Friday, December 30, 2011

Culinarily Courtney: Best of 2011

What a year.  It certainly was tiring (my little buddy above knows), but it was full of rewarding developments in my life too.  

My first apartment.  Turning 20 and leaving childhood behind.  Starting my novel.  Learning to be at peace.

For my Friday post this week I've rounded up my favorite recipes from the blog this year.  A timeline of my best times spent in the kitchen in 2011.

And, my most popular post this year, perfect to warm up the cold start of the year in January...

I wish you all a Happy New Year!  Come back next year (haha) for a new recipe :)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Spice Cake Box Mix: Fancified

Did Santa do your list justice this year?  He did mine.  

Lots of girly baubles and pretty things were to be found beneath my tree: nail polish, hair stuff, fashion tights, and jewelry.  

Mrs. Claus made the baker in me happy: ramekins, mini-loaf pans, cookie-scoops, a tart pan, and a potato scrubber brush (complete with googly eyes).

After the morning of festivities, a wonderful service at church, and a relaxing afternoon, Mom and I each ate a piece of this cake.  We justified our slightly larger than average slices and scoops of ice cream with the rationale that it was Jesus' birthday cake, after all, and that merited celebrating.

Who says you have to slave in the kitchen to make a delicious dessert?  Embrace the box mix.
This cake starts with a spice cake box mix.  I added 1/2 tsp of ground cloves, and 1/2 tsp of extra cinnamon to make it festive for Christmas, and baked it in two 9" round cake pans.

 After cooling, I spread the top of one layer with this Pecan Pumpkin Butter found at Williams and Sonoma that I was fortunate enough to win in a give-away hosted by Lindsey of Gingerbread Bagels (thanks again!)

About 2/3 of the jar should do.

I frosted the cake with cream cheese frosting, and bedazzled it with chopped pecans, toasted in an oven at 350 deg. F for about 5-7 minutes.

What's your favorite way to dress up a box mix dessert?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bites and Sites 12/23/11

Fridays I usually compile a list of my favorite links and call it "Court's Clicks: (insert date here)."  Truth be told, I wasn't on the computer looking at recipes much this week. 

Shocking, I know.  I guess this is because I usually web surf when I am procrastinating about school work, and now that I am on vacation, I don't really need to procrastinate about watching yet another TV show. 

So, this week I bring you a few words and a few pictures to round out the week. 

On Tuesday I day-tripped to San Francisco with my Mom.  We enjoyed being city girls while we were there, shopping at the biggest Macy's I've ever seen, eating at Mel's Diner (bring on the chocolate milkshake!), and seeing the Christmas tree at Union Square, and City Hall lit up with the colors of the season.  The only bad thing about this trip is that it has confirmed in my mind that I want need to live in some metropolitan area when I am out of college.  I have contracted the city bug. 

Of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without a little cookie decorating.  Yesterday, I made gingerbread men and terriers with my Mom.  

Being the nerd that I am, I made a Harry Potter:

A Frenchman: 

A somewhat frazzled looking Gandalf or Santa, depending on how you look at him:

And several representations of my crazy Norwich Terrier, Crumpet: (you can see he tried to steal Gandalf's thunder in the bottom left corner above, too).

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fig Turnovers

Family Recipes: heritage, tradition, honor, prestige.  And let us not forget: stains of butter and spilled vanilla extract, and of course, your grandmother's illegible cursive.

All of this combines into a cookie that is both exciting and daunting to bake, as if you are exhuming something long buried in the past that may or may not respond favorably to your waking it from its decades of resting.

These cute and dainty fig turnover cookies stir up nostalgic feelings for the simpler time of the 1950s, originating from my grandmother's 1953 Betty Crocker Cookbook.  Over the years, Gma made several additions and changes to the recipe that she marked in the margins of this recipe and eventually tore out from its binding to preserve in a plastic page protector.   

That is how important this cookie is.  

I revived it from its 30 year slumber in a recipe box to add to this year's plate of Christmas cookies.  But, by the way it turned out, I think it would have preferred to stay sleeping.

I forgot the orange zest in the filling; the dough was one of those clingy boyfriend types that just didn't know how to let go; the figs left sticky gum all over my knife; the  turnovers were too crispy after being baked; they spread like pancakes all over the pan.

Still, with age they improved.  Surprisingly, after a day or two of sitting in a cookie tin, the dough became softer, and the filling a bit more vibrant.

Yet, I can't help thinking how much easier it would have been to just buy a package of Fig Newtons.  Gma probably didn't have that option 60 years ago though.

I imagine her cooking down the dried figs, sugar, and water in a pan over her retro stove.  I wonder if non-stick pans even existed then?

She would carefully roll out the dough (maybe after stealing a bite of the fig filling with a big silver spoon), and place a generous amount on her cutouts, pinching them closed with the tines of a fork.

She would seal them in a decorative Christmas tin, flowing with wax paper, ready to share with her family, or sneak one out for a midnight snack.

Eating a slightly tastier Fig Newton cannot compare to baking and eating the same cookie my grandmother first made nearly 60 years ago from one of her first cookbooks.  And even with all of the recipe mishaps, as my Mom says, "I still like them."

Fig Turnovers
Recipe adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook (1953)

Yield: about 54 cookies


3/4 cup Crisco
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
3 Tb heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp + 1/8 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt

2 cups dried figs, finely chopped
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
grated orange peel, to taste

Cream together Crisco, and sugar.  Add eggs, heavy cream, and vanilla extract to mixture.

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt.  Combine with first mixture and chill dough in a covered bowl for about an hour in the refrigerator.

In the meantime, combine all filling ingredients in a saucepan over medium to high heat.  Stir constantly until mixture thickens.  Allow filling to cool completely.

Roll dough about 1/8" to 1/16" thick and cut into 2" to 3" circles, placing 1" apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  If dough is too wet, add more flour until it reaches a good rolling consistency.  The more flour that is added, the less the cookies will spread out when baked.

Place filling on one side of  each cutout.  Fold and seal the dough with the tines of a fork dipped in flour.

Brush tops of turnovers with milk and sprinkle with sugar.  

Bake at 400 deg. F. for 8-10 minutes or until tops of turnovers are lightly golden.  Remove immediately and cool on a wire rack.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Court's Clicks: 12/16/11

I've been home from college for about a week now, and I must say, it is glorious.  Days and nights have been filled with Christmas cheer: watching "A Christmas Carol" at my alma mater high school; decorated the tree and house with my Mom while singing along to the Elvis Christmas album; and have done a little bit of holiday baking (with more to come!)

Laziness is setting in though, and most days I'm not out of my pajamas until 11:00am.  But, this is vacation after all, and every day I'm feeling a little bit less guilty about relaxing after being high strung and having to swim my way to the surface of an ocean of papers and exams during last quarter.

How have I been relaxing?  Well, just sitting on the couch and surfing the web by the light of the Christmas tree has been one welcome diversion.

Let me show you what I found!

I feel like snow-men are one of the underrepresented shapes in holiday baking, but these Nutter Butter Snowmen are quick to make and would look adorable on any cookie plate.

So-simple Santa Hat Cookies made with a sugar cookie, a strawberry, and a little frosting...why didn't I think of that?

After making some Mint Chocolate Candy Cane Fudge earlier this week, I was interested in finding some other non-traditional fudge recipes, and oh, did I find one.  Turn your eyes towards this chocolate fudge made with Velveeta.

Just a little over a week until Christmas!  Who's excited?  Please excuse me while I go finish my Christmas shopping.  Our tree is beautiful, but things are looking a little sparse underneath it.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mint Chocolate Candy Cane Fudge

A few years ago my grandmother (aka "Gma) broke her tooth by biting into a candy cane.  

Being the humorous octogenarian that she is, she took the tooth, placed it in a jewelry box, wrapped it up in festive Christmas wrapping paper, and sent it to her son as a gift along with a few candy canes.  He loved it and found it hilarious.  

This is the family from which I come.  Oh, dear.

Love of candy canes exists in my blood too, although I prefer using them in baking, or swirling them in a cup of coffee or hot cocoa.  This creamy fudge proves the perfect vehicle to carry the minty taste of candy canes associated with Christmastime, but with small enough chunks that you won't be visiting the dentist after consuming it (hopefully).

Luckily for Gma, she was scheduled to have her teeth replaced with dental implants in the coming weeks, so she crunched her way through several boxes of the candy canes while watching episodes of "Hoarders," nary a care if she lost another tooth in the process. And, with a sweet tooth like she has (after all, she was the one who requested I make this fudge), it is probably for the best as she can now eat as much sugar as she likes without giving a thought to cavities.

Go ahead and make some, only 4 ingredients required!

Lay some foil in an 8x8 pan (it helps to fold it first), and get some grease lightnin' action in there.

Smash 18 candy canes to smithereens.  (I used Hershey's chocolate mint candy canes)

Smithereens should be pea-sized, but it's OK if you get some finer fairy dust bits, they add sparkle.

Sweetened condensed milk and white chocolate chips.  Can I dig in now?

Melt into a smooth and creamy lake of fudge fixings; stir in some peppermint extract.

Stir in your candy cane smithereens.  Reserve some bits to sprinkle on the top.  Pop it in the fridge for 2 hours to set.

Cut into squares and devour, preferably whilst surrounded by Christmas decorations.

Mint Chocolate Candy Cane Fudge

Yield: 56 squares 


20 oz white chocolate baking chips 
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
18 crushed Hershey's mint chocolate candy canes


Line an 8"x8" baking pan with foil.  Grease the foil.

Melt white chocolate chips with sweetened condensed milk in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring often until chips are melted and mixture is smooth.  Remove from pan heat and stir in peppermint extract and most of the candy cane bits.

Spread mixture into the bottom of the lined and greased 8"x8" pan.  Sprinkle remaining candy cane bits over the top.

Chill pan in refrigerator for 2 hours, and then cut into 1" squares.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Court's Clicks: 12/9/11

Last Saturday I went to a Roaring 20s Christmas Banquet.  There was gingerbread house making.  Would you live here?  I would eat it, but...

Well, this week I bring you more Christmas cheer with some fancy holiday cookie recipes I found across the web this week.

First, these Red Velvet Cheesecake Cookies incorporate the idea of holiday gift wrap by hiding a present of cheesecake in the middle of red velvet cookie dough.  Merry Christmas, indeed.

I am a coconut fiend, and I love this idea of turning a coconut macaroon into a Christmas Tree!

You know those prepackaged cookie doughs with Christmas colors in them that you find by the mini crescent rolls at the grocery store?  Well, stay home and make these Swirl Sugar Cookies instead.  They're rolled in sprinkles and thus probably a bazillion times tastier.

After the party, our house was trashed.
 Good thing clean-up meant  picking up and placing in mouth.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New and Improved Lemon Bars

I am radiantly happy.  I just finished finals and now I have four golden weeks of winter vacation!  Can I get a Hallelujah?

Sure, everyone is eating gingerbread, nutmeg, and peppermint at this time of year (hopefully not together...), but  it has been sunny and 65 degrees where I live everyday for the past week, and I'm in a cheery mood.  Lemon seems more appropriate.  

These tasty lemon bars burst in your mouth with brightness, a perfect mixture of tart and sweet, smooth from the filling, crispy from the crumble that  forms the crust and adorns the easy-to-make lemon cream.  

So, please excuse my joy if you are snowed in, working, and suffering.  Perhaps you could live vicariously through me by making and eating these bars?  Put some sunshine in your mouth and reminisce about summer while you wait for presents--the next cause for joy on the horizon--and the celebration of Jesus' birthday, of course :)

My go-to recipe for lemon bars has always been the 1980s Betty Crocker cookbook my Mom owns, but I thought I'd try something new.  With a bag of lemons from home, I scoured the Net and found a tempting recipe from the Pioneer Woman for these Creamy Lemon Crumb Squares.  Please visit her site for the recipe, and while you're there, click around to her other pages.  I love reading about her life baking on the ranch, her cowboy husband, and her Basset Hound, Charlie.

Gather your ingredients for this easy but rewarding recipe.

Make sure you sift your flour, salt, and baking powder.  Make a mountain, it's fun!

After mixing this into your brown sugar, butter, and oats, press it all into your 9"x13" pan.

Pour your mixture of lemon juice, lemon zest, and sweetened condensed milk over the crust.

Swirly time.

Sprinkle the other half of the crumble mixture over the top.

Two layers of streusel.  Now, aren't you lucky?

After baking, allow to cool and set a little and then cut into bars.  (Note, they are supposed to be gooey.  Bring on the goo).

Ms. PW suggests serving the bars chilled from the fridge, but I like them room temperature and more gooey.   However you choose to eat them, the forecast is bound to be sunny.

And in case you missed it above, find the recipe here.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Court's Clicks: 12/2/11

"Corner of Good Cheer" designated area of my apartment
It's that time of year again.  I am helplessly adding nutmeg and sugar to my milk to make it taste like eggnog because I'm too lazy to go to the store.  I am hearing sappy holiday tunes on the radio.  By the end of this week I will have gone to three Christmas parties.  I couldn't be happier.

Despite the fact that people are still wearing shorts and flip-flops around campus, Christmas is just around the corner!

Like a present, I give you my favorite links of the week:

Getting in the holiday spirit?  Well, those peppermint Hershey's kisses are already addicting enough, so let's hide them in a sugar cookie!

While I don't mind chugging down a small glass of eggnog, some people have qualms about drinking their calories.  Solution: cinnamon-eggnog scones.

Stick one of the above baked goods in your mouth to keep yourself from drooling over this next present in which history and hotness collide.

Now, go light a fire (or a candle, in my case), have some cookies and milk, and listen to  Elvis belt out "Blue Christmas."  That's what I'll be doing!