Archive for the ‘Recipes and Baking Tips’ Category

Cool Yule Recipe: Candy Cane Brownies

December 5, 2013

A candy cane hanging on a Christmas tree

Here’s a holiday recipe from Sara Ayyash, pastry chef at The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia.

Candy Cane Brownies

Yields: 2 dozen brownies

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 candy canes, finely crushed
  • 2 York ® peppermint patties, chopped

In the microwave, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring every 30 seconds till melted.

Let the chocolate cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a 13×9 inch pan.

All at once, add the sugar, eggs, flour, salt, and vanilla to the cooled chocolate. Stir until completely

Pour the brownie batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the crushed candy canes and chopped peppermint patties on top.

Bake for 25 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into squares.


Thalhimer’s Spoon Bread

November 24, 2012

My mom used to make this for us, as a breakfast dish.  I can’t wait to make it.

Finding Thalhimers

In today’s Food Section of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, I noticed that they had included a recipe for Thalhimers’ Richmond Room Spoonbread in a “Recipes Remembered” column. What a great holiday side dish! Here it is for you to make at home. Mine never tastes as good as the ACTUAL Thalhimers’ spoon bread, but memories are always romanticized with the passage of time. Let me know how it works out for you by sharing your results on the Finding Thalhimers Facebook page!


(courtesy: Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Makes 9 servings

1/4 cup butter, melted

3/4 cup white cornmeal

1 1/2 cups boiling water

1/2 cup flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk

4 eggs

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (Must be Rumford brand, according to Thalhimers’ staff)

1 pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour butter into an 8-inch-square baking pan. Place cornmeal in…

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Winter Berry Salad Wreath with Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing

November 13, 2012

Isn’t this a gorgeous salad for the holidays?

winter berry salad wreath

Full recipe and assembly instructions here:

Winter Berry Salad Wreath w/ Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing.

Gingered Pumpkin-Pear Soup Recipe

November 30, 2010
Though the pears pictured do not have a textur...

Image via Wikipedia

I was lamenting that I had lost this recipe forever.  I cut it out of a magazine in the 1998 and couldn’t find it for a couple of years.  Guess what. I found it in a bag of stuff in the basement, which is a good thing because this is the best soup ever.  The cooks (N. Coult and K. Moerke) won a $400 prize for it.  So it is award-winning soup 🙂

Lots of time I think it’s just fine to mess around and substitute ingredients.  Not this time. If you make this exactly like this, it will be fantastic.  But don’t wimp out and leave out a little detail, like the lime peel, because the lime peel absolutely MAKES this soup sing.

So here it is. So easy.  Vegetarian! Only 129 calories a serving. Makes 6 small servings.  Life is good.


  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 3 pears, peeled, cored, and sliced (actually, you can use canned pears, not in syrup)
  • 1 15 oz can of pumpkin (the small one)
  • 1-1/2 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/4 cup of light dairy sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp. finely shredded lime peel
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • more shredded lime peel for garnish

Directions: In a large saucepan, cook onion and ginger in hot butter until onion is tender.  Stir in pears, cook 1 minute more.  Stir in canned pumpkin and vegetable broth; heat to boiling.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 5 minutes more or until pears are tender.  Cool slightly.  In a blender container or food processor, cover and blend 1/2 of pumpkin mixture at a time, until smooth, about 1 minute.  Return processed mixture to saucepan; stir in milk.  Heat through.  Season to taste with salt and white pepper (if desired).

Meanwhile, in a small bowl stir together sour cream, 1/2 tsp of lime peel, and lime juice.  Top each serving of soup with a drizzle of lime sour cream mixture. Garnish with a little additional lime peel.

Gingersnap Egg Nog Martini Recipe

December 18, 2009

Thanks to bostonkayakguy for this great holiday martini I found on his blog!  I taste-tested it and give it five stars!  Warning: it’s lethal.  One drink and you will not be able to feel your lips 🙂  Have a designated driver handy.


The ingredients: 1 ounce Canton Ginger Liqueur, 1/2 ounce Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur, 1/2 ounce DiSaronno Amaretto, 2 ounces egg nog, 1 pinch cinnamon sugar, 1 ginger snap cookie for garnish

  • Rim a martini glass with cinnamon sugar
  • In a mixing glass combine egg nog, Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur, Canton Ginger Liqueur, And Disaronno Amaretto.
  • Then add ice;  shake vigorously.
  • Strain into the chilled glass.
  • Sprinkle cinnamon on top and garnish with cookie.

Holiday Libations

December 15, 2009

Ah, the holidays.  I like to have people over, and you know what everyone asks to drink?  Water.  So, if you’re having a get-together, I recommend stocking up on plenty of bottled water (like Pellegrino) and lime slices, which everyone seems to like.  But some will also partake of wine and non-alcoholic beverages, so here are some suggestions…

Sparkling Beverages for Holiday Toasts

Looking for a sparkling wine?  Try this lovely, affordable, and delicious rosy sparkler in your fluted glass, my favorite, Louis Bouillot Perle d’Aurore Rose, which you can find at Total Wine.

Another affordable and tasty alternative to champagne is Prosecco, an Italian white sparkling wine, and I’ve found some nice values on Prosecco at Best Cellars in Arlington, VA.

Here is a non-alcoholic “un-champagne” recipe to try (for a punch bowl or pitcher): combine 32-oz bottle of cold club soda with a 32-oz bottle of gold gingerale and a 24-oz bottle of cold, unsweetened white grape juice.

Hot Apple Cider

If you’re having a party or just staying home with your family, nothing beats a pot of hot spiced apple cider simmering on the stove’s back burner.  It will make the whole house smell wonderful and it’s always been a hit when I’ve served it.  Here’s a recipe for it from Betty Crocker (

Hot Spiced Apple Cider (115 calories per serving)

  • 6 cups apple cider
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 cinnamon sticks

1. In 3-quart saucepan, heat ingredients to boiling over medium-high heat. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 10 minutes.
2. Before serving, strain cider mixture to remove cloves and cinnamon, if desired. Serve hot.

A Very “Mary” Cocktail

My favorite drink is still the Cosmopolitan. Here’s Betty Crocker’s version (the notes are mine), including a non-alcoholic version.

Mary Fletcher JonesCrantinis (140 calories per serving)

  • 1 cup cranberry juice cocktail (I think Ocean Spray’s the best)
  • 1/2 cup citrus vodka or plain vodka (I like Finlandia or Stolichnaya)
  • 1/4 cup Triple Sec (or Cointreau, that’s what I like)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • Fresh cranberries, if desired
  • Lime slices, if desired

1. Fill martini shaker or 3-cup covered container half full with ice. Add all ingredients except cranberries and lime slices; cover and shake.
2.Pour into martini or tall stemmed glasses, straining the ice. Garnish glasses with fresh cranberries and lime slices on picks.

Nonalcoholic Variation: Skip the vodka and use club soda (or Pellegrino sparkling water).

Less Alcohol Variation: Serve Crantinis on the rocks and add a splash of sparkling water.

Dinner Tonight: Taco Salad

December 10, 2009

So, by now I imagine you’re ready for a quick meal that doesn’t involve turkey or roast beef!  Here’s a vegetarian solution that’s ready quickly. I’ve listed my favorite brands for this recipe, but you can swap any of your favorites and get similar results.  You will need (all are available at Safeway)

  • Lime juice (about 1/4 lime)
  • Avocado
  • McCormick “Produce Partners” Great Guacamole spice envelope (you will only use scant 1/2 of the seasoning)
  • 1 bag of Fresh Express romaine salad greens
  • 1 can of Old El Paso vegetarian
  • Baked Tostitos yellow corn chips
  • Light sour cream
  • Old El Paso Chunky Garden Salsa, mild
  • Lucerne Light Mexican Shredded Cheese (4 cheese blend)
  • Chili Powder (optional)

Mash avocado in small bowl and squeeze in lime juice.  Add 1/2 of spice packet and put in refrigerator to blend flavors.  Meanwhile, heat refried beans over low heat.  Line plate with lettuce.  Top with beans.  Sprinkle on cheese.  Add dollops of salsa and sour cream and guacamole.  If desired, dust sour cream with chili powder.  Insert tortilla chips around salad.


How to Enjoy the Holidays without Gaining (Much) Weight

December 8, 2009

Holiday parties and dinners present all kinds of options.  I think all foods are fine in moderation.  The trick is moderation!  Here are some tricks for enjoying food in moderation, if, like me, you tend to over-indulge and pack on pounds…

Don’t skip meals on the day of the party. You know what a beast stored hunger is.  You’ll be far better off if you eat a good breakfast and lunch and stay hydrated before dinner or cocktail parties.  If you usually eat cereal or toast for breakfast, maybe try oatmeal that day, or eggs and canadian bacon, for more staying power throughout the day.   I tend to drink more water if I put a very small amount of juice, like cranberry juice, in it.  If you don’t drink enough water, try this trick!

Eat before you go out. If you can manage to grab a snack before you go out, you’ll be less likely to eat too much at the party (or before shopping!).  Eat something substantial, like greek yogurt with honey, and a small handful of almonds.  That will line your tummy, too.

Always keep a camera handy. Why?  If you get attacks of shyness at social gatherings (like I do), you can always take pictures of people, or holiday decorations, or the food.  That way, you won’t eat or drink just to keep busy or to feel less conspicuous if no one is talking to you.  Taking pictures keeps you busy and can be a great ice-breaker.

Look out for the holiday blues. Everyone I know gets depressed a little bit at some point during the holidays.  It’s really common.  Before you snack, ask yourself if you’re really hungry, or just bored, lonely, disappointed, tired, or even thirsty.  If you’re hungry, eat.  Otherwise, have a cup of peppermint tea (hot beverages are great for curbing appetite) and take a walk outside to rev up your mood and your metabolism.

Skip (or reduce) the alcohol. I enjoy a cosmopolitan or glass of wine as much as anyone, but I have noticed that if I drink alcohol, I tend to eat more (probably because it makes me relax and lowers my inhibitions).  So, there are a few strategies that have worked for me.  One is to order cranberry spritzers (cranberry juice and soda), or club soda with lime (which has almost no calories).  You can also order white wine spritzers, or ask the bartender to make a drink with half the alcohol.  I prefer a cocktail that is light on alcohol, myself.  If you choose to drink, alternate imbibing cocktails or glasses of bubbly champagne (100 calories) with glasses of water, mineral water, or seltzer.  (This will also help prevent a hangover!)

Try the lower fat versions in recipes. In some cases, they are really good.  I don’t do artificial sweeteners, but I like light versions of sour cream, mayonnaise, and salad dressing and use them in my recipes for veggie dip, etc.  Nonfat greek yogurt can stand in for sour cream or creme fraiche in some dishes.

A great way to cut fat in mashed potatoes is to mash them with buttermilk.  It’s delicious! But pass on the homemade gravy — too much fat.  Try canned gravy or jarred gravy instead; we’re talking a 300 calorie-plus difference!

I love stuffing with lots of onion and celery.  Try replacing all or some of the butter in stuffing recipes with canned, fat free chicken stock.  Also, don’t cook it inside the turkey.  It will absorb fat and calories from the bird.

Dress hot vegetables like green beans, broccoli or brussel sprouts with a spray of  I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray.  It’s good and very low in fat and calories.  I also use flavored salad sprays to pep up veggies, such as Asian or Caesar flavors.  They add great flavor for almost no calories.

Sweet potato casserole with marshmallows.  Just don’t go there.  I know, it’s delicious but if I told you how many calories, you wouldn’t believe me.  Try this version of sweet potato casserole instead, which has only 3 g of fat and at least half the calories.

Eat this, not that. I’m a big fan of the “Eat This, Not That” feature in Men’s Health.   It’s amazing the calories you can save just by choosing pumpkin pie over pecan pie.  And that spray whipped cream only has 30 calories a serving!  If you ate just the top of your pie, along with the canned whipped cream, you’d save all kinds of calories by skipping the fat-laden crust.

Hard cheeses like parmesan can be a safer bet than the soft ones, like Brie. But if you can pass on the Brie, you are a stronger person than I am 🙂

Lean meats and fish are good bets on the buffet table, but choose shrimp cocktail (lovely, lovely shrimp has very few calories) instead of crab cakes. Beef tenderloin is a luscious 165 calories a serving.

Olives have practically no calories at all.

I was surprised at how many calories are in fruit cake. It seems so benign! If you indulge, take just a nibble.

Need a holiday treat?  I love low-fat egg nog.  Then I either have a very small glass, or I cut it half and half with milk.  I never miss the fat in sorbet, or in light peppermint ice cream, either.

Like Starbucks?  Did you know a lot of those holiday coffee drinks are packed with calories and fat?  Make your own coffee at home and add purchased flavored creamers (30 calories per serving) like White Chocolate Peppermint or Pumpkin and top with canned whipped cream (another 30 calories) and you’ll save money and more than 500 calories in some instances!

Success Tips for Holiday Cookie Baking

December 7, 2009

I’ve discovered a few tricks and gadgets that are making my holiday cookie baking much more successful this year.

Parchment paper. Most of my cookie recipes call for an ungreased cookie sheet.  This year, I’m lining my cookie sheet with parchment paper. I just discovered how much easier it is making my cookie-baking.  A sheet of parchment paper can be reused, batch after batch.  When the cookies are done, you slip the paper, cookies and all, onto wire racks to cool (minimum 2 minutes).  I am finding that the cookies bake more evenly, don’t break when I try to lift them from the paper, and I don’t have to clean the pan between batches.  At Safeway, look for the display of parchment paper that offers a 75-cents-off coupon.

Cookie scoop and silicon turner. My sister swore by using this handled cookie scoop for cookie dough.  (It looks like a small ice cream scoop.)  At first, I wondered, why not just use spoons?  But when I saw a Betty Crocker set of a cookie scoop plus cookie turner at Wal-Mart for about $3, I decided to try it.  The scoop does a couple of things.   It does make it a lot easier to scoop and produce evenly sized cookies.  It is also easier to use every scrap of dough in the mixing bowl, so there is less waste (and more cookies!).  I feel as if the scoop does not overly work the dough (the way scraping with two spoons might), which results in a lighter cookie texture.  I am also a big fan of the thin, flexible turner that came in the set.  It really does work better than the other turners I have for lifting cookies.

Cookie mixes. I usually make cookies to give as gifts, using recipes I have relied on year after year, and using the best ingredients, such as real vanilla and unsalted butter.  This year, I find I just don’t have the time to bake from scratch.  I still wanted to make cookies, however, so I bought several bags of Betty Crocker cookie dough mix in various flavors.  They are on sale at Safeway for about $1.25 a bag (each bag makes 2-3 dozen cookies).  I am having good success with all of them, and they save a great deal of time, and there aren’t as many utensils and bowls to clean.  It’s a good compromise, if you are also pressed for time.

You can elaborate on the cookie mixes using these recipes from Betty Crocker, available online at  To save time, I may skip rolling out dough and making cut-out cookies this year and bake the jam-filled thumbprint cookies with the Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix, instead.

Cook Book. While we’re talking Betty Crocker, I should also mention that I think the latest Betty Crocker cook book is a winner, especially for less experienced cooks, like myself.  The cookbook is unique in that it provides photographs of how your cookies should look when done.  It shows what a cookie looks like if you use too much butter or flour, and how it should look when it is just right.

A few more cookie-baking tips…

Use fresh ingredients. For the best flavor, use fresh ingredients for everything. Don’t use last year’s shortening, oil, baking soda, baking powder, flour, candy or nuts.  If you are in doubt, toss it.  The exception is vanilla extract, which lasts indefinitely.  Even spices lose their life after too long on the shelf (about one to four years, depending on the type).  Also, some might swear by them, but I don’t have good experience with cooking sprays and I don’t like what they do to my pans.

Refrigerate the dough after you mix it. This will help prevent cookie spread (cookies baking too flat and thin).

Let your cookie sheets cool between batches. If you put cookies on warm sheets, they may spread while baking.

Toast nuts before adding to the dough. Toasted nuts have the best flavor.  You can toast pecans, walnuts, and almonds in about 7 minutes or less in a 400 degree oven.

Using an expensive spice? Like cardamon or star anise?  Try an Indian spice store.  You may find good deals on spices.

What do you use to bake great cookies?  Have you found the perfect cookie sheet?  Do you have a great recipe?  Feel free to add them in the comments!

Recipe: Low-Fat Sweet Potato Casserole

December 6, 2009

I found this in First Magazine several years ago.  Try this instead of the marshmallow version to save calories and fat grams.

  • 3 medium sized sweet potatoes (about 1-1/2 lb.), pared and cut into chunks
  • 2 large baking apples (about 1 lb.), cored and cut into wedges
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp. margarine, melted. (It calls for margarine but I suppose you could use butter.)

Preheat oven to 400.  Spray a 8″ or 9″ baking dish with vegetable cooking spray.  Add potatoes and apples.  Sprinkle first with cinnamon, then with sugar; toss lightly.  Add bay leaf, oj, and margarine.  Cover dish with foil and bake about 1 houror until potatoes and apples are fork-tender.  Remove bay leaf and serve.  Makes 8 servings, 209 calories, 3 g fat.

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