Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Peanut Butter Bites: Not Just a Christmas Cookie

Peanut Butter Bites

Every year I experiment with at least one new holiday baking recipe and I didn't get around to this one until December 24th.  But for goodness sakes-- I am so glad I did.  These peanut butter bites are not your typical peanut butter cookies; they have half a mini Reese's peanut butter cup hidden inside. The result is a creamy puffy ball of wonder. Forget visions of sugarplums! 

The recipe was ho-ho easy to follow and prepare and I will absolutely bake these cookies again-- and not just at Christmas time. 

I found the recipe in a free booklet at my Publix, grocery store, saved from Holiday 2009. However, a Google search reveals  Better Homes and Gardens claims recipe ownership. 

Creamy Peanut Butter Bites
Makes about 40 cookies

•    3/4  cup  butter, softened
•    1/2  cup  creamy peanut butter
•    1  cup  sugar
•    1/2  teaspoon  baking powder
•    1/8  teaspoon  salt
•    1    egg
•    1  teaspoon  vanilla
•    2  cups  all-purpose flour
•    20  miniature chocolate-covered peanut butter cups, halved
•        Unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine butter and peanut butter. Beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping side of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. If necessary, cover and chill about 30 minutes or until dough is easy to handle.

2. Shape dough into 1-1/2-inch balls. Press a peanut butter cup half into each ball and shape dough around peanut butter cup to enclose. Place cookies 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
3. Bake in the preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are very lightly browned. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool. If desired, sprinkle cookies with cocoa powder. Makes about 40 cookies.

To Store: Place cookies between waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
The bad news: Each cookie is about 110 calories with 6 grams of fat. But indulge, they are yummy.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Colonial American Ambiance at The Wayside Inn

The Wayside Inn, Sudbury, Masschusetts
Anyone who knows me understands that I am drawn to Early American decor; the richness of cherry wood,  furniture with simple elegant lines, and the practical usefulness of tools. I don't know why but perhaps I lived a prior life in that time period. Anyway, I  feel comfortable sitting in a straight back chair at a wooden trestle table, adore the streets of Colonial Williamsburg and sleep in a canopy bed.   

So, when I traveled to Boston to visit my daughter Abby, we went to the Wayside Inn in her hometown of Sudbury, Massachusetts. The Wayside Inn is America's oldest operating inn replete with colonial furnishings. (Click here to see my previous article on this Inn.)

As it was December, the rooms were adorned for Christmas with greenery, flickering candles and glowing fireplaces. The taproom just to the right of the main door overflowed with lively merriment. But, we had little Jonah (age 20 months) with us and sitting in the bar just wasn't an option. His attention span is limited and we wanted to eat and leave before he became unhappy -- and the dining room filled with customers. 

The three of us were seated in the tavern style restaurant and Jonah was delighted with the cracker tray!  I ordered roast duckling and Abby chose scallops.  The service was friendly and prompt and the food excellent, not haute cuisine but very tasty simpler fare.  On Sundays the establishment traditionally offers Yankee pot roast. 

On our way out we popped our heads into the bar since the crowd had thinned. A fellow with a guitar sat at a table and when he saw Jonah, he immediately started playing Jolly Old St. Nicholas. Jonah's face burst into smiles and he clapped and bounced along. Next came Jingle Bells. What fun to feel so festively welcomed and have a child be enjoyed instead of shooed out.

Thank you Wayside Inn for a memorable evening and wonderful meal.
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Roast duckling and sweet potatoes

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Baking with the In Crowd--Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red Velvet cupcakes seem to be popping up everywhere, so I just had to make a batch. And...I humbly confess, they're darn good!

Below is the recipe I used, however, I think I should have made fewer cupcakes as mine did not rise to the top. Did I overbeat or was there not enough batter for 30 cupcakes??? Who knows.  I also used less food coloring, just because the entire bottle seemed like overkill.

Nonetheless, the cupcakes taste great even if they didn't rise over the sides of the paper cups. 

Unfrosted red velvet cupcakes
Red Velvet Cupcakes
-- Makes 30  or so cupcakes

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 bottle (1 oz) red food coloring
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Mix flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar in large dowl with electric mixer on medium speed 5 minutes or until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Mix in sour cream, milk, food color and vanilla.  Bradually beat in the flour mixture on low speed unti blended.  Do not over beat.  Spoon batter into 30 paper lined muffin cups filling each 2/3 full.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.  cool in pans on wire rack for 5 minutes.  Remove from pans; cool completely and frost.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Beat 1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened, 1/4 cup or 1/2 stick butter, softened, 2 tablespoons sour cream and 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract in large bowl unti light and fluffy.  Gradually beat in 1 box (16 oz) confectioner's sugar until smooth.  Frost cooled cupcakes.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sugar Cookie Gingerbread Men and Chocolate Crackles

Santa would love Double Chocolate Crackles
Baking in Boston

I flew to Boston last weekend to visit my oldest daughter and my youngest grandchild, Jonah-now 20 months old. Abby and I decided to bake Christmas cookies but thought Jonah would like the taste of sugar cookies better than gingerbread. I mixed up the batter and he had his first taste of cookie dough right off the spatula.

He loved putting mini M & M's on as eyes, nose or whatever!

When Jonah took his nap Abby and I made a batch of chocolate cookies. The recipe came from the Food Network Magazine I'd purchased and read on the plane.  The process was fast and easy, required no mixer and tasted delicious- not too sweet.  Abby declared them,  "two bites of goodness."

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Double Chocolate Crackles
From The Food Network Magazine- December 2010
Makes 24-30 cookies

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup confectioner's sugar

1.  Whisk the flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.  Whisk in the melted butter and eggs until combined, then stir in the white chocolate chips.  Cover and chill until form- 1 hour or longer.

2.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon.  Put the confectioner's sugar in a shallow bowl. Roll tablespoons of the dough into balls, then roll in the confectioner's sugar until well coated.  Place 1 inch apart on the baking sheets.

3.  Bake until the cookies are puffed and tops are cracked, about 10 minutes.  Let cool 2 minutes and on the baking sheets, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bizcochitos and Posadas for Christmas

New Mexico's State Cookie : Bizcochitos

I've written about Florida's Key Lime pie and Massachusett's Boston Cream pie, both declared their official state's dessert, but New Mexico was the first to have a state cookie: the bizcochito (bees-ko-CHEE-toh). In 1989, New Mexico lawmakers passed House Bill 406. They didn't the battle over the adoption, but how to spell the cookie's name. Several lawmakers of the House floor desired an "s" others a "z" and eventually the stalemate resulted in the cookie's press credentials as "bizcochito".

According to my limited  research, the first Christmas celebration in Mexico took place back in 1538, when a Fransican Monk, Fray Pedro de Gante invited the native tribe surrounding the mission to celebrate Christ's birth. Over the years many pueblo people were converted to Christianity and began to incorporate the holiday customs into their culture.

Christmas in Mexico begins on December 16th -- the day Las Posadas begins. The posadas re-enact Mary and Joseph’s travel to Bethlehem and search for lodging. They roles are often played by friends and family who travel from house to house looking for shelter. The posadas last for 9 days, up until Noche Buena or Christmas Eve. At the last house all are welcomed into a festive party. Many southwestern restaurants now honor this celebration with gala menus on December 24th.

Traditionally the end to each posada has been a piñata made in the shape of a star, to recall the one that  guided the Three Kings to the newborn Jesus. Now piñatas come in all shapes and sizes and are filled with candy, toys, and sometimes money.

In addition to the the posadas meals, bizcochitos are treats frequently made and served at Christmas.The  rolled anise and cinnamon wafers are similar to sugar cookies, but also resembles shortbread. They can be cut into shapes or left round; either way and on any day, holiday or not, they are officially New Mexico's state cookie.

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Recipe for Bizcochitos

The traditional recipe below includes lard.  Personally I prefer butter, but offer the authentic version.

3-4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup of lard
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon anise seeds - crushed
Cinnamon sugar for dusting

Combine 3 or 4 eggs (depending on size) with 1 cup of sugar, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and 1 cup of lard. Mix ingredients thoroughly.

After eggs, sugar and vanilla are mixed thoroughly, add 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 4 cups of flour. Mix in 1 tablespoon anise seeds (crushed to bring out the flavor). Mix into a dough the consistency of pie crust dough.

Roll the dough thin and cut cookies. Dip tops in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar before baking.

Bake at 350 for 12 to 15 Minutes