Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pass The Rumballs!

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usRumballs are one of my favorite Christmas treats. I could eat a dozen in no time. Maybe I like them, not only for their taste, but for the fond memories I have of my Grandma when I make them.

It was at her house that I first learned how to mix the ingredients and shape the balls so they were all even. Grandma does not think that rumballs made with graham crackers are even remotely the real deal so I have come to learn that the extra expense for the Nilla wafers is worth the end result. While Grandma still bakes each Christmas, the rumballs have fallen to me and I make far too many each year. I think we were still eating them in February last holiday.

That's not to say I won't make just as many this year, but I will not keep them hidden. We were all so afraid of running out that I tried to ration us. And I guess a bit too much. This year, let the rumballs - made with Nilla wafers - flow.

There isn't too much to say about the recipe. I find that the rum and corn syrup amounts are not completely accurate and you have to adjust as you go. The dough should be not too wet - too much rum - and not too sticky - too much corn syrup. So whisk in the rum and corn syrup mixture and use your hands to knead it in. If it is not making balls that easily roll together, you need more liquid. Dry rumballs are terrible, plus the powdered sugar coating will absorb some of the moisture so err on the side of sticky rather than just barely holding together.

Also, the ingredients need to be really finely ground so use a food processor. Grind the nuts until they are wet and sticking together. This will really help the balls form.I store mine in an airtight - do not use cheap Christmas tins for this - container so that they age but do not dry out in any way. Be prepared when you open the lid, they will smell really strong after a few weeks.

I made three batches the other night and that is tons. Hope someone eats them. What am I saying? They will be gone before I know it!

Grandma's Bourbon Walnut Balls
Makes 36
2 1/2c. finely ground vanilla wafer crumbs
1c. finely ground pecans or walnuts
3 T. Cocoa powder
1c. powdered sugar
1/2c. bourbon or rum
3T. corn syrup
Confectioners sugar to roll the balls in

Mix the first 4 ingredients in a bowl.
Whisk the corn syrup and rum or bourbon together. Pour into the dry ingredients.
Mix with your hand until sticky but solid walnut size balls form. Add more of the wet ingredients if needed, starting with more corn syrup.
Roll balls into powdered sugar and store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Make Ahead Dinner

With all the Christmas entertaining coming up, I wanted to put some dinners in the freezer that I could pull out at a moments notice, heat and serve. These stuffed shells are so simple and I spent last night building two foil baking pans full.
The easiest way to serve them is with a big salad and crusty garlic bread but I am going to serve them on the weekend as a side dish with an italian chicken parmesan or veal parmesan and a salad.
There really isn't much to say about the recipe. I eyeballed the amounts more or less and you can do the same. Just make sure that the mixture is stiff so that it doesn't leak out of the shells.
The big trick is not to overcook the pasta. Cook them until they are too firm to eat and not too soggy - about 7 minutes.
I used the pre-shredded Italian blend Kraft cheese but a mixture of parmesan and mozzarella or just mozzarella will work really well. I also used canned spaghetti sauce to make it quick and easy.

Ricotta Spinach Stuffed Shells
Makes 24 shells
1 box jumbo pasta shells
3c. ricotta cheese
1c. drained, chopped spinach
2c. grated cheese
1 egg
2c. tomato sauce

Cook pasta shells in boiling water until not quite al dente. Discard any broken shells.
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In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta, spinach, egg and 1c. cheese.
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Spoon 1c. sauce into the bottom of the baking dish.
Scoop filling into the shells so that they are full but not overflowing. Place open side up in the baking dish.
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Spoon remaining sauce over the shells and then sprinkle with remaining cheese.
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Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Or wrap pan in foil and freeze for up to one month.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fruitcake for the Fruitcake Haters

Free Image Hosting at <a href= What is there to say about fruitcake really? Most people despise it, and for good reason. I will agree that fruitcake, on average, is a dry, dense brick with nothing for flavour but the sickly sweet afternotes of old candied fruit. Sounds appetizing doesn't it? It certainly doesn't look appetizing. Have you ever seen fruitcake in a store? Nothing is as unappealing as that.

I will admit to buying store fruitcake last year. The recipe was a new one and I will never use it again, by the way. Fruitcake Rumballs promised to be delicious and I believed the catchy descriptions. I crumbled the storebought cake into the food processor with cocoa and rum and tried to make a dough that I could roll. Bottom line, the balls were lumpy and wet and the only one who ate them was my mom, I think out of obligation. For future, I will stick to my tried and true rumballs and leave the store's fruitcake to the Boxing Day bargain shoppers.

So after my fruitcake issues, you might wonder why I am posting a fruitcake recipe. I hate fruitcake like the next person but this recipe from my Canadian Living Christmas cookbook is a wonderful cake. The book claims it will win over all fruitcake haters and they were right. Except for the few in my family who refuse to eat glazed fruit no matter what, I managed to pawn off many slices and people came back for seconds.

The trick to this recipe is the dough that binds it together. There is more of it than most fruitcakes I have made and it is not cloyingly sweet, nor is it molasses bitter and dark. The orange and almond flavor is prevelant and the cake is delicious. I use more raisins and nuts than fruit to make sure my family will eat it. I would highly recommend you give this one a try in the coming weeks. Just make sure you leave a good 3 weeks for it to mellow before serving.

A couple notes since I made it on the weekend...
I used the full amount of nuts and raisins and only 6 cups total of fruit - mixed candied and mixed peel. If you are using whole fruits like the recipe calls for, then use the full amounts. If you are using the tiny diced mixed fruits you can use alot less and should or else there will not be enough batter to go around.
Use metal loaf pans if possible. The glass ones that I used took a lot longer to cook, 3.5hrs, and I found that the cake does not cook as evenly.
Let the cakes cool for as long as possible before removing them from the pans. They should be completely cool, otherwise the cake starts to have small cracks.
Once the cakes are on a board and out of the pans, brush all the surfaces with rum or orange juice or a combination of both.
I stored mine wrapped in plastic wrap and two layers of tinfoil. After a few weeks, brush them with your choice of liquid again.

Give this recipe a shot, it might surprise you.

Light Orange Almond Fruitcake
Canadian Living Christmas Cookbook
3 cups mixed candied fruits
2 cups golden raisins
3/4 cups candied green cherries cut in half
3/4 cups candied red cherries cut in half
1 1/2 cup chopped candied pineapples
1 1/2 cup coarsly chopped blanched almonds
1 cup candied lemon & lime peels
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 Tbsp coarsly grated orange rind
1 tsp almond or vanilla extract
1/2 cup orange liqueur or orange juice

Grease and flour two 9x5 in. loaf pans; Set aside.
In large bowl, combine the fist seven ingredients; toss with 1/2 cup of the flour. Set aside.
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Mix remaining flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In large bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, orange rind and almond or vanilla extract, beating well.
Add flour mixture alternately with orange liqueur or juice. (Three additions of dry, two addition of wet) Mixing just until flour is incorporated. Fold in fruit mixture. The batter will be very thick.
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Pour into prepared pans, smoothing tops. Place a shallow pan half filled with boiling water on bottom rack of oven. Bake cakes on center rack in a 250 (yes, 250) degree oven for 2 1/2 hours or until a toothpick inserter into center comes out clean. (This make take as long as 3 hours.) Cover loosely with foil if cakes start to crack. Let cool completely in pans.
If you wish, wrap in two thicknesses of cheese cloth soaked in brandy and in some aluminun foil until ready to eat.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Simple Applesauce Cake

Free Image Hosting at <a href= My fridge turns into an abyss for half used jars of food. I don't know how it happens but eventually I will clean out the fridge and find the tomato sauce I had had so many plans for, or the capers (who uses capers?) that would have been perfect if only I had known where they were.
So that is how this half full jar of applesauce came to be. I needed part of it for the Caramel Apple Cake I made the other day and then stuffed the jar into the fridge and forgot about it. Now, a week later, I need to use it up and I don't have a single applesauce cake recipe. Enter Martha Stewart and her wealth of recipes on the website. A quick search led me to this cake which I am now in love with.
The cake is very simple with subtle flavors. I like it because you can pick up a slice and snack on it, or top it with icecream (we used Chapman's Eggnog icecream) and serve it warm as a delicious dessert. I put the whole cake together in minutes and, what I love best, all the ingredients are staples in my pantry.
I upped the spice and omitted the cardamom in the original recipe, adding allspice instead. Other than that, I did nothing to it. Simple, quick and delicious!

Applesauce Cake
Martha Stewart's Everyday Food Magazine
3 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
2 cups applesauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.
In another bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter, brown sugar, and honey until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour mixture; beat just until combined. Beat in applesauce.
Generously coat a nonstick 9-inch tube pan with cooking spray. Spoon batter into pan; smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (but slightly wet), 50 to 60 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack 10 minutes. Turn out of pan onto a cutting board or baking sheet; invert cake onto rack, top side up. Cool completely.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Christmas Already!

As you can see from the picture on the left, Christmas is now upon us. Or at least that is what the catalogs and department stores would have you think. In reality, they have been eagerly hoisting the holiday on us since October 15th. What exactly is so appealing about an artificial tree and light strung garland stuck in amongst jack o' lanterns and witches garb? Seems like such an odd juxtaposition.
Nevertheless, Christmas is now an almost three month holiday. My LL Bean catalog came in October, christmas Cd's emerged in Costco shortly after. I have even begun to Christmas shop, and did much of it on the Thanksgiving weekend. Why? Because sales are aplenty in the fall and stores love early shoppers. They know that even though you break the bank in November and swear you are done, you will be back the last week of December for that "one extra thing". It's a gold mine.
To sum up this little diatribe, I do love Christmas and all it offers. I will begin my Christmas baking this weekend and won't stop until the third week of December. So here is to weeks and weeks of yummy smells and new, hopefully successful, recipes.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Baking With Rachael Ray

Free Image Hosting at <a href=Can Rachael Ray bake? My guess is no. Well, at least not well enough to make the cake featured in her November 2007 magazine. She must have realized that all good magazines need a dessert recipe, or two, and hired a pastry chef to fill this gap.
At any rate, I had to try the cake for my Dad's birthday because a chocolate fan he is not. Caramel on the other hand, is a favorite and this cake looked like it would fill the bill. I love the idea of fruit fillings instead of even more icing.
So the cake was easy to make and tasted delicious. Hard to slice, I found, but I think a serrated knife would have worked so much better, as the cake is delicate and the apple slices need to be cut through as well.
A few quick tips for the cake-
I used the Pam Baking spray again, and again I was pleasantly surprised. The cakes fell right out of the pans, no crumbling issues at all.
The tops of the cakes are a tad wet looking. If you try and get rid of that look, you will burn the rest of the cake. Don't rest the cake upside down to cool because the wet spot will stick to the board and not let go.
Freeze the cakes for a half hour or so before frosting so the wet spot firms up and doesn't stick to the icing knife.
To ice it, run a two inch strip of frosting around the top edge of the bottom layer and then pile the apples in the middle to avoid leakage.
I used about 4 cups of icing sugar in the frosting but I also used more caramel sauce. The frosting is definitely a preference thing and it firms up really well in the fridge so don't worry about making it too thin to get the desired flavor.

Caramel Apple Layer Cake
Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine

2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups plus 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 sticks (1 pound) plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 crisp apples (about 1 pound), such as gala, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup store-bought caramel sauce

Preheat the oven to 350°.
Generously grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
Using an electric mixer, combine the flour, 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, the baking powder and salt.
Mix in 2 sticks butter at low speed until the mixture is crumbly.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, 1/2 cup cream, applesauce and vanilla. Mix into the flour-butter mixture at medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans.
Bake until springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cake to release the layers, invert onto the rack and let cool completely.
In a medium skillet, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat.
Add the apple slices and remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar and cook, stirring often, until the apples are tender and the juice is syrupy, about 15 minutes.
Stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons cream and simmer for 3 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let cool.
Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, beat the remaining 2 sticks butter and the caramel sauce. Slowly add the confectioners' sugar to taste, and until light, creamy and spreadable. Place in the refridgerator if too soft.
Place 1 cake layer on a cake plate; spread the apple filling evenly on top, then cover with the remaining cake layer. Using an offset spatula or butter knife, cover the top and sides of the cake with the caramel frosting, swirling the top to make a decorative pattern.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Do You Daydream In Cookies?

Free Image Hosting at <a href=Sometimes you buy something just for the sake of buying it, or because it is a new product you have never seen before. Both of these reasons would apply to the ridiculous - although cheap - purchase I made in Target a few weeks ago. Now bear in mind that we do not have a Target in Alberta. This is a glorious store that trumps Wal-Mart in every way. So you can't blame me for being dazzled by the lights and sheer amount of amazing products.

It was in the Halloween candy aisle, while looking for mini Almond Joys, that I came across Hershey Kisses Candy Corn edition. You can read more about them at Candyblog although I think they give the kisses an unfair review.

True, the candy is not chocolate in any sense. And true, doesn't taste like chocolate but then again, I didn't really expect it to. What you do get is a creamy confection that is a cross between real candy corn and butter flavored wax. Now before you say "yuck" I would suggest a taste. They are extremely addictive. I had to put the bag away before my "taste for research purposes only" went any further and I did not have enough left for cookies.

And I did want them for cookies. I envisioned yummy candy kisses cookies in butterscotch flavor perhaps? Well, apparently there are very few original Kiss Cookie recipes on the net. Almost every one I found was peanut butter and very little variation from the theme. So after hunting for days and days for the perfect recipe, I finally, and quite by accident, stumbled upon this one on the Martha Stewart website. She used mini peanut butter cups in the middle, which I think would be far more delicious than my freaky Kisses. What I loved about her recipe was it was simple, and promised a softer cookie. I did not like the idea of a hard as a rock peanutbutter cookie with a soft Kiss centre.

Well, the cookies were amazing. So amazing in fact that Josh thought about them all day at work. Justin devoured them, and Johnson ate entire cookies in one bite. They are heaven. Soft and chewy, peanutbuttery and smooth. The candy corn centre was rich and a perfect balance with the cookies.

Because we do not get the candy corn kisses in Canada, I will use the Caramel Chocolate Swirl Kisses instead. These cookies will definitely have repeat peformances in my house.

Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies
Martha Stewart, Makes 3 Dozen
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar, for rolling dough
36 chocolate kisses or mini peanut butter cups, chilled and unwrapped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Using an electric mixer, cream peanut butter and butter in a mixing bowl until smooth.
Add brown sugar; beat until combined, scraping down bowl as needed.
Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until incorporated.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. With mixer on low speed, gradually beat in flour mixture in two batches.
Scoop off dough by the tablespoon; roll into balls. Place granulated sugar on a plate; roll balls in sugar, coating completely. Place 2 inches apart on a nonstick insulated baking sheet.
Bake until cookies begin to puff up slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven.
Press one peanut butter cup in center of each cookie. Return to oven; continue baking until cookies are golden brown and chocolate has begun to melt, about 3 minutes more. Let cool at least 10 minutes on baking sheet before transferring cookies to rack to cool completely.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Mom's Halloween Birthday

Free Image Hosting at <a href= It is my Mom's birthday. On Halloween, I know. We actually like having her birthday on Halloween because it gives us a good excuse when we are trying to get out of another brutal Halloween party. This way we can hand out candy to the cute little kids, and then turn out the lights and watch a movie when the older, more obnoxious 'trick or treaters' come around. This year A & J opened their home to the party. A good idea because they are in a new neighborhood with lots of young families so we had adecent turn out of cute little kids. It also gave A a chance to practice her baking skills with me as we attempted my mom's birthday cake. I say attempt because I hate making layer cakes. I never end up with an even looking tower. It's always lopsided or one layer is careening off the top.

To stack the deck in my favor, I chose a cake from my beloved Paula Deen. Her cakes look amazing, are easy to prepare and I am sure cannot fail. This specific one is out of her Christmas Baking 2007 magazine which mom picked up for me in the States. I have poured over this magazine so many times that I probably know where every recipe is in it. The cake turned out really well with nice, even layers. The icing tasted really yummy the night we made it and was ten times better the next day. I think I will use it on cupcakes in the future. The layers of cake were light and moist and did not rise up with too much of a dome so the cake stayed flat. Next time I will partly freeze the layers first before icing as it was a little difficult with them slightly warm. I used the Pam Baking spray again and the layers fell out of the pan perfectly.

When we sliced the cake open, it looked so even and delicious. It tasted even better. The cake went a long way. It is quite rich and half the cake fed 9 people generously. Looks like alot of work, really wasn't. Oh, and the orange and black balls on top are malt balls, Halloween edition. Ciao!

Chocolate Malt Cake
Paula Deen's Holiday Magazine
Ingredients for cake:
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 cup malted milk powder - such as Ovaltine
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Malted Milk Balls for garnish

Ingredients for icing:
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup cocoa
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup malted milk powder
5 cups powdered sugar

Directions for Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 3 - 9" cake pans.
In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder.
In a small bowl, combine milk and malted milk powder, stirring to dissolve.
Add milk mixture, oil and eggs to flour mixture, beating at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.
Add sour cream and vanilla, beating until just combined.
Pour batter evenly into pans, and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool and then remove from pans. Spread icing between layers and on top and sides of cake. Garnish with malted milk balls.

Directions for icing:
In a large bowl, beat butter and cocoa powder at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.
In a small bowl, combine cream and malted milk powder, stirring to dissolve. Add cream mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed to combine. Gradually beat in icing sugar until spreadable.