1/3 cup cream cheese filling, and fold in half.  Top with Bananas Foster. Add a dollop of whipped cream to the top, and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Enjoy!

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Barbecue Chicken Personal Pizzas

This is a post in which you just might judge me a little bit.

The judgment involves me taking down my Christmas decorations today. Yes. You read this right. I did. I took them all down, and they’re all packed away already.  I know it was way too early, but I had a strong impulse to do it…so I went with it.  I’m really tired, but it feels really good to have it all done.

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So, about 3:30 this afternoon, and while I was knee deep in packing up the decorations, Mike comes into the living room and says: “I dreamt last night that you made barbecue chicken pizzas, and they were really good.”  Now, did he really dream that, or was he just hinting around that he wanted barbecue chicken pizzas for dinner? Part of me tends to believe the latter, but that’s ok. It was a good idea, and with some of the ingredients I had on hand, I could pull it off easily.

These personal pizzas are genius. My friend Steve shared this awesome idea this past summer with me when we were talking about easy meals to make after working all day.  They’re especially perfect on a hot day. Steve and his wife use Naan bread, so all you’d have to do is cook the chicken on the grill, and then throw the chicken and cheese on the Naan, and then put them back onto the grill to cook. Don’t feel like cooking the chicken?  Rotisserie chicken is a perfect substitute! Top them with whatever you might have on hand, and you have a great meal that took hardly any time, and very little work!!

Mike’s hint to make these pizzas came at the perfect time.  I was starting to get really tired, and the thought of heading into the kitchen to prepare a meal just didn’t appeal to me. I ran to the freezer, and took out a package of frozen chicken, and a half of a bag of Rhodes frozen roll dough to thaw. While I was rummaging through the freezer for the chicken and dough, I found a baggie of cooked bacon that I tossed in there a few days ago.  Some lettuce, onions, black olives and blue cheese to throw on top? Perfect.

I started preparing these pizzas at 5:30pm, and served them by 6:30pm. It’s now 7:17pm, the kitchen is cleaned up, and I’m sitting here typing this post.  Pretty darn good if you ask me…And the pizzas?  They’re delicious.

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Here are the ingredients I had on hand:
Frozen roll dough
Barbecue sauce
Boneless chicken breast
Chopped cooked bacon (Optional)
Shredded cheddar
Lettuce
Red onion
Black olives (Optional)
Blue cheese dressing
Crumbled blue cheese

Cut the chicken into bite size pieces, and cook it in the barbecue sauce in a medium frying pan. Flatten each dough ball, and roll them into flat mini pizza circles.

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Three circles fit on one greased cookie sheet.  Spread about a tablespoon of barbecue sauce on the pizza circles. And spoon some of the cooked chicken on top of that.  Sprinkle some shredded cheddar cheese on top of the chicken.  Sprinkle some chopped bacon on top of the cheddar.

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Bake them at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes until the cheese is melted, and the crust is golden brown.  Top with whatever you might have on hand. I topped them with lettuce, red onion, black olives, blue cheese dressing, and crumbled blue cheese.

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Enjoy!!

Christmas Candy

I’d like to wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas, I hope it’s a beautiful day filled with laughter and happiness.   Stay safe and warm.

I also want to thank you so much for your friendship and support as I learn the “ins and outs” of blogging. It means so much to me that you are here. Truly.

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It’s Christmas Eve…my most favorite day of the year. This is my de-stress day.  By now, my shopping is done, and the majority of the gifts are wrapped.  I still have a few to wrap, but now I’m forcing myself to sit and relax for a few, and make a list of the things I need to prepare for tonight, and tomorrow.  By tonight, things will be in order, and everything will be settled down for our big tradition tonight.

Our traditional Christmas Eve started when Katie was a little girl, Jessica was a baby, and Mike was still a couple of years away.. and I decided that I wanted one quiet evening at home with my little and very young family.  So we respectfully declined all of the party offers; I went out and bought new pajamas for the girls; and made a small batch of our favorite appetizers.  We stayed in that night, the girls wearing their new pajamas, and snuggled in to eat the appetizers and watch the movie.  We have done that every Christmas Eve for the last 21 years.   I have my appetizers just about ready for tonight.  The pajamas and a bone for Sophie are all wrapped and under the tree, and the movies are sitting next to the TV ready to be watched after we get home from church.  This year we’re watching “The Heat” and “Red 2”.

As I was preparing the appetizers, I wondered what I’d be doing if we didn’t have our tradition.  Probably preparing a dish to bring to whichever party we were going to tonight…and then I wondered what type of hostess gift I’d bring.  Most likely, I’d bring a bottle of wine, and a basket of Christmas cookies and candies that I’ve made.

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I think I love making Christmas candy the most, and if you’re still looking to make a quick sweet treat to take with you to a party tonight, or in the next few days, this is the perfect one for you.  Put it in a pretty bag, a jelly jar, or even a paper bag…this candy is sure to impress.  It is simple and beautiful..and it looks like you would have worked hours making it!

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Christmas Candy

A quick note:  I usually make cinnamon flavored every year.  To change it up, I made orange this year, and it was just as delicious. In fact, I think I like it even more than the cinnamon!  You can make it any flavor you’d like, make a variety of flavors to give as gifts!  I recommend that you use oils rather than flavorings though.  The oils give it a deep flavor, and I’m afraid that flavorings would dissipate after a while.

I found my oils this year in the bulk section of my beloved Wegmans, but in years past, I’ve bought them at our local pharmacy like CVS.

A couple of things to remember when making this candy. First and most obvious…use caution when handling this candy. It’s very hot, and could cause very serious and painful burns if it accidentally spilled on you or a child. I’d feel terrible. Second… when you pour the oil into the boiling sugar mixture, make sure you keep your head away from the pan, and try not to breathe in as it mixes into the mixture. The fumes can burn the inside of your nose. I’ve done that, and it’s not pleasant.

The good news is that the scent of the candy goes through the whole house, and lingers for a few days!

3 – 3/4 cups sugar
1-1/4 cups corn syrup
1 cup water
.125 oz bottle oil flavoring
your choice in food coloring
Powdered sugar

Prepare three cookie sheets with powdered sugar to a depth of 1/4″ to 1/2″. Make channels in the sugar with your finger.

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In a heavy saucepan, mix together sugar, corn syrup, and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and continue to boil until it reaches 300 degrees, hard crack stage.

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Remove from heat, and immediately add food coloring (as much or as little as you wish) and the bottle of oil flavoring. Pour the hot mixture into the channels that you prepared earlier. Cover them by raking the powdered sugar over them with a fork.

While the candy is still hot, but cooled enough to handle, cut it into little squares with kitchen shears. Work quickly, because it cools quickly. It can be cracked by hand when it becomes too hard to cut with shears.

Enjoy!!

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Plain White C’s

I’ve seen quite a few cookies posted for the holiday season this year, and I have quite a few recipes of my own….Some of them laden with ingredients that just shout flavor with spices, nuts, chocolate, or mint….or…all of the above. They’re the cookies with strong personalities; the cookies that almost always take the limelight. They’re flavorful, they’re pretty, and they’re photogenic. And of course…Everybody wants them.

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But sometimes, it’s the simple cookie that makes an even stronger statement. It’s like the “girl next door”. The cookie that you grew up with, but never really “looked” at in that way. It’s the cookie that makes you do a double take after you take that first bite, when all of a sudden; you realize what you’ve been missing all along. It’s the cookie that stands the test of time. The one that you know won’t ever disappoint.

The plain white cookie.

I grew up with this cookie. It was my grandmother’s recipe. But grandma also made these mountainous chocolate chip cookies that were loaded with raisins and nuts. Because I was charmed by the pretty and flavorful chocolate chip cookies, I never really gave these cookies a second glance, that is, until I took that first bite…and did that “double-take”, and appreciated them for their simplicity.

This is truly a plain white cookie. It’s not too sweet at all, and it gets it sweetness, really, from the icing. It tends to be a touch dry, but not so dry that it’s crumbly, because it’s definitely not crumbly…but it begs a cup of coffee or hot cocoa to go with. Actually, after you have one of these cookies with a cup of coffee or hot cocoa, then I can honestly say that the coffee or cocoa will be the one begging. Neither will ever be the same without this cookie.

And…with my usual theme.. they’re quick and easy to make.  Simple. Because they’re so easy, and this recipe makes a ton of them, I could call them a filler for the cookie platter, but honestly? They’ll be the first ones to go!

Plain White Cookies
Makes a Gazillion Cookies
The recipe can be cut in half, but I suggest you bake them and share them.
Everyone will love you for it.

Like most grandmother’s, my grandma didn’t measure when she baked. Thank goodness my aunts realized the importance of preserving her recipes, so they watched her, and they wrote down the ingredients and measurements. We are so lucky to have her recipes today.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

6 cups flour
6 tsp baking powder
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter
½ cup shortening
8 eggs
4 tsp vanilla

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar, butter, shortening, eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture, until completely blended.

Spoon walnut size blobs of dough onto the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting.

Frost them with your favorite icing or glaze. Store in an airtight container.
Enjoy!

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Mexican Wedding Cakes

Ok, here’s the scoop…
I’m a Closet Cookie Eater.
And I have been all my life.

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This is how it goes down…

I wait until there’s nobody around when I’m in the kitchen, and then I sneak a couple of cookies and pop them into my mouth before anyone comes back in to catch me. I’ve had so many years of practice; that I can even get a small glass of milk downed in that few minutes of undercover cookie eating!

I know…it’s crazy…I’m crazy….but with such a simple explanation. Closet cookie eating gives me the freedom to eat a couple in front of the family without any eyebrows being raised my way….as in… “Pru, how MANY cookies are you going to eat today???”… What they don’t know helps me to save face.

Unless there’s Mexican Wedding Cakes involved.
Then there’s no saving face.
And eyebrows are raised.

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If you’re familiar with Mexican Wedding Cakes, or Pecan Balls, or whatever you might call them… then you know that they’re buttery drops of nutty goodness loaded with a coating of powdered sugar. It’s that darn powdered sugar that blows me in time and time again. It never fails…I’ll think that I got away with it, but then I’ll have a little blop of powdered sugar on my cheek, or on my sweater, or somewhere that totally gives away the fact that I have been eating them!

And then I’m caught.
And I hang my head in shame.
And then I wait for everyone to leave the room again….

Needless to say, I love these cookies. I’ve been sneaking them since I was a little girl. I want to say that they’re probably my most favorite Christmas cookie, but I’d probably say that about every cookie. So let me just say that these cookies are high on my top five list.

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Mexican Wedding Cakes
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Just a quick note…This is my mom, Marcia’s recipe. The cookies get rolled in powdered sugar after they’ve cooled down, but Marsh says that you should let them cool down completely so that the powdered sugar sticks to the cookie…almost even melts a little on the cookie. Then you roll them a second time after they have cooled completely, and the powdered sugar adheres quite nicely. She knows what she’s talking about. She’s the best cookie baker I know.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

¾ cup powdered sugar
4 cups cake flour
2 cups butter
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups chopped pecans

Extra powdered sugar for rolling.

Sift together flour and sugar. Set aside.
Cream butter and vanilla, and add flour mixture until well blended. Stir in pecans. Shape into walnut size balls. Bake for 8-10 minutes on the prepared cookie sheet.

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Before the cookies are completely cooled, but not too hot, roll in powdered sugar. Place on cooling rack, and let cool completely. After the cookies are completely cooled, roll them again in powdered sugar.

Store in an airtight container. Maybe one with a lock on it!!

Enjoy!

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Simple Snowman Cutouts

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I’m a traditional kind of girl when it comes to Christmas cookies.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the occasional unusual concoction here and there, but for the most part, I think those unusual concoctions are for the people who are competing to come up with the most creative and unusual cookie that they hope will become the next big trend when it comes to cookies. That’s just not my bag. I’m happy with my usual traditional repertoire.

The cookies that I’ll be sharing for the next few days are the cookies that I grew up with. They are the ones that my mom, my grandmother, and my aunts made. They’re the cookies that my kids grew up with. And they’re the cookies that Katie is starting to bake at her own apartment now…and that’s exciting for both her and me. I love watching her starting her own traditions, mingled with the ones that she already knows.

I don’t know… I was back and forth, trying to decide whether to post about these cookies or not. I mean, they’re definitely “cutsie”. There is nothing cutsie about me. I don’t decorate my trees that way, I don’t decorate my house that way. But for some reason, my cutouts are always cutsie. I guess it’s from when my kids were much younger, and I just never changed them up as they got older.

But why change now?
They’re tradition.

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Cutouts fall right into the “comfort food” category, and that’s what I’m all about.  The scent of the cookies baking permeates the house; and brings back the happy times that we’ve shared throughout our lives. This time of year, I scour the shelves for new baking supplies. I love to buy the holiday sprinkles, the colored sugars, food coloring, and/or cookie cutters whether I need them or not. Christmas is my most favorite holiday of the year..truly.

Usually every year, my cutouts consist of Christmas trees, snowmen, santas, snowflakes, stars, etc…but this year, I joined a cookie swap with Pamela at Brooklyn Farm Girl and the theme was snowmen.  And…since I was running late, I decided that my cutouts would be all snowmen this year.  I did them in two hours from start to finish. Please note that they did need a few hours to sit for the frosting to set before I packed them into the container.

Speaking of Pamela… she is the most adorable little thing you’ll ever want to meet! I love her blog, her free spirit is so contagious, that you can’t help but feel happy after reading her posts.  You should visit her blog; she has some wonderful stories, and delicious recipes! Her rooftop garden in the summertime?  To die for. Seriously.

Honestly, if you’re pressed for time, these are the cookies for you.  Believe me, I’m not claiming to be the Queen of cookie decorating; I’m far from that.  But, cutsie or not, I think that these little guys can stand up proudly on a cookie plate of any kind… even with the trendy concoctions that happen to share the table.

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Now, back to the cookies… Here is what you’ll need as far as decorating tools:

Red Food Coloring
Green Food Coloring
Orange Food Coloring
Black Food Coloring
(I just went with the normal Christmas colors, but change up the colors if you’d like!)

2-1/2” diameter round cookie cutter

Wilton Tips:
#230 for the nose
#7 for the eyes, mouth, and holly berries
#3 for the plaid and dots on the hats
#46 for the hat
#22 for the fur around the hat and the poof

Disposable decorator’s bags.  They make life easy, therefore are a necessary tool in my cupboard.

Candy Holly Leaves…(But if you look closely, you can see that I used candy Christmas trees, because that’s all I had in my cupboard.  Hey, I told you I’m not the queen of cookie decorating…but they worked!)

The Cookie:
My mom will periodically throughout the year ask me to make these cookies for her. I’m always happy to oblige, in the shape of a heart, with pink frosting. She loves them.

1-½ cups sugar
½ cup butter
½ cup shortening
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar, butter, shortening, eggs, and vanilla until well blended.  Begin adding the flour mixture alternating with ¼ cup sour cream at a time mixing until it’s well blended until all of the flour and sour cream have been incorporated into the dough. The dough will be really sticky.

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At this point, you can divide it into two balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for a couple of hours for ease of rolling.   I never do.  If I’m in cookie mode, then I’m going for it until they’re done.

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Divide the dough into two balls.  Using plenty of flour on your rolling surface, roll out the first ball to about 1/4 inch, and begin cutting circles of dough (dipping the cookie cutter into flour each time), placing them on a parchment paper lined large cookie sheet.  You can fit about 12 cookies at a time on the sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. This makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

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The Frosting:
3 cups confectioners sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp light corn syrup
4 tbsp milk

Combine ingredients into mixing bowl, mix on low speed until the ingredients are blended together, and then increase the speed to high for about five minutes.

The Snowman

Using a small spatula, spread plain white frosting over ¾’s of the cookie.  This is the snowman’s face.

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Using tip #46 that has been loaded into a decorator’s bag with red frosting, create the hat by piping stripes from the top of the face to the top of the head.  Pipe a half circle from one side of the top to the other. (See photo).

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Using tip #3 that has been loaded into a decorator’s bag with green frosting, pipe dots ½ of the snowmen, and pipe plaid on the other ¼ of the snowmen.

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Using tip #22 that has been loaded into a decorator’s bag with white frosting, create the fur around the hat by piping stars along the bottom of the hat, and then one poof at the top of the hat.

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Using tip #230 that has been loaded into a decorator’s bag with orange frosting, pipe a single nose onto the middle of the face.

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Using tip #7 that has been loaded into a decorator’s bag with black frosting, create the snowman’s face by piping dots for eyes, and five dots into a smile for his mouth.

Stick two candy holly leaves (or Christmas trees) into the fur of the hat, and using tip #7 that has been loaded into a decorator’s bag with red frosting, pipe three little holly berries in the center of the two leaves.

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The cookies are ready to go. If you are planning on layering them on top of each other, then you’ll want to let them set for about five or six hours before putting them into the container.  Use waxed paper between layers.

Enjoy!

Sausage and Bean Soup

This weekend started out with so many plans.  But…I almost want to call this a failed weekend, because the man who invented weekends really didn’t think it through.    He should have realized that the weekend should begin on Friday, with a few more hours added to both Saturday and Sunday.  Therefore, I did not have enough time to get everything done that I wanted to do.

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I wanted to get through this massive pile of laundry that has been building up for the last couple of months.  I don’t know how it piles up, it just does.  I’ve never been able to keep up with laundry, and I’d have to say it’s my biggest weakness.  I guess I’d rather be cooking, shopping, ANYTHING, rather than doing laundry.  I’m not sorry for this weakness….One thing I know for sure, is that when I’m 95, I’ll be sitting on my front porch sipping a glass of lemonade thinking about how I’m glad that I spent my life doing the things that I love….rather than sitting there thinking how happy I am that I had clean clothes throughout my life!  Sometimes my priorities might seem a little off, but it’s all good.  Right?  But in the end, laundry was my priority for the weekend, and I did manage to get through that pile.

Anyway, getting back to my failed weekend.  I also wanted to start baking Christmas cookies. On Friday night, I pulled all of my cookie recipes out, and put them somewhere.  I say put them somewhere, because I can’t remember where. I’m afraid that they might be in the garbage.  Maybe I absent-mindedly threw them in the garbage while I was cleaning the kitchen.  I was in slight panic mode, but they’re pretty much all of my mom’s recipes, so I left a message for my father to scan them and email them to me.  Mom to the rescue once again…and the recipes are now back in my possession!

I thought I had a ton of eggs in the fridge… Nope.  I had six.  I thought I had anise oil in my spice cabinet, but all I had was ½ teaspoon in the bottle.  The rest of the bottles are cinnamon oil.   I swear I bought a brand new bag of sugar.  I had about 2 cups in my container.  I should have read the signs that it just wasn’t the weekend to make cookies…but of course…I didn’t.

Instead, I had a little under what I needed of anise oil to make my first batch of biscotti, and I figured I would at least get them made.  ….And…..I burned them.  You know why?  Because I was downstairs throwing clothes into the washer and dryer; and folding dried clothes.  See what I mean? Laundry is the root of all evil.  I swear to you, it truly is.   As I’m sitting here typing this, I’m looking at a trash bin with burned biscotti.

I was totally unprepared for cookie baking… as a haphazard baker always is!

So, as I stood in my kitchen folding towels, I couldn’t help but feel a little cranky.  That’s when I decided to stop and regroup. But how?  Well, that’s an easy answer! Make myself a pot of Sausage and Bean soup….and…. as my friend Jamison told me…Relax.

The soup was just what the doctor ordered. Just chopping the vegetables, frying the sausage..and then the soup simmering on the stove, along with the gooey bits of cheese with every bite, was the perfect antidote that this girl needed to make everything all right with the world again.

It’s so rich and flavorful, a rustically delicious soup for a cold, and unprepared day. Honestly, if you were serving this soup to your guests, they would never believe that this soup takes only an hour and a half or so from start to finish.  It’s just that good.

I’ll start my cookies tomorrow night…in the meantime, let’s start a petition about those weekend hours…

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Sausage and Bean Soup

½ pound bulk hot Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 – 15.5 oz can Cannellini beans, drained
1 large potato, peeled, and cut into chunks
1 – 32 oz container chicken stock
½ cup grated romano cheese
4 oz pepper jack cheese, shredded
1 – 6 oz bag fresh baby spinach
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
Romano cheese for garnish
Crushed red pepper for garnish

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In a soup pot, sauté the onion and garlic until translucent.  Add the sausage to the pan, breaking it apart into bite size pieces as it cooks. When the sausage is fully cooked, add the chicken stock, cannellini beans, salt and pepper.  Simmer until the potatoes are tender, about one hour. Add the romano and pepper jack cheeses, and stir until melted into the soup.  So the baby spinach doesn’t get all wilted and discolored, it will be the very last ingredient added to the soup.  Once you add it to the pot, it only takes a couple of minutes for the spinach to cook down.

Serve immediately, with romano cheese and crushed red pepper for garnish.

Enjoy!

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Short and Sweet…. Raspberry Napoleon Cups

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It’s official. We are now into the holidays, and that brings the hustle and bustle of planning, preparing, and shopping. I love Christmas. It’s my most favorite holiday of the year, but it’s a lot of work!! Sometimes it’s fun work…and we all know that sometimes it’s really stressful work..

I think I can safely guess that you’re like me, and while I can get some of the things finished during the week, I rely on the weekend to get the majority of it done. Even then, it’s still a rush, because I still have the normal everyday things to do on top of everything else. Which is why I took Black Friday off, and just spent a relaxing day decorating and cleaning…I believe I started a new Black Friday tradition for myself! And then, there’s always that one weekend, that just when I’m in the thick of the hustle and bustle, I realize that I have a party to go to that night, and I promised my friend I’d bring a dessert! That’s when my mind starts looking for quick and easy…short and sweet.

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This is truly a short and sweet dessert. The idea came to me about five years ago, when I wanted to make a raspberry napoleon type dessert for a party that I was invited to. The only problem was, that it was going to be a finger foods type of party, meaning that a Napoleon wasn’t going to work, not to mention, I was pressed for time.

As I was walking through the freezer section at Wegmans, I saw this little box of mini phyllo cups. Perfect!! I could fill them with pastry cream, raspberries, whipped cream, and drizzle them with chocolate. They just might be a decent finger food dessert!

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I did not anticipate the huge hit they’d be… That evening, I could hear people talking about them, and asking who made them, and then asking me for the recipe! Of course, I had no culinary or patissier expertise to impress them… But as I shared the recipe, I found that they loved this little dessert, which was not only pretty, but also delicious enough for the fanciest of soirees, yet easy and casual enough for a picnic….but also quick to throw together, and so, so simple to make.

I have made these little Napoleon cups with the pastry cream, and without. I have to say that they are delicious both ways. Honestly? I think it’s the little phyllo cups that make them so outstanding, especially if you brush them with the butter before filling them, which gives them such a rich flavor.

So now I need to give you the bad news…. These little phyllo cups will hold up for an evening, but they won’t hold up overnight. If you are planning on making them the day before, it won’t work. They’ll get soggy regardless if you use the pastry cream or not. Go ahead and make the pastry cream the day before, but I recommend that you put them together the same day as the event. Like I said before, these are just as delicious with just raspberries and whipped cream, so if you’re out of time, then honestly, skip the pastry cream!  The good news is, is that there will be zero leftovers to worry about!

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Raspberry Napoleon Cups
Makes 24

The Cups
2 – 12 count packages of mini phyllo pastry shells
1 – 12 oz package of fresh raspberries
1 tbsp salted butter, melted

The Whipped Cream
1 – 8 oz carton heavy cream
1 tsp sugar, or more depending on your desired sweetness
1 tsp vanilla

Pour the heavy cream into a large bowl, and with an electric mixer, begin mixing it until it forms stiff peaks. Add the sugar and vanilla, and continue to beat until it is stiff enough to put in a pastry bag to pipe. Put the bowl of whipped cream into the refrigerator until ready to use.

The Pastry Cream
¼ cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 -1/2 tbsp flour
¼ tsp salt
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla

Whisk the sugar, heavy cream, flour, and salt in a small saucepan on medium heat. Cook until it begins to bubble, or until it’s thickened, stirring occasionally. While the cream mixture is cooking, break two egg yolks into a small bowl and lightly stir them with a fork. As soon as the cream mixture has thickened, spoon about a ½ cup of the cream into the egg yolk bowl, and whisk quickly, pour the egg/cream mixture back into the pan and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove from heat, and stir into the vanilla. Pour the cream into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool.

Once the pastry cream has completely cooled, take about 1/3 cup of the whipped cream, and fold it into the cream.

The Chocolate Sauce
½ cup chocolate chips
2 tbsp heavy cream

In a small microwaveable bowl, heat the heavy cream for about a minute. Add the chocolate chips to the heated heavy cream and stir until melted.  Add a little more heavy cream if the chocolate sauce is too thick for drizzling.

Begin Layering:
The beauty of this recipe is that you can prepare the phyllo cups right in their little plastic package. Melt the butter, and brush all over the inside of each cup. Begin layering the Napoleon cups by spooning one teaspoon of pastry cream into each cup. Put two raspberries on top of the pastry cream.

Spoon the whipped cream into a pastry bag that has been loaded with a star tip (I use Wilton 1M), and pipe the whipped cream over the raspberries. Drizzle with the chocolate sauce. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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