Happy New Year!

My husband and kids are off for the week so I'm taking a short break from blogging. Speaking my hubby, he made this 49-second photo of our crazy fluffmutt. Hope it gives you a smile.

See you in 2009!

Jack Daniels Pecans - a boozy holiday treat

I've had this recipe in my files for ages, but haven't made it. This year, I thought I'd make it to send to my stepfather, who loves Jack Daniels. I had to tinker with the recipe to make it work, and I still don't think it's just right. Most glazed nuts recipes call for boiling the coating mixture before stirring in the nuts, and that might work better with this recipe.

I can't say I loved them, but then again, I'm not a big drinker of Jack Daniels (which is why I used the teeny tiny bottle). I post the recipe here in case you enjoy Jack Daniels, or want a quick goodie for someone who does. If you make them, please let me know what you think.

(Later, a review from my Mom: "I don't know that they taste much like Jack Daniels, but they are very flavorful.")

Jack Daniels Pecans

1/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons Jack Daniels
2 teaspoons instant coffee
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups pecans

Preheat oven to 325 F.

In a large skillet, combine sugar, Jack Daniels, instant coffee and cinnamon. Mix until well combined. Stir in pecans. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until pecans are well coated.

Put in oven and bake about 10 minutes, until the coating is dry. Cool.

Easier Cutout Cookies

I know a lot of people who don't like going to the bother of making cutout cookies. I agree that it's shocking that it can take an afternoon to make the cookies, and only minutes to devour them, but to me it doesn't seem like Christmas without a batch of cut-outs (this post will tell you why).

This is a good recipe for people who have trouble with cutouts. The dough is easy to work with and doesn't require refrigeration before rolling (although it works well if it has been refrigerated, too). The icing is also easy to work with because it is neither too thick nor too runny. And the two of them together are delicious! The drop of almond extract in the icing gives it a nice flavor but it's subtle enough that you can't tell it's almond (be sure to warn people with nut allergies).

Cutout cookies will never be as easy as, say, a bar cookie, but here are a few tips to make them less frustrating:
1. Be gentle when you're rolling the dough. Work from the middle toward the outside.
2. Don't roll the dough too thin, or the cookies will be difficult to transfer to the cookie sheet.
3. When you roll the dough out, make sure there is flour on your work surface, as well as on top of the dough (so the dough doesn't stick to your rolling pin).
4. When you're done cutting out the cookies from the dough, brush off the extra flour from the top and bottom of the dough. The more flour that gets into the dough, the less good it will taste. Only re-roll a few times -- once the dough looks like it has cracks in it when you roll it out, that's the point at which the dough has taken on too much flour and it's time to discard it.
5. The decorating pastes from Williams Sonoma (right) are the best for coloring frostings -- and I've tried the liquids from the grocery stores and the pastes from craft stores. The colors are vivid. They are a little pricey but one package will last for ages.

Easier Frosted Cutout Cookies
Adapted from a Penzey's recipe
These cookies are easy (as cutout cookies go) because the dough is easy to work with, and because you don't have to chill the dough before rolling.

1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In an electric butter, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and the vanilla, and mix until well blended. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder, then gradually add to the butter mixture and blend well.

Form the dough into a smooth ball. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 1/8 to 1/4 inch (I like mine a little on the thicker side).

Cut out with cookie cutters and place on nonstick or lightly greased cookie sheets (I use the insides of the butter wrappers). Place on cookie sheets an inch or so apart -- they will spread a bit. Cookies should be of equal size to ensure even baking.

Bake for 6 minutes or so, until you see a little browning just on the corners of the cookies (the whole cookie should not brown). Cool on cookie sheets for at least five minutes, then remove from cookie sheets and cool on wire racks or waxed paper. Decorate when cool.

Vanilla Cookie Frosting (or flavor of your choice)
This makes lots of frosting so that you can make various colors. The almond extract gives the frosting a nice flavor that doesn't have an overt almond flavor, but you can substitute other flavorings such as lemon.

6 cups powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
6 Tablespoons milk
1 Tablespoon imitation vanilla extract (this will keep the frosting white in color)
Scant teaspoon almond extract
Food coloring, if desired

Mix together all ingredients until smooth.

I posted twice today because I wanted to make sure I squeaked in under the deadline of Food Blogga's Christmas Cookie roundup! She gets so many contributions to the event, that she has to do a couple of posts to contain them all. Here is Part 2 of 2008!

A (believe it or not) healthy holiday treat

These pretty little goodies have been receiving rave reviews on the Cooking Light Bulletin Board since the recipe was published in Cooking Light in 2003. Five years later, I finally got around to trying them. I increased the size of the recipe to use up a whole bag of cranberries (I've never understood recipes that call for you to have a weird quantity of leftovers, like the one cup of cranberries left over in the original recipe).

Two things you should know about this recipe:

1. You need to start these a day in advance, since they need to steep in simple syrup overnight.

2. You need superfine sugar. The recipe said that if you can't find superfine sugar, you can make your own by processing granulated sugar in a food processor for a minute. I gave granulated sugar a spin in the blender. I'm not sure I achieved the right consistency, because my sugar formed a thick coating on the cranberries that tended to flake off. That may have been because of my sugar, so if I made them again, I'd get the superfine sugar.

I took them to a party and the hostess loved them. One guy (a member of CRB, by the way) said he didn't like cranberries and she urged him to try one anyway. He popped one in his mouth and said he liked it ... until he got to the cranberry. I was kind of with him -- I thought the cranberries had a somewhat bitter aftertaste.

So I don't think you'll win over the cranberry haters with this recipe. But if you have any guests or gift recipients that are trying to stick to some healthy habits over the holidays, they'd probably be happy with you for making them.

Sugared Cranberries
Adapted from Cooking Light December 2003

Because of the contrast between the tart cranberries and sugary coating, the flavor of this snack pops in your mouth. The berries are steeped in hot sugar syrup to tame their tangy bite. When entertaining, serve these in place of nuts. You can use the reserved cranberry cooking syrup as a cocktail mixer.

3 cups granulated sugar
3 cups water
3 cups fresh cranberries (about 1 package)
1 1/4 cups superfine sugar

Combine granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring mixture until sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer; remove from heat. (Do not boil or the cranberries may pop when added.) Stir in cranberries; pour mixture into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Drain cranberries in a colander over a bowl, reserving steeping liquid, if desired. Place superfine sugar in a shallow dish. Add the cranberries, rolling to coat with sugar. Spread sugared cranberries in a single layer on a baking sheet; let stand at room temperature 1 hour or until dry.

Note: The steeping liquid clings to the berries and helps the sugar adhere. Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to a week.

Our friends' gingerbread ... zoo!

Remember our nice normal gingerbread house from this year? Well, the family with whom we share a day of gingerbread decorating did not take the normal route at all. They were creative and ambitious -- almost nuts, I'd say -- with a gingerbread ZOO!

Their family convened a family meeting and, after kicking around some ideas, decided on a zoo. They figured it would take advantage of the parents' and daughter's talent for designing critters out of various candies. (If you want to see some examples of that talent, check out their Shrek and Dr. Seuss characters from last year and Spongebob characters from before that ... you may have to scroll down those posts.)

One daughter, who truly dislikes sweets (something hard for me to fathom), used a mixture of various beans to create the path that wound through the zoo. The son was gone at a birthday party for most of the process, but helped out here and there. The parents and other daughter worked on the critters ... which you have to see close up to appreciate ...

The younger daughter -- 11 years old -- made these cute penguins. I think her molding style has a "cartoon" feel.

Her molding materials were vanilla and chocolate Tootsie Rolls.

Her class did a gingerbread project this week, so she made a bunch of these penguins at home and brought them into school. Her classmates wouldn't believe she had made them. An 11-year-old did -- really!

Dad made a pair of alligators with lime Tootsie Rolls for their bodies, green gumdrops for legs, and round ball candies for eyes.

Behind the gators are more of the daughter's creations -- snakes, also made with lime green Tootsie Rolls.

And how about the cute light posts? Those are birthday candles with little gumdrops on top, with Life Savers as their base. (OK, I have to admit ... the Life Savers were my suggestion.)

Mom made some contributions as well. She made a pair of cute lions out of caramels. I really like the mane on the female!

She went to art school, but she surprisingly didn't take a class in candy sculpting.

She also made a striped hyena (that was originally a zebra) that I didn't get a good photo of.

The ground of the whole creation was royal icing sprinkled with green sugar and allspice for a realistic effect.

Dad made monkeys out of caramels (although I think their faces look kind of like Homer Simpson). The monkeys' play apparatus was made out of cinnamon sticks and Twizzlers Pull Apart licorice. There's even a tire swing for the monkeys to play on. The monkey on top is holding a candy banana.

Did I mention that this guy is a financial planner? He's got an incredible amount of artistic talent, but works with unusual media. His other specialty is pumpkins. Each Halloween, he does inventive carvings -- this year he tackled Wall-E. I've never seen him work from any kind of sketch or picture -- it's all out of his head.

In the back of this picture are a pair of polar bears, made by the daughter out of vanilla Tootsie Rolls.

At right is an elephant who I think looks like "Horton Hears a Who." To the left is a giraffe eating the leaf of a tree. That one took a lot of engineering. I'm pretty sure the legs and neck have toothpicks inside for support. The palm trees -- with cinnamon stick trunks and spearmint leave tops -- were Mom's idea.

At about this time, this family had been working on the project for a few hours, and the talented younger daughter went to a friend's house to play. The other daughter had completed her path and walls, and had no interest in sculpting with candy. And the son was playing with my sons.

Then the Buffalo Bills game started, and both the Dad and my husband turned their attention to the game. At this point, the Mom's attitude was, "let's just fill these bare spaces with ANYTHING and get this done." That's when I jumped in ... I made a flamingo out of pink Tootsie Rolls, with toothpick legs, which kept falling over. I made a snow leopard that I didn't get a good shot of. Finally, I made a palm tree, with a little parrot on top (right). I actually kind of liked the parrot.

What's funny is that once we wiped our brow from getting both creations done, our two families started talking about what we'd do next year. My husband:

"Next year, let's do an amusement park. With roller coasters."

Oh yeah, that will be EASY. Come back next year and see if we're crazy enough to attempt it!

P.S. If you're thinking of making a gingerbread creation before Christmas, I just came across a nice series of tutorials on a blog called At Home With the Farmer's Wife. Since I also want to have the links on hand for next year, I thought I'd share the links:
Step One: Get a Pattern
Step Two: Make Gingerbread Plywood
Step Three: Cut Out and Bake
Step Four: Make Royal Icing ... although I prefer Martha's Eggless Icing
Step Five: Glue Together

Gingerbread 2008: At last, a normal house

All Moms have their Mom-isms.

"Life is not fair," is one my friend, Melissa, says to her kids on a regular basis.

"A moment on the lips, forever on the hips," was one of my own Mom's. I probably should have paid a little more attention to that one.

One of mine:

"The first time it's funny. After that, it's just annoying."

OK, so it's not as ubiquitous as the first two, but I find myself saying it all the time.

As an example, let's take this year's gingerbread house. We recently did our gingerbread day with friends, and right away one son returned to the theme of last year's gingerbread house, putting a dog and yellow snow on it.

"The first time it's funny. After that, it's just annoying," I said, and removed it. See?

This time, I vetoed any scatological humor. My concession was Calvin & Hobbes having a snowball fight in front of the house.

gingerbread 2008 front for blog

Can you tell that those creatures in front of the house are Calvin & Hobbes? Well, those were created by my older son. I think his use of little candies for eyes gave them a scary effect but he was happy with them. Let's just say he's more of a musician than an artist -- one of his many musical ventures is playing bass in this band.

My younger son, thankfully, wanted to make a normal house. He made the roof of Life Saver candies above (I embellished it with the snowdrifts of royal icing. He also came up with the idea of using alphabet pretzels. I used them in the "wipe feet" doormat above -- something I'd imagine Calvin's mom doing. My son also used the pretzel letters on the back of the house (or is it the front?) below.

gingerbread 2008 back for blog

My younger son also made the path (of candy dots -- the kind that come on paper -- and Twizzler Pull apart licorice). He also added the friendly gingerbread man in front.

Although come to think of it, I haven't seen that gingerbread man for several days! Uh oh, I'm suspecting the work of FD. Who is FD? Well, you'd have to read this post to understand.

As for our friends' house ... well, it wasn't a house at all. It was an act of sheer lunacy. Shall post it soon...

This was featured on a site that's new to me -- but has lots of fun tips and ideas!

A Quick Holiday Gift from the Microwave

If you're looking for quick Christmas gift from the kitchen -- or a treat to serve at a party -- here's a recipe that takes just about 10 minutes and is cooked entirely in the microwave.

One nice thing about giving these glazed pecans is that the recipient can eat them as a snack or use them to garnish a salad.

I got this recipe from my cousin, Kristen, who lives in Crystal Lake Illinois, with her great husband and beautiful kids. Thanks Kristen!

Glazed Pecans a la Microwave

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 - 3 cups pecans
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a 2-quart microwave safe dish, melt butter on full power in the microwave, about one minute. Stir in sugar and corn syrup. Microwave on full power 3 1/2 minutes, stirring after each 1 1/2 minutes. Remove from microwave and stir in vanilla.

Place nuts in an oblong microwaveable dish. Pour syrup over nuts, stirring to coat well. Microwave on full power 6-7 minutes, stirring after each minute. Nuts should be shiny and appear roasted.

Separate the nuts and spread out on aluminum foil to cool.

Cool and store in a jar.

NaBloPoMo - No Mo for Me!

So there's this challenge to post on your blog every day, and I thought that might be good motivation to write on a daily basis. December seemed to be a good month because I do so stinking much cooking and baking.

Well guess what? It was a dumb idea. To add a daily post on top of all the Christmas tasks? Crazy.

Maybe in January...

A yummy squash side dish

My Aunt Jean and her family were my only family in Rochester when I moved here, so I enjoyed a fair amount of Aunt Jean's cooking over the years. She was and is a good cook and tends to keep things healthy.

When I saw her last, she made a simple but tasty meal of roast chicken, a winter squash dish, and a salad. In the squash dish, she substituted acorn squash for butternut by mistake (making it a labor of love to peel, seed and chop the thing), but I thought it was one of the best squash dishes I've tasted. I begged her for the recipe and here it is. I think she cut it out of the newspaper. The photo is terrible, because it's of the tiny amount that was left over the next day, just before I gobbled it up for lunch.

Aunt Jean's Acorn Squash

1 acorn squash, about 2 pounds, halved, seeded, peeled and cubed (can also use butternut squash)
1 large sweet onion, halved, cut into wedges
2 Tablespoons canola oil
2 Tablespoons dark brown sugar or maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
3/4 cups dried apricots (can also use prunes, if you can stand them)
3/4 cups large walnut pieces, toasted if desired

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix squash, onion, oil, sugar and cumin in large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Arrange squash mixture in single layer on a well-oiled jelly roll pan. Bake, stirring often, until fork tender and a little golden, about 30 minutes.

Cut apricots into quarters with scissors. Soak in very hot water to soften, about 2 minutes. Mix the squash, apricots and walnuts in a a large bowl.

If preparing in advance, add the apricots and walnuts after the squash is reheated in a hot oven.

In search of the lemon "meatball" cookie

Last summer, I blogged about a cookie I've wanted to make for quite some time. In Rochester, they are called Lemon Meatball Cookies. They have a wonderful melt-in-your mouth texture -- not cake-y, not crumbly, not chewy. My favorite spot to buy them is at Bernunzio's Deli in Penfield, but I'm told they are sold at other bakeries in Rochester.

Since I was going to a cookie exchange this week in which we were to bring six dozen cookies, I thought it would be a good chance to try some recipes to see if I could get closer to the recipe.

The cookie on the left was a traditional lemon cookie called Aginoretti. These looked right but they weren't as sweet or tender as the lemon meatballs. The one in the middle was based on Paula Deen's Lemon Blossoms, which have lemon cake mix in them and are made in mini muffin cups. When I made the original recipe, they imploded in the muffin cups, so I'm not sure why I thought they might stay shaped like a ball when I made them into balls and baked them. Duh -- they ended up flat as pancakes. On the right are Easy Glazed Lemon Cookies, which I concocted from a few recipes on the Web. These were lemony and chewy -- the favorites of everyone who tasted the three cookies -- but they still weren't the cookies I was going for. And oh, by the way, they were based on a cake mix, so they were very easy.

At that point, I thought I might be out of luck when it came to making meatball cookies at home. As luck would have it, a lovely person named Jeannie posted a recipe in the comments for my original post about lemon meatball cookies. It sounds promising, and I'm definitely going to give the recipe a try soon.

In the meantime, I'm sending the best cookie of the bunch -- the Easy Glazed Lemon Cookies -- to Foodblogga for inclusion in her 2nd annual Christmas Cookie Roundup. This blogging event is incredible in it size -- last year she had dozens (hundreds?) of cookie submissions from all over the world. If you want a great source for cookie ideas, the roundup, which will continue to accumulate until December 24, is here.

Aginetti (Italian Lemon Drop Cookies)
Adapted from this recipe on Recipezaar
These cookies are traditional Italian cookies, cakey but somewhat dry, and not very sweet.

24 cookies

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
yellow food coloring, optional

Glaze (below)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream together sugar and shortening. Add eggs and lemon extract and beat well. Add flour, baking powder and salt. Add food coloring, if desired. Mix well. The dough should be soft and sticky.

With a small cookie scoop (mine is about 1 Tablespoon), form balls. Drop balls on greased or parchment-lined cookie sheets, spaced2 inches apart.

Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until firm and lightly brown. Remove cookies from cookie sheet and allow to cool completely on wire racks.

Glaze as directed below. Store in an airtight container. If you want to freeze the cookies, freeze unfrosted and frost once thawed.

Lemon Blossom Thins
Loosely based on this recipe by Paula Deen

18 1/2-ounce package yellow cake mix
3 1/2-ounce package instant lemon pudding mix
4 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
Zest of 1 lemon
Glaze (below)

Combine the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, oil, and lemon zest and blend well with an electric mixer until smooth, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate about 30 minutes so that the dough is easier to work with.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Use a small cookie scoop (mine is about 1 Tablespoon) to form balls. Drop balls on greased or parchment-lined cookie sheets, spaced 3 inches apart.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Cool completely on a cooling rack. Glaze as directed below.

Easy Glazed Lemon Cookies
Rah Cha Chow recipe

These turn out flat and chewy, with a crackly top. They pack a powerful lemon punch but aren't overly tart or sweet.

For cookie:

1 (18.25 ounce) package lemon cake mix
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon lemon extract
The zest of 1 lemon

Glaze (below)

Combine cake mix, eggs, oil, lemon extract, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Mix with an electric mixer until well blended. Refrigerate about 1 hour, until no longer sticky.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

Use a small cookie scoop (mine is about 1 Tablespoon) to form balls. Drop balls on parchment-lined cookie sheets, spaced 3 inches apart.

Bake for 11 - 15 minutes. The bottoms will be light brown and the insides chewy. Cool, then glaze as directed below. Makes about 36 cookies.

Glaze for all three cookies:

3 cups confectioners sugar
juice of 1 lemon
milk, if needed
jimmies or nonpareils, optional (for cake mix cookies)
lemon zest, optional (for Italian cookies)

Combine the confectioner's sugar and lemon juice. Mix with a whisk until smooth. For the two cake mix cookies, the mixture should be somewhat thick -- about the consistency of Elmer's glue. For the Anginetti, it should be thinner, like heavy cream. If it is too thick, add milk, a few drops at a time. If it is too thin, add a little more confectioners sugar.

For the cake mix cookies, use a spoon (like a cereal spoon) to drop the glaze on the cookie, then spread around with the back of the spoon. Leave a little border, as the glaze will spread. Sprinkle with jimmies or nonpareils, if desired. For the Anginetti, put the cookies on the rack and use a spoon to drizzle the cookies with the glaze.

Cookie Exchange Recipes

My friend, Marie, had a cookie exchange this week. I like cookie exchanges. I enjoy getting together with fun people, get a chance to make a new recipe that wouldn't necessarily appeal to my family, and get to try everyone else's favorites. This cookie exchange was a particularly good one. Here's what everyone else brought ... what I brought is a looong story that I'll cover in an upcoming post!

Lisa's Coconut Clouds
These had a chewy texture and a nice coconut-y flavor. You wouldn't guess these start with cake mix.

3 cups flaked coconut
1 yellow cake mix
1 egg
1/2 cup Crisco oil
1/4 c water
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven 350.

Place 1 1/2 coconut in small bowl; set aside. Combine cake mix, egg, oil, water and almond extract in large bowl. Beat at low speed with electric mixer. Fold in remaining coconut.

Drop rounded teaspoonful dough into reserved coconut. Roll to cover lightly. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute and remove to cooling rack.

Pat's Pecan Tarts
These were the prettiest tiny tarts I've seen! The secret was rolling the crust and cutting it with fluted cookie cutters instead of pressing it into mini muffin tins.

3 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 pound butter, room temperature
1 cup flour

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2/3 cup chopped pecans

Mix cream cheese, butter and flour. Chill. Roll thinly and cut with a small fluted cookie cutter. Press into mini muffin tins.

Mix together remaining brown sugar, butter, vanilla and egg. Put 1 teaspoon in each tart. Sprinkle top with chopped pecans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

Dawn's Peanut Butter Balls
These were some of the best peanut butter balls I've had. My son and I almost came to blows over these. I think her secret is adding extra peanut butter.

2 cups sifted conf sugar
1 cup peanut butter -- she swears Peter Pan is the best -- she says she adds extra, so maybe 1 1/2 cups?
1 stick soft butter
chocolate disks

Mix until light & fluffy. Refrigerate until firm. Roll into 1" balls. Refrig again until firm. Melt choc wafers. Roll balls in choco Dry on wax paper.

Marie's Chewy Peppermint Cookies
These were chewy and minty. I liked them ... but I would have loved them if they incorporated some dark chocolate!

1/2 cup margarine (or butter)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 Tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon mint extract
red-colored sugar (optional, but looks nice)
3-4 candy canes

Preheat oven to 350. Cream together margarine with sugar and brown sugar until light and creamy. Add vanilla and blend in.

In a separate bowl mix flour, salt and baking soda. Add to sugar mixture. Stir in water as needed. Add more water if necessary if batter is smooth. Blend in mint extract.

Drop spoonfuls of batter on ungreased cookie sheet. Roll in red sugar, if desired. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove cookie sheet from oven and sprinkle with crushed peppermint candy. Return to oven for 2-3 minutes or until candy begins to melt. Remove and cool on wire rack for 20 minutes.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Terri's Salted Nut Bars
I've made these before and they are a yummy combination of buttery crust, sweet butterscotch filling, and salty peanuts. They are one of my favorite bar recipes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend together (I used my hands):
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 cup butter or margarine, melted

Press into an ungreased 15 X 10 pan (I used 12 by 18). Bake 10 - 12 minutes.

Sprinkle 3 cups of mixed nuts over the crust. (I used a little more because I used a bigger pan.)

While the crust is baking, combine in a small saucepan:
1/2 cup corn syrup
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp water
6 oz. butterscotch chips

Bring to a boil and boil 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour cooked mixture over nuts. (I moved the nuts around to make sure they were in the cooked mixture.) Bake 10 - 12 minutes. When cool, cut into bars.

One Poppy Seed Dressing, Two Yummy Winter Salads

I had some red cabbage from my CSA bag that I didn't know what to do with. Enough slaw already! The solution: a crunchy salad from fellow Rochester blogger, Lori's Lipsmacking Goodness. I made just a few tweaks to the recipe based on what I had on hand. It was a simple combination of cabbage, scallions, bacon, and a sweet, tangy poppy seed dressing. It was nice and crunchy and the bacon was a great addition (gotta love bacon).

I liked the salad dressing so much that I used it in another salad. My mom had given me the recipe for a new favorite winter salad with romaine lettuce, pear, apple, Craisins, Swiss cheese, and cashews. I lost the recipe, but remembered that the salad dressing was sweet, so I used the poppy seed dressing instead. The salad was a great combination of textures and flavors.

Red Cabbage Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing

Red Cabbage (Lori used Napa. Both work.)
Green onions

Poppy seed dressing, to taste

Mix together all ingredients and enjoy!

Winter Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing

I don't measure salad ingredients, so these are guess-timates...
1-2 heads romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
4 ounces Swiss cheese, diced or shredded
1 cup cashews (I used lightly salted)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 apple, diced
1 pear, diced
Poppy seed salad dressing, to taste

Poppy Seed Dressing
Adapted from this recipe on Lori's Lipsmacking Goodness

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Whisk ingredients together. Pour into glass container. Store in the refrigerator.

My secret source of baking supplies

One of my favorite sources of baking supplies has been around for decades (its label reads "since 1932"), but not many people seem to know about it, so I'm going to fill you in on my secret.

The place is called Tadco ... although it is changing its name to Niblack Foods. It is located in the Genesee Valley Regional Market on Jefferson Road in Henrietta.

Inside the warehouse-type building is a tiny store that carries a huge selection of cooking and baking items at very reasonable prices. It carries things that are hard to find in grocery stores -- stuff you see in cooking magazines and on Iron Chef America. As example, I saw gelatin sheets there yesterday -- I know I've seen those used on Iron Chef America, but have no idea what they are used for.

My son and I went shopping for our holiday baking supplies yesterday. As you can see by their display of decorative sugars and jimmies, the storefront and packaging are no-frills. Here are some of the cookie decorating goodies we picked out:
- 14 oz of rainbow nonpareils for $5
- 6 oz of rainbow sanding sugar for $2.75
- 6 oz of gold sanding sugar for $2.75
- 5 oz of green jimmies for $2.75. That's not much more than the itty bitty containers at the grocery store!

Other fun stuff I purchased yesterday:
- whole wheat pastry flour (2 pounds for $2)
- SAF-instant yeast ($4.75 for one pound). The last time I bought SAF-instant yeast was at Williams Sonoma and I paid $7 for just over 4 ounces -- and I considered that a terrific deal over the packets you find at the grocery store. (Yeast, by the way, can be frozen.)
- I'm not going to go on ... my husband reads this blog and I don't want to add up the total!

If you're not a Rochesterian, they have a Web site. It's as no-frills as its storefront, but if you're interested, a link is here. I have never ordered from the Web site, so I can't vouch for its service.

If you are a Rochesterian and go there, keep your eyes peeled, because the market sign has been taken down and a big new building is going up near the road. If you enter the market from Jefferson Road, Niblack Foods is near the back of the market.

(For full disclosure, I am not affiliated with Niblack Foods and I don't know anyone who is.)

Some big news..

Big news for me:
1. I finally broke down and bought a digital SLR camera and am anxiously awaiting its delivery. I've been wanting to improve my food photos and can't get what I want from the two point & shoots ... can't wait to get it!
2. My son's & my cookie recipe was published in Relish Magazine! When the writer called about doing the article, I didn't know what the magazine was, but it's a monthly magazine that is inserted in newspapers across the country. My in-laws saw it in the Buffalo News and my Grandma saw it in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin -- fun! About their photo (since I'm getting a digital SLR, I'm looking at food photos with a more critical eye) ... I love the light and the use of the board ... but they made the cookies longer and thinner than I do ... is it my imagination or do they look kind of ... nah, it must be my imagination.

WAY BIGGER news for my stepsister, Karyn: ... no that's not a photo of her ... that's the actress who has been cast to star in the movie adaptation of her second book, Twenty Times a Lady. Columbia Pictures is set to produce. How cool is that? More about that on Karyn's blog.

And, since she's received mixed press over the years, I wanted to say that it couldn't happen to a better person. She and her sister's family visited us last July. She was a blast to have around and great with all the kids around. Our visitors came to a CRB gig on a summer day when the temperature was way above 90 degrees. While everyone else in the audience was wilting in the shade, Karyn was boogying in the scorching hot sun with her 3-year-old niece. That's just a little example of the fun kind of person Karyn is.

Big news for ANOTHER Karin: My good friend, Karin, is creative in many ways. When she lived nearby, she had the best parties -- Oscars nights with food and prizes related to the nominated movies ... Christmas gatherings with everything beautifully decorated and amazing food ... I miss her parties at this time of year! She also did the coolest crafty things and every so often she'd inspire me to do something crafty, like homemade ornaments with the kids.

Anyhoo, she recently published TWO cool crafty books:
- Mostly Metals: A Beginner's Guide to Jewelry Design "is a much more accessible jewelry title than most and should be considered the foundation of any beginner's attempt," says the Midwest Book Review.
- Altered You: A Girl's Guide to Personal Style shows tween and teen girls how to alter clothing, accessories, and room decorations to create great new looks with only the simplest sewing and crafting.

These would be be great Christmas gifts if you have adults or preteens/teen girls in your life that are creative/crafty! Just thought I'd mention them!

Back tomorrow with cookie recipes! Have a good Saturday!

The recipe that made me love leeks

I started sharing a Porter Farms CSA membership for a lot of reasons, among them to make me enthusiastic about a wider variety of veggies. After three years, I had just one new veggie to love: beets. But after this recipe, I am happy to report I now have two: beets and leeks.

It's not that I didn't like leeks. They just struck me as a giant and rather lackluster cousin to the scallion. I had never looked at one and said, "yum."

The recipe that changed my mind was in the October 2008 issue of Bon Appetit, in the column written by Molly Wizenberg (of Orangette).

She rhapsodized about leeks and this stuff she called leek confit. As far as I could tell, leek confit was just a fancy name for leeks sauteed in butter with a little salt. How good could that be?

But I happened to have all the ingredients in the fridge, although the leeks from the final weeks of my CSA delivery had seen better days, so I decided to try it. There wasn't much to it -- wash some leeks well, cut up, and slowly saute in butter. When they were done, they didn't look all that impressive -- just some sauteed leeks.

In the magazine, Molly went on to include the leek confit in a tart but I didn't feel like dealing with the whole tart business. Instead, I did one of the alternatives she suggested -- cut up a baguette, spread it with a spreadable goat cheese (and not a very good one), and slather it with those leeks.

Oh yum. Double yum. OMG yum. The leeks were buttery with a oniony, faintly herbal flavor and a good contrast to the tangy goat cheese. I ended up eating it for dinner (BTW, don't do that -- it's a little too rich for dinner). My 13-year-old son tried some and said, "this might be my new favorite food," and then devoured the rest of the batch.

I am dying to take this to an upcoming holiday party, but I'm pondering the logistics of serving it. The confit (and yes, I think it's good enough to bear the fancy name) is best served warm, but if I make the crostini and put them out, the leeks will cool off pretty quickly. I guess I could take the bread, the goat cheese, and the confit in something that would keep it warm, and let the guests make up their own crostini. Or maybe I should move on to make Molly's tart. We'll see. In any case, I'm happy that next year, when I open up a bag and see leeks, I'll say, "yippee -- leek confit!"

I'm sending this to Thursday Night Smackdown for her first Thursdays blogging event. On the first Thursday of the month, bloggers make recipes from their collections of cookbooks and magazines. This month's theme is hors d’oeuvres. I can't wait to check the blog on Monday (December 10) for some more appetizer ideas for upcoming holiday parties!

Leek Confit
from Bon Appétit,October 2008
Recipe by Molly Wizenberg
I served it warm on slices of baguette spread with goat cheese. Molly said to serve it warm with fillets of salmon, in scrambled eggs or pasta, or on crostini with goat cheese.

Yield: Makes 2 cups
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
4 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 5 cups)
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon salt

Melt butter in large pot over medium-low heat. Add leeks; stir to coat. Stir in water and salt. Cover pot; reduce heat to low. Cook until leeks are tender, stirring often, about 25 minutes. Uncover and cook to evaporate excess water, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve warm. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 week ahead. Keep chilled. Rewarm before using.

Another easy gift: Triple Dipped Pretzels

Here's a fun, easy gift from the kitchen. I've made these for teacher gifts and used them in various gift containers. They are nice because they can add some height if you are doing an assortment of goodies in a basket or other container.

This is really a recipe that can be fun and creative -- not to mention tasty, if you like the sweet/salty combination the way I do.

You can melt packaged caramels or make homemade caramel. You can press all kinds of things into the caramel -- mini M&Ms (shown here), various chopped nuts, or various chopped candy bars. Then drizzle it with whatever chocolates, chocolate chips or melting wafers you have on hand. (Some chips, like white chips, don't seem to melt very well, so you may want to experiment.) In this case I had dark chocolate and red candy melting wafers (or whatever you call those things). The only thing I'd say is that dark chocolate can tend to overwhelm everything else, so I'd suggest sticking with semisweet or milk chocolate.

I am sending this to My Kitchen Treasures (a blogger from Belgium) for her ongoing compilation of homemade Christmas gifts from the kitchen. If you're looking for some gift ideas from the kitchen, her roundup can be found here. She will keep adding entries until December 20, so check back from time to time!

Triple Dipped M&M Pretzels

14 oz bag of caramels
2 Tbsp milk
10 oz bag pretzel rods
1 package mini M&Ms
10 oz semisweet chocolate chips or almond bark
10 oz white almond bark or colored candy melting wafers
2 Tablespoons shortening

Unwrap caramels and put them in a microwave-safe bowl. Add milk. Microwave on high for about three minutes or until melted, stirring after each minute.

Dip each pretzel into caramel mixture, covering about two-thirds of the pretzel. Let caramel drip off slightly. Spoon or roll some of the M&Ms onto the caramel on the pretzel, pressing lightly with back of a spoon. Let stand on nonstick foil or foil coated with cooking spray (NOT waxed paper -- it will stick!)

Move the pretzels to a wire cooling rack, arranging them so that there's a little space between each of them. Microwave the chocolate chips or bark, along with 1 Tablespoon of shortening, stirring after each 30 seconds, until melted. Drizzle the chocolate over the pretzels. Refrigerate until firm. Turn the pretzels so that a different side is up. Microwave the white or colored bark or wafers with 1 Tablespoon of the shortening, stirring after each 30 seconds, until melted. Drizzle over the pretzels. Refrigerate until firm. Keep melting and drizzling until the pretzels are to your liking. Package in decorative gift bags.

Gingerbread Popcorn

Today's holiday treat is popcorn with a crunchy gingerbread flavored topping. I got the recipe from Joe at Culinary in the Desert (although he's in the country now).When I made it, I thought it was kind of different and I couldn't decide if I liked it or not. But I found myself going back to sample it again and again, so I guess I liked it!

I made this last year for little gifts for the members of CRB (my band). I figure it's easy to OD on cookies and candies at this time of year and it's nice to get something that's a little different. Come to think of it, I never did hear how they liked it. Hmmmm....

Gingerbread Popcorn
From Culinary in the Desert

15 cups popped popcorn
1 cup butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line two large baking dishes (I used 9 X 13 pans) with foil and coat with cooking spray. Fill each with 7 1/2 cups popcorn.

Combine butter, brown sugar, molasses, corn syrup, ginger, cinnamon, and salt in a large, heavy bottom saucepan. Heat over medium heat until mixture boils. Boil for 5 minutes; stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add baking soda. Pour over popcorn; toss to coat.

Bake at 250 for one hour, carefully stirring the warm mixture about every 15 minutes. Cool completely.

I'm sending this to Ruth's Kitchen Experiments for her Bookmarked Recipes blog event. Every Monday she posts recipes that have been bookmarked from Web sites, cookbooks, magazines, etc.

Top Chef: The Rochester Episode

My Top Chef post is MUCH later than usual. My excuse: I was on the road for Thanksgiving and the internet connection at my Grandma's house had been disconnected. Almost three days without Internet -- the horrors! I think I'd rather go three days without chocolate! OK, that might be a slight exaggeration but still...

Anyhoo, I did get a chance to watch the Top Chef episode on Wednesday. It was the first time I've watched the show real time instead of Tivo-ing it and zooming through the commercials. Who knew there were so many dang commercials? And was it my imagination, or did they put a snippet of TC in the middle of some commercials to fool you into running back to the TV?

Anyway, as Rah Cha Chow readers know, I was soooo excited to see a Top Chef episode set in Rochester. But first a couple of comments about the Quickfire:
- It was interesting that they chose Grant Achatz as guest judge. Since he was from Chicago, I would have thought he would have been in last year's season, from Chicago. I've read that he had cancer recently, so maybe he was going through treatment when last season was filmed. I'd say something about his personality, but since he's a recent cancer patient let's just say he didn't bring any comic relief to the episode and leave it at that.
- I thought the Quickfire started off interesting -- put a spin on a past contestant's dish that appeared in the Top Chef Cookbook -- gotta have a plug for the cookbook! But then they surprised the cheftestants halfway through their cooking time by telling them they had to turn it into a soup -- conveniently turning the challenge into a plug for Swanson's broth. Eh ... I would have rather seen their original dishes.
- Wouldn't you know that Leah won the Quickfire ... I booted her off my fantasy Top Chef team because I thought she'd be distracted with all her flirting. That decision cost me eight points!

Next, the chefs learn that they will be divided into teams, and will cook "Thanksgiving" dinner (in the summer) for the Foo Fighters before a concert. The winning team gets to go to the Foo Fighters concert, and the losing team gets to clean up. What is this, Hell's Kitchen?

For winning the Quickfire, Leah not only gets immunity, she also gets to choose her team. She curiously picks the two Europeans (Fabio and Stefan) to work on this very American meal, as well as Hosea (the object of her flirting last episode), Jamie, Melissa and Radhika. They dub themselves Team Sexy Pants -- very professional. The other team is Jeff, Richard, Alex, Ariane, Carla, Daniel and Eugene, and they call themselves Team Cougar.

The cheftestants are also given the Foo Fighters' rider, which is all the stuff bands demand backstage at venues. My buddy, Lorraine, has done a lot of catering for bands and has told me that bands ask for some crazy stuff (unfortunately I can't remember a single example). The combination of a Thanksgiving meal in the middle of summer and the Foo Fighters' rider is a pretty good challenge, I think.

So they take route 490 to Rochester -- no mention that it's six to seven hours away -- and arrive at the War Memorial ... er, now it's unfortunately called the Blue Cross Arena. FYI, the arena is a reasonably nice place to see a concert. At the BCA I've seen Bruce Springsteen (twice), James Taylor, Paul Simon, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Carrie Underwood & Keith Urban and some others. Since it's a smallish arena, even the bad seats at the BCA are better than a lot of seats at bigger nearby venues, like the Carrier Dome in Syracuse (I saw Billy Joel there and only a Beatles reunion including George and John rising from the dead would make me go back) or the State Fair in Albany (I saw Keith Urban there and he was about the size of a grasshopper from where I was sitting). I've also seen Rochester's hockey team, the Rochester Americans, play at the BCA countless time -- back in the good old days when the team was well run and was the farm team to the Buffalo Sabres. But I digress...

A roadie shows the chefs their kitchen, and surprise! It's outside and consists of a bank of toaster ovens and microwaves, as well as a couple of burners -- and no refrigerators. The lack of refrigeration must be especially unwelcome, because the show was filmed in the summer.

Next, they go grocery shopping. At this point I'm sure they will show the culinary mecca of Rochester -- Wegmans. Specifically, the Pittsford Wegmans. Wegmans is one of the best grocery chains in the country, and their Pittsford store is their flagship store. When visitors come to town, this is one of the first places Rochesterians take them. I figured the chefs would go "ooh ... aahhh ... we shopped in one of the most beautiful grocery stores I've ever seen!" But NOOOOO!!!! They go to Hegedorns!!!!!

Now, there is nothing wrong with Hegedorns. It is in Webster, about ten minutes away from my house. It is a small, old-timey store, and probably an OK store if you live in most cities. I go there when I'm in the neighborhood, need a few things, and don't want to shop in a store that's the size of four football fields (Wegman's stores tend to be large). But the face that we Rochesterians would want to project to the foodies of the world? No way! I almost wept.

So they are shopping in Hegedorns and the place is empty. Which makes me wonder -- what was the time sequence of this episode? Did they close their doors for a few minutes to make this happen, or did the shopping take place at some odd hour? And as I watch, I wonder why in the world they would choose Hegedorn's over Wegmans. Some theories:
  1. The Top Chef staff doesn't know anything about Rochester and are too lazy to find out. But that doesn't make sense because this Top Chef staffer/blogger spent some time in the area, and even put a link to Rah Cha Chow in her blog post about this episode! Thanks, Team Top Chef, whoever you are!!!!
  2. Wegmans stores are too big for the time the chefs have to shop. But that doesn't make sense, because the East Avenue Wegmans is really small, not to mention a lot closer to the arena.
  3. They wanted Wegmans to pay to be on the show, and Wegmans said no. Possible...
  4. They wanted Wegmans to close while the chefs were shopping, and Wegmans said no. Also possible...
  5. Whole Foods has some kind of agreement with Top Chef in which the show doesn't go to its biggest rivals, one of which is Wegmans. Maybe...
  6. They wanted to make things harder on the chefs. Seriously, why? The chefs didn't have it hard enough with this challenge?
Anyhoo, the cheftestants return to their "kitchens" and start cooking. And here's the thing that threw me: they were supposedly cooking Thanksgiving dinner in Rochester, and they were cooking outside with their shirt sleeves rolled up. This didn't jive with reality at all. When I left Rochester last Tuesday, there was at least six inches of the snow on the ground. It's not always that way on Thanksgiving -- I'm sure I've experienced some in the 50s or even 60s -- but most visitors to the area in November will be at wearing at least a sweater outside.

And then it starts to RAIN! Oh joy, that will make Rochester look just wonderful!

So the chefs make a whole lot of Thanksgiving-type food ... and frankly I'm bored with it all, because I'm just not that excited about the food. So I'm not going to describe who made what -- you can find it on another blog.

Then it's time for the Foo Fighters and the judges to eat their Thanksgiving dinners ... in the dreary basement of the BCA. Could they pick a more depressing location?

I wonder what the Foo Fighters thought of this. The band members are fans of Top Chef, but now they find themselves eating a heavy Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of the summer, in the basement of the arena. I wonder if this didn't exactly live up to what they thought they'd experience as guest judges on the show.

The high points of the meal: Ariane does a good job on her turkey after a couple of rough weeks. I had a feeling she'd pull something out of her hat this week. Dreamy Fabio does a dreamy sounding pumpkin Tiramisu. Tom C. points out that this is clever because he uses a traditional American ingredient (pumpkin) in a dish that's familiar to him (Tiramisu). But I wonder -- how did he make it without a fridge? Didn't whatever custard-y stuff he put in there have to cool?

Team Cougar loses the challenge and cleans up while their buddies enjoy the Foo Fighters concert, a la Hell's Kitchen. Why? Were they trying to create some drama among a group of chefs who seem fairly amiable? What will they do next, get Gordon Ramsay to be a judge so he can scream obscenities at the cheftestants? I really don't like that turn of events. I stopped watching Hell's Kitchen because I don't want to give an audience to shows in which contestants are abused. I hope this is a one-time thing.

And then BOOM, they are all back at judges table and the stew room in NYC! Woah, did they get beamed back there via the Star Ship Enterprise? Or maybe Jeannie came and blinked her eyes? Or Samantha wiggled her nose? At any rate, it was a jolt for those of us who know the geography.

After some grilling from the judges, the bottom three are: Daniel, for undercooked potatoes, Richard, for Banana S'mores with a sauce that a smart-assed Foo Fighter (I don't follow the band enough to know his name) says looks like spit, and Jeff, for spoon bread and pumpkin mousse. Jeff gets a pass because he was a team leader and probably took on too much. That makes sense to me, even though I don't like the guy. Richard gets cut for the S'mores, which was a bit of a surprise to me.

And then, Richard cries and cries. A sad ending to an episode that featured a sad grocery store, sad weather, and a sad dining location. I'm afraid Rochester came off as a rather sad place. If I worked for the Rochester Convention & Visitor's Bureau, I'd be banging my head against the wall!

Rahchacha is so much better than it appeared on this episode! Believe me! I'll make it a point to point out happy stuff about Rochester in some upcoming posts.

Pretty Little Pumpkin Breads

As I was making my recipe for Bread Baking Day #14, I was reminded of a story from a few summers ago, when our family hosted a boy named Tyrod through the Fresh Air Fund.

My younger son was so excited to show Tyrod, who was from Harlem, everything he might not have experienced in the big city. My son made lists of things to show Tyrod and places to take him. One of the first things my son proudly showed Tyrod was our small, overgrown garden, and the pickles we had made from the cucumbers that had grown there.

Tyrod was impressed with a lot of things -- our pool, our basketball hoop, our car (a Plymouth Voyager with about 100,000 miles on it), our basement (he hadn't been in a house with a finished basement) -- but one thing he was not impressed with was our homemade pickles.

"They don't sell pickles in stores here?" he asked. He couldn't understand why we'd go to the trouble of growing cucumbers and making the pickles when you could get perfectly good ones at the store. It cracked me up.

When I cook fresh pumpkin to use in baking, I often get a reaction that reminds me of Tyrod and the pickles. Canned pumpkin is so inexpensive that cooking fresh pumpkins seems hardly worth the effort. I have nothing against canned pumpkin, but I think that the bright orange color of cooked fresh pumpkin is so much prettier than the brownish color of canned pumpkin. That's why I figured a pumpkin bread from fresh pumpkin would be a good contribution to November's Bread Baking Day, which has a theme of colored breads (many thanks to Boaz, the event's host).

Roasting a pumpkin is easy. Just wash the pumpkin and cut off the stem end (although I've seen recipes that leave the stem on). Cut in half through the stem end. Scoop out the seeds -- I use a grapefruit spoon that has jagged edges. Place cut-side down on a baking pan lined with foil. (I have seen recipes to put water in the pan -- you don't need to do that. )

Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes, or until it is very soft (check it by sticking it with a fork).

Once the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scoop out the soft insides and discard the skin. Put it in a food processor and puree.

Now, there's a very important trick to getting the pumpkin to the consistency that you can use it in recipes calling for canned pumpkin, and a lot of recipes skip it.

Line a colander with coffee filters and place the colander in a large bowl. Spoon the pureed pulp into the lined colander and let sit for a few hours. You will find that a lot of liquid drains into the bowl that's under the colander. From the two pumpkins I cooked, about a cup of water drained out, and I was left with a little more than two cups of puree to use in recipes. Now the pumpkin is ready to be used in a recipe!

I wanted to make some mini loaves to freeze and give as hostess gifts during the holiday season, and this was a new recipe to me. If I were to be perfectly honest, I'd say that the bread looked and tasted good, but was not worthy of ooh's and aah's. You could barely see where the streusel was -- maybe it needed more cinnamon for color and flavor. The loaf was moist and flavorful, but not that much better than a healthier pumpkin bread recipe I've made in the past. Given that these loaves took 3/4 of a pound of butter, next time I'll probably use my healthier recipe and tinker with the streusel for it.

Little Pumpkin Streusel Loaves

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of Kosher salt
1 stick cold butter

2 sticks melted butter
3 cups granulated sugar
2 cups puréed pumpkin (I made my own but you can use canned)
2/3 cup milk
4 eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup chopped walnuts, divided

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Spray 7 mini loaf pans (about 5 3/4" by 3 1/4" by 2") with Baker's Joy (or another cooking spray).

For the streusel:

Mix together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a small mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it creates pea-sized crumbs. Set aside.

For the bread:

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together melted butter, sugar, pumpkin, milk, eggs, and vanilla until combined. In another bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, ginger, nutmeg, baking powder, and half of the chopped walnuts. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture and mix with a rubber spatula just until combined. Do not overmix.

Spoon half the batter into the prepared loaf pans. Divide 3/4 of the filling over the batter and cover with the remaining batter. Sprinkle the top with the remaining streusel and the rest of the walnuts.

Bake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes.

Transfer the pan to a wire cooling rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Using a thin knife or spatula, release the bread from the pan and let cool to room temperature. Makes 7 small loaves.