Gingerbread Cookies or Ornaments

Pissy Gingerbread Boy and Christmas Tree

What’s Christmas without a little gingerbread? Gingerbread houses, gingerbread cookies and even just plain old gingerbread! All of those things make you think of a wonderful holiday season! You can make this recipe as cookies or you can paint the gingerbread after it cools, seal them with varnish and make lasting ornaments. Whichever path you choose, you’ll have fun none the less! (We choose the painted path for the ones pictured here.) And the best part is whether you make cookies or you make ornaments this makes the perfect gift!

What You’ll Need:
1 cup packed natural brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups dark molasses
2/3 cup cold water
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt

Gingerbread Reindeer

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In large bowl cream brown sugar, butter and molasses until smooth. Add water and mix well. Stir in remaining ingredients and stir until well incorporated.

Gingerbread Star

Sprinkle some flour onto the surface you’re working on and roll dough out to between 1/4-1/8th of an inch. Cut with the cookie cutters of your choice. If you are going to use the cookies for ornaments remember to make a hole for the string or ribbon to tie them onto your tree. You can do this by using a straw to make a hole at the top of each cookie.

Bake for 9-10 minutes until done and cool completely on the pan.

Gingerbread Snowman

Decorate with icing, candy, sprinkles, raisins or other embellishments if you’re going to cookie route. Whatever you like works. Just let out your inner cookie creator! 😉

If you’re making ornaments paint them with craft or acrylic paints and let dry completely. Once the paint is dry you can “seal” the ornaments by painting or spraying on a coat of polyurethane if you want them to last for many years.

If you want to make “Pissy” Gingerbread boys and girls use a fluted cutter to cut a “bite” out of the side of their heads or even their foot if you want, because after all wouldn’t you be a little pissy too if someone did that to you? ;o)

Pissy Gingerbread Boy and Girl

Notes: This really is the best gingerbread I’ve ever tasted. I’m not a huge fan of molasses by itself, but in this recipe it really brings out the flavors of the other elements.

Brown Sugar Peanut Cashew Brittle

Brown Sugar Peanut Cashew Brittle

Sometimes it’s nice to combine a little sweet and salty. Brittle does just that! This take on the classic peanut brittle utilizes brown sugar and even a little maple syrup to add a taste sensation with just the right amount of sweet and salty. Most traditional brittles are made with only white sugar, but the brown sugar gives it a depth of flavor that is very nice. If you’ve got a hard candy or brittle lover on your list, then this recipe is the one for you!

What You’ll Need:
1 cup of organic cane sugar
1 cup of natural brown sugar
1 cup of corn syrup (Note: Light or dark works fine. Just make sure it doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup.)
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 cup of water
1 pinch of sea salt
1 cup of peanuts
1 cup of cashews
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 teaspoons of baking soda

In a very large stock pot melt sugars with corn syrup and maple syrup in water. Add salt once sugar is melted and cook to hard crack stage (Note: There is some debate out there as to where hard crack stage lies. Some say around 290 F and others say closer to 300-301 F. My candy thermometer falls in the latter category so I cooked this to around 301 F.)

When the sugar mixture reaches around 245 F then add the nuts and continue to cook, stirring frequently until you reach hard crack stage. (Note: If you don’t stir this you’ll end up with a scorched mess. Keep a close eye on the mixture!)

Once mixture reaches hard crack stage remove from heat and immediately add butter stirring to melt.

When the butter is almost completely melted add the baking soda and stir quickly. It’ll foam and fizz. Don’t be surprised if you’ve never made brittle before.

Spread mixture out onto two cookie sheets that are covered with silicone baking sheets or buttered using a spatula or wooden spoon until thinly spread. Let cool and harden and break into pieces.

Brown Sugar Peanut Cashew Brittle

Notes: You can use any type of nut that you want. You can use one nut or a mixture. It’s completely up to you. I’ve done this with peanuts and cashews in the past, but almonds, macadamia nuts, etc. would work just as well.

Rocky Road Bark

Rocky Road Bark

Rocky Road Bark Chocolate barks make the perfect gift! You can dress them up however you like and this version is a take on Rocky Road ice cream, which I must admit I’m not a big fan of, but I do like this bark! The almonds are crunchy and the marshmallows give it just the right amount of gooey. This is another recipe that is sure to please most chocolate lovers and after all don’t we all know one or two of those? 😉

What You’ll Need:
2 – 11.5 ounce packages of milk chocolate chips
1 – 11 ounce package of white chocolate chips
2 tablespoons of butter
At least 1 cup of whole raw almonds
At least 1 cup of miniature marshmallows

Rocky Road Bark: Chocolate Chips for Melting

Melt chocolate in a double boiler until smooth. (Note: If you want to temper the chocolate you can. I will admit I have a love/hate relationship with tempering…Sometimes I can get it to work, other times not so much. I was watching the Barefoot Contessa the other day and Ina said she couldn’t be bothered to take the time to do it and it made me love her all the more! To get around the issue she said she just makes it the day she wants to serve whatever she is making and it takes care of the problem.)

Once the chocolate is melted remove from the heat and stir in two tablespoons of butter until melted. Spread the mixture out onto a cookie sheet that is lined with wax paper or a silicone baking sheet.

Rocky Road Bark: Chocolate Ready for Topping

Next add marshmallows and almonds to the top of the spread out chocolate and gently push them into the mixture. (Note: My little sous chef (AKA Alexis) had a lot of fun with that step! 😉 )

Rocky Road Bark: Adding the Almonds and Marshmallows

Let the bark set up until it’s hard and break or cut into smaller pieces. (Note: I like to use a pizza cutter and cut it into squares when it hardens and is sort of at a fudge like consistency, but isn’t completely hard yet.) Store in an airtight container.

Rocky Road Bark

Rocky Road Bark Notes: You can really add anything into chocolate bark that you like as I mentioned above. You can even make a white chocolate bark. Dried cherries, raisins and cocoa nibs make a good combination as do cashews and coconut. If you can think it it can be done! ;o)

Brining A Turkey

Brining a Turkey 101

Years ago I discovered the process of brining a turkey and I was immediately hooked! A brined turkey makes a luscious, juicy bird when cooked and once you go down that path you just don’t want to go back! Strangely I’ve never tried this with a chicken, though it’s supposed to work just as well.

Anyway, up until this year I’ve always used a big bucket. The only problem with this method is that you’re basically taking up half your fridge with a big bucket for 12 to 24 hours and that can be a long time to tie up the fridge when you’re trying to prepare for Thanksgiving. A few weeks ago I came across the notion of a brining bag from the Pioneer Woman Cooks and decided to try that method instead.

I thought briefly for a moment today I might have to go back to the bucket method. I ordered brining bags from Williams Sonoma several weeks ago, but they were back ordered. I received an email earlier this week saying they had shipped and would be here in time for Thanksgiving, BUT the UPS man came and went this morning with no bags and it turns out though WS claims they were shipped via 2-day shipping to arrive in time, UPS claims that they haven’t received them yet! So what’s a girl to do?

I finally found some very large sealable bags at the store and I am using one of them instead. So whether you use a bucket or a bag, I highly recommend brining a turkey! You can’t go wrong with this method, and you’ll have a delicious turkey that you’ll love!

What You’ll Need:
1 bucket or very large brining bag
1 turkey (Our turkey this year is 22 pounds)
2 cups of sea salt
Bay leaves
Black peppercorns
Citrus (Note: Lemons, limes, oranges and/or grapefruit, etc. all work fine.)

In the bucket or large brining bag dissolve 2 cups of salt in some water. Add turkey. Add fresh herbs, citrus of your choice and peppercorns.

If you are using a bucket cover the turkey with water. If you’re using a bag, cover fill the bag to where the turkey is half covered. In a bucket the turkey is submerged, so you don’t have to do anything. In the bag, you’ll need to flip your turkey ever 2-3 hours.

Place in the fridge. Let brine 12-24 hours. Remove from brining solution and discard. Cook turkey as you normally would.

Brining a Turkey 101

Cook turkey as you normally would.

Notes: My version of brining involves cold brining in that I never heat the brining solution. I’ve seen it done both ways, but I prefer cold brining. Any herb or seasoning you want to toss into the mix will work. Sea salt works better for this solution over table salt. If you’re using table salt cut back to 1/2-3/4 a cup as it’s a different consistency than sea salt.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Within my circle of friends and family I’m somewhat known for my cheesecakes. I’ve got a ton of different scrumptious variations and people ask for them often! Key Lime, Chocolate, Peppermint, Caramel Irish Cream, Turtle, Peanut Butter, Regular, among many others and one of my favorites is my Pumpkin Cheesecake! Most every Thanksgiving I whip one of these gems up and I look forward to it all year! It’s a different twist on the standard pumpkin pie, but it will draw raves! Try is and see.

What You’ll Need for the Crust:
2 1/2 cups of gingersnap cookies
1/4 cup of sugar 1 stick of butter, melted

Add ginger snap cookies and process them in the food processor until smooth. (Note: If you don’t have a food processor then place them in a plastic bag and have fun smashing them! ;o)

Process in sugar and melted butter until a crumbly mixture forms.

Press the crumb mixture into a 9-inch spring form pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Wrap the outside of the pan with aluminum foil to the very edges of the pan, without covering the opening. Set aside.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Gingersnap Crust

What You’ll Need for the Filling:
3 – 8 ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
1 – 15 ounce can of mashed pumpkin
1 cup of ricotta cheese (Note: You can use the whole milk, part skim or fat free version.)
1 cup of natural brown sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice
1 cup of unbleached all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325 F. (Note: This is very important when baking a cheesecake! The oven must be preheated! Do NOT skip this step!!)

Put a pot or kettle on to boil with enough water to cover 1/2-3/4 of the cheesecake pan with water.

Cream together cream cheese, pumpkin, sugar, ricotta and eggs until well blended.

Mix in pumpkin pie spice and flour until just blended.

Pour into prepared crust.

Pumpkin Cheesecake "Help"

Place cheesecake pan into a baking dish. Pour hot water into the dish or pan being careful not to get any water on or in the cake itself. The water depth should be at least 1/2 the way up the side of the spring form pan, but no more than 3/4ths of the way up the side.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Ready to Bake

Bake for 1 hour.

Turn oven off and open oven door to the broil position and let the cake sit unmoved for 1 more hour.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Resting

After the cheesecake sits for 1 hour carefully remove from the oven and take out of its water bath. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

Notes: The water bath helps the cheesecake top to not split as much. If you’re making this on a cold day (like today for example), you might have trouble getting the cream cheese to cream completely smooth. Don’t worry about this as it will not affect the taste of the cheesecake. You can also use graham cracker crumbs instead of gingersnaps, though I think the gingersnaps give it that extra omph. If you want you can decorate the top of the cheesecake with seasonal shaped cookies (such as leaves, acorns, pumpkins, etc.) and I recommend serving it with a dollop of fresh whipped cream on top.

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce

OK, I’ll be completely honest here and tell you I detest cranberries. I don’t like them dried, I don’t like the fresh, I don’t like them frozen, I don’t like them baked into things, I just plain out do not like them, though I’ve tried them many ways! My sister however adores them and since I in turn adore her, I tolerate them on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and whip up a batch of homemade cranberry sauce because my inner chef can’t stand the thought of the glop out of the can! 😉

Originally I saw something similar to this a few years ago on FoodTV, but I don’t recall which of their chefs was making it, though I do remember their variation had tarragon in it and I remember thinking “Tarragon and cranberries? Seriously?!!?!” So I took their basic idea and very soon I had deviated from it rather quickly. Surprisingly this isn’t half bad and even I, Ms. Cranberries Suck Monumentally, will even eat a bite or two, though it is by no means my favorite Thanksgiving treat and I’ll go for sweet potatoes or something pumpkin related over this 9.9 times out of 10, but if I have to eat a cranberry this is how I’d eat one!

My sister says it’s even good frozen right out of the freezer, but I, and you in turn, will have to take her word for that, though she’s an honest girl so I’m sure she knows exactly of which she speaks! 😉

Anyway now that I’m through picking on my sister…so all you cranberry lovers out there this one is for you. Cranberry Sauce is one of those quintessential dishes that automatically makes you think of Thanksgiving! This version is quick, easy and delicious…If you like cranberries that is, which I mentioned I don’t! 😉

What You’ll Need:
3 pints (or roughly 6 cups) of fresh cranberries
The zest of two oranges
The juice of two oranges (Note: This is normally roughly 3/4 to 1 cup of orange juice. It doesn’t have to be perfect. The recipe is very versatile.)
1 cup of organic cane sugar

Cranberry Sauce Cooking

Dump ingredients into a medium sized pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes until cranberries pop (and yes sometimes you can even hear them do just that!) and begin to break down. The mixture will also turn very jelly like.

Chill and serve OR you can freeze the mixture for up to 6 weeks. Take from the freezer and thaw before serving OR if you’re like my sister you can just eat it frozen! (She knows that by the way, because I send the leftovers home with her and she freezes them! 😉 )

Notes: If you end up with oranges that don’t have much juice in them, just make up for it by using any orange juice out of the fridge. Any type of orange will work. Just get whatever is convenient for you.

Red, White and Blue Shortcake

Red, White and Blue "Shortcake"

I use the term “shortcake” here loosely at best, thus the quotes. The topping is constructed more like Baklava, though in truth I’ve never had, nor made Baklava. This is also my first time using phyllo dough. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, but it was a bit of a learning curve! I will be using it again in the future. I have a lot of yummy ideas as to what can be done with phyllo so look for it again in the future! 😉 Regardless this fun little dessert, is delicious and is fun in the 4th of July holiday sense. Try it and see!

What You’ll Need:
1 package of phyllo dough, thawed
2 sticks of butter, melted
1 cup of organic cane sugar
1 large star cookie cutter or 1 large star shape cut from aluminum foil and a very sharp knife
1 package of strawberries, sliced
1 package of blueberries
1/4 cup of organic cane sugar
Whipped cream

For The Star “Shortcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Lay one layer of phyllo dough flat on a big piece of aluminum foil. Brush entire surface with melted butter and then sprinkle surface with sugar. Add another layer of phyllo dough and place it over the first layer, brush with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Repeat these steps until you run out of butter and sugar. (Note: Your top layer should be buttered and sugared as well. You may have some left of phyllo dough, but it can be refrozen according to the package.)

Using your cookie cutter or star shape and sharp knife cut out star shapes and place the stars on a baking sheet that has been lined with a silicone baking sheet or parchment paper. Bake stars for 5-10 minutes or until golden browned. Keep an eye on them as they can go from a lovely golden brown to burned in about 2 seconds flat! Remove stars from the oven and let cool completely. (Note: You could easily do this the night before. Also the scraps from the stars can be cooked and eaten too. 😉 )

For The Berry Mixture:

In a large bowl mix berries and sugar. Let sit in the fridge for at least an hour or until syrup forms.

To Assembled the Dessert:

Layer berries onto a small dessert plate, top with a “Shortcake” Star and a dollop of freshly made whipped cream.

Notes: Again raspberries could be used as they are red too, but if you’ve read Dianne’s Dishes for a while you know my opinion of those! ;o) You could also add a layer of Sabayon or custard on top of the berries and beneath the star, which I think I’m going to try next time. And if you’d like to make it on another occasion any summer fruit would be great! Peaches come to mind immediately. It’s an easy recipe to mix up!

Easter Marshmallows

Easter Marshmallows

We set out for the grocery store this morning to procure items for our feast tomorrow and Peeps were on my list since tomorrow is Easter after all. When we got there however there wasn’t a single Peep to be found! Never deterred I remember that the Barefoot Contessa made Coconut marshmallows the other day on her show. I decided it wouldn’t be hard at all to take her recipe, tweak it, add some sugar sprinkles and make our own Easter marshmallows! This was the end result and they turned out even better than I imagined! 😉

What You’ll Need:
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup of water
1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup of water
Butter to coat your dish
Powdered sugar to dust your dish
Colored sugar sprinkles

Combine the gelatin in 1/2 cup of cold water in your mixer and let sit while you complete the other steps.

In a medium sized pot mix sugar, corn syrup and water over low to medium heat and cook until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar has dissolves raise the heat and cook until the mixture reaches 240 F. Remove from the heat and pour slowly into your gelatin mixture while the mixer is on low. Once the sugar liquid is all added turn your mixer slowly to high and beat for 10-15 minutes until the mixture is white, thick and creamy.

While the mixer is mixing coat a 13 X 9 inch pan with butter and then dust with powdered sugar. When the mixture is ready pour into prepared pan and spread out to the edge. You can wet your hands to help with the spreading if you like. Sprinkle with colored sugar crystals of your choice and let sit for 2-3 hours until firm. Cut out shapes of your choice with cookie cutters or simply slice the marshmallows into squares. Store marshmallows in an airtight container.

Easter Marshmallows

Chocolate Valentines

Chocolate Valentines

Jamison loves chocolate peanut butter cups, so I decided to make him some heart shaped chocolate peanut butter “cups” for Valentine’s Day. Only one problem since it’s supposed to snow tonight and then be followed by ice for the next two days, meaning Jamison will most likely be working from home, I knew I would need to make them today. Add to that that Alexis helped and wouldn’t know how to keep a secret given she’s 3 1/2, and actually tried to tell him twice on his way home when she was talking to him on the phone, we ended up having to give them to him tonight since Alexis was determined to keep trying to tell them about his chocolates. They turned out great!

What You’ll Need:
7 bars of Ghiradhelli milk chocolate
3 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of peanut butter
1/2 cup of powdered sugar

Melt and temper your chocolate. Once chocolate is melted stir in 3 tablespoons of butter until melted. Coat chocolate molds with a layer of chocolate and let harden.

Mix peanut butter and powder sugar and add a dollop of peanut butter to the center of each hardened chocolate mold. Spread out and top with another layer of chocolate. Let harden and pop out of chocolate molds. Store in a dark, cool place.

Simple, easy and delicious!

Chocolate Valentines