I was scrolling through my photos on my iPhone (I have a lot of storage, so there were tons to sift through) looking for a recipe we’ve tried to share with you. I came across this amazing looking spread of miniature cupcakes my mom made for a Garden Club event last spring. Since it’s February finally, that means that prep can begin for another busy spring of events here in Natchez. Keep this simple recipe on hand for your potluck for anything from Valentine’s Day to Easter Sunday.

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Strawberry Cupcakes with Vanilla Icing

For cupcakes, use a strawberry mix and prepare as directed in miniature cupcake tins.

For icing:

2/3 cup Crisco (butter or regular)

1-pound box powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 cup water (for mixing)

Beat all ingredients with a hand mixer until smooth.  More water can be added if needed. Use a piping bag with decorative tip to ice the cooled cupcakes and top with sprinkles.

 

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I have a love for cheese. However, after my gallbladder incident 4 years ago, I had to break up with it for a while. I’m slowly working my way back into its good graces, but it’s hard to say no to a good cheese tray.

Over the holidays, I tried my hand at perfecting the cheese board for a couple of get togethers. I researched Pinterest to see what all of the professionals think is the key to a good cheese board. Hard cheese. Soft cheeses. Fruits. Vegetable. Nuts. Crackers. Bread. Jellies. and Jams. Everyone had a different take, but all stayed consistent on one thing. Cover the entire platter. Leave no open space.

So, off to Whole Foods I went in search of the perfect cheeses and accoutrements. Here is what works for me:

Cheese for Days Plate

1 block sharp or white cheddar cheese

1 block Edam cheese

1 roll goat cheese

Halved walnuts

Blackberries

Hot-pepper jelly

Wafer crackers (I used a sea salt and cracked pepper cracker and a rosemary cracker.)

Start by arranging the 3 cheeses in separate corners of the platter. Circle the cheese with the crackers of your choice. Place a bowl of pepper jelly near the cheddar and Edam cheeses. Create a mound of the berries near the goat cheese. Fill in your gaps with the walnuts. Make sure to have a cheese knife set to help with self serving of the cheeses.

 

One way that our family likes to add in a green vegetable during the holidays is with a pan of these delicious green bean bundles. They are smothered in butter, brown sugar, and soy sauce, which makes them sweet and savory at the same time. During the year, this is also a simple combination to dress up a can of green beans on a Tuesday.

Green Bean Bundles

3 15-ounce cans whole green beans

1 package bacon, cut in half

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup melted butter

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

Drizzle of soy sauce

Using the bacon strips, secure 5 to 10 green beans into a bundle with a toothpick. Place bundles in a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish and cover with the marinade of brown sugar, butter, soy sauce, and garlic salt. Refrigerate overnight. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes uncovered.

I have to say that the only gift I needed to open Christmas morning was my brand new stainless KitchenAid stand mixer. I couldn’t believe it and had to ask my mom if it was real or just a trick. I couldn’t wait to plug her up and take her for a spin. First up, chocolate chip cookies. These that I made were the best I’ve ever had. They were soft with just the right amount of chocolate plus the crunch from the pecans I added. Mom did give me some good advice as I went through the baking process. I’ll be honest; I’m not a patient baker. However, the speed of the mixer helped cut that anxiousness I feel when the mixing takes too long or I can’t get something perfect. She did say to beat that butter (which you have to melt first) and sugar until it is creamy and thick. Also, add in the dry baking soda and salt before the flour. This will get those two incorporated well before they get lost in the flour. I also doubled this recipe, so I ended up with 3 dozen cookies. Be sure to watch them closely in the oven. That real butter bakes quickly.

Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup white sugar

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Microwave the butter for about 40 seconds to just barely melt it. It shouldn’t be hot – but it should be almost entirely in liquid form. Using a stand mixer, beat the butter with the sugars until creamy. Add the vanilla and the egg; beat on low speed until just incorporated – 10 to 15 seconds or so (if you beat the egg for too long, the cookies will be stiff). Add the baking soda and salt, and mix in. Then slowly add the flour. It should form one large ball that is easy to handle Add the chocolate chips and pecans and incorporate evenly with a spatula. Scoop out the dough with a 1 ounce ice cream scoop and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes until the cookies look puffy and dry and just barely golden. Let them cool slightly before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

We love a good Brussels sprout recipe. Whether roasted or thrown in a casserole, we’ve tried several ways to cook up the tiny cabbages. Here is one way I tried for Christmas Eve as an easy pick up. It was one of those Facebook recipes from Delish that popped up on my feed. I thought, why not? While it is a bit time consuming, the end product is pretty good.

Stuffed Brussels Sprouts

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large baking sheet with cooking spray. In a large pot of salted boiling water, blanch Brussels sprouts until bright green, 2 minutes. Rinse under cold water, then drain. Using a small spoon, scoop out insides of sprouts, then transfer hollowed sprouts to a prepared baking sheet. In a medium bowl, stir together ricotta, Parmesan, bread crumbs, lemon zest, and season with salt and pepper. Spoon mixture into Brussels sprouts, and sprinkle with more Parmesan. Bake until ricotta mixture is warmed through and Brussels sprouts are crispy, 20 to 25 minutes.

I love Gingerbread in all shapes and sizes. I don’t love making those rolled out, cut, and decorated cookies so much. So, I found the perfect happy medium. These Gingerbread Crinkle Cookies are chewy on the inside and full of spice. I’m daydreaming about them now.

Gingerbread Crinkle Cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup  dark brown sugar, packed

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons Red Stick Spice Gingerbread Spice blend

1/2 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes

3/4 cup sorghum molasses

2 tablespoons milk

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

Stir together the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, spices, and salt. Add the butter pieces. Mix at medium speed with a hand mixer until the mixture is sandy and resembles fine meal. With the mixer running, gradually add the molasses and milk. Mix until the dough is evenly moistened. Mix until thoroughly combined. Scrape the dough onto a work surface; divide it in half. Working with one portion at a time, shape the dough into two round disks. Cover them in plastic wrap and freeze until firm, or refrigerate the dough overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the two baking sheets with parchment paper or a baking mat. Take the cookie dough out of the fridge and begin rolling the dough into balls, about 2-inches in diameter. Be careful not to overwork the dough as it will lose its chill and get too warm. Roll each dough ball in the granulated sugar until coated. Transfer ball to confectioners’ sugar and roll again until coated evenly. Place the coated dough balls 1-inch apart from each other on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake the cookies until set in the centers, 12 minutes. Do not over bake. Cool the cookies on the sheets, and then remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Store gingerbread crinkle cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

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Yet another recipe from Suzi’s book of favorites. She always talks about her mother making these overnight cookies when she was growing up. What a fun project with your kiddos this weekend?!

Goodnight Cookies

2 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

6 ounces chocolate chips

3/4 cup nuts (pecans), chopped

Dash vanilla extract

Dash cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold in the remaining ingredients until combined. Drop mixture by the teaspoon on a foil-lined baking sheet. Put in the oven, turn off the heat, and forget until morning.

 

As a Christmas present the first year that my parents were married, my grandmother gifted a custom-bound book to fill with her favorite recipes. I’ve seen this book come out of the cabinet all of my life and know that it is filled with recipes that I’ve grown up with and love. One particular recipe that I demand make it’s appearance each Christmas season is for my favorite cookie, Childhood Thumbprint Cookies. The dough is that of a buttery shortbread, and it is filled with a dark fudgey chocolate that I could eat by the spoonful (and maybe have over the years).

 

Childhood Thumbprint Cookies

For dough:

1 cup butter

2/3 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

For frosting:

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup cocoa

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

To make the dough, cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolks and vanilla. Add flour and salt. Mix well and chill. Roll into 1-inch balls and flatten with thumb. Bake at 300 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

To make the frosting, cook sugar, cocoa, butter, and milk. Bring to a boil. Boil for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the vanilla. Beat until the desired consistency (a thick, shiny fudge). Top each cookie thumbprint with a teaspoon full of chocolate and allow to harden. Keep in an airtight container (and hidden so no one else will eat them).

 

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What do I remember most about Christmas morning at Nannie and PawPaw’s? (Other than the flocked, white tree?) I remember my grandfather, TJ Guido, carefully making up a punch bowl filled with homemade Egg Nog. He spent time whipping the cream by hand and making sure to get the recipe just right. Of course, it was the adult version of egg nog, so I never indulged. Now, I’m still not a fan, but Paul Guido sure is. Here is the recipe they went by year after year.

Egg Nog

1 carton whipping cream

12 eggs, separated

2 cups sugar

1 pint whiskey (or rum)

1/2 gallon sweet milk

Nutmeg

Beat cream. Blend yolks and sugar. Add to cream. Add the milk. Fold in egg whites. Add whiskey. Sprinkle nutmeg on each cup to taste. Can put in punch bowl and will not separate.

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There aren’t many dishes that Dad talks about from growing up, but one that stands out are the stuffed artichokes his grandmother, Bena Guido, would make for an appetizer at Christmas Eve. A few years ago, I tried a recipe I found on pinterest. It was an all day affair to make these things; and while they were good, they weren’t Bena’s. However, I started digging through Nannie’s recipe box and (Voila!) I found a recipe for Stuffed Artichokes. I’m hoping that this is Bena’s famous recipe because I’ll be whipping it up at some point to test it out. (Fingers crossed.)

Stuffed Artichokes

4 medium artichokes

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup dry bread crumbs

1/4 cup Parmesan, grated

1/2 cup parsley, shopped

2 ounces ham or pepperoni

1 medium clove garlic

2 teaspoons fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)

1/2 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

Trim artichoke leaves and take fuzzy choke from bottom. Brush ends of the leaves with lemon juice. In processor, blend cheese with bread crumbs, parsley, meat, garlic, and oregano until the meat is finely minced. Stir in olive oil. Sprinkle artichokes with salt, open the leaves slightly, and stuff with 2 tablespoons of the mixture in each leaf. Sprinkle with remaining mixture. Put in shallow dish so they fit snuggly. Cover bottom of dish with water. Cover with foil leaving opening for vent. Cook on high 12 to 16 minutes turning every 4 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.