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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rich Jelly Bar Cookies

This cookie recipe dates back to my early childhood.  I fondly remember my mom making them every Christmas for our family.  About fifteen years ago, I asked my mom for the recipe and I have baked them every Christmas since.  We enjoy the festive color of the white cookie with the red raspberry filling.

2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup margarine or butter
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 1/4 cups flour
Jam or Jelly for filling (Raspberry Preserves work best)

  1. Cream sugar and margarine, add egg, baking powder, vanilla, and nutmeg – mix well.
  2. While slowly mixing, add the flour until incorporated.
  3. Divide dough into four equal portions.
  4. Line cookie sheet(s) with parchment paper.
  5. Roll each portion into a long log, arrange two rolls to a cookie sheet, and flatten rolls into strips that fit the length of your cookie sheet.
  6. Create a grove down the center of each strip (I use a table knife handle).  Be careful that you do not make the grove too deep or the cookies will break.
  7. Fill the grove with Jam.
  8. Bake at 250 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and move parchment paper with cookies to metal cooling rack, let completely cool.
  10. Cut cookies about 1 inch wide on the diagonal.
The biggest problem I have had in making this recipe is finding raspberry jam that includes seeds.  Using seedless jelly does not produce the same cookie.  Several years ago, I purchased a jar of jam (jam has seeds, and jelly does not – or so I though), it turns out that most jams now have no seeds, now I purchase raspberry preserves that include the seeds.

It took several years of trial and error to find the best implement to make the groves down the cookie dough strips.  I tried bamboo chopsticks and other implements until I started using the blunt end of the table knife.  When I make the grove, I use the knife held at about a 45 degree angle and press it repeatedly down into the dough about 1 /4 inch deep, moving the knife down the strip about 1/8 of an inch every press.  Once I make the initial grove, I lightly draw the knife along the grove to smooth out the rough edges.

Fill the grove by spooning jam from the jar into the grove with two spoons.  The first spoon to get the jam from the jar and the other spoon to scrape the jam into the grove and to smooth out any lumps in the jam.

In the past, I moved the baked cookies strips from the pan to the cooling rack using a large spatula, which led to cracks, splits, and breaks, but I have found that just sliding the entire parchment paper from the cookies sheet to the cooling rack keeps the cookie strips intact.

These cookies are a fun and easy cookie to make.  The sweetness and flavor of the raspberry the jam complements the nutmeg in the cookie and makes a great combination.  This cookie will continue to be on my “nice” list.

Adventures In Food: Author: Kerry Howell

Friday, December 17, 2010

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

I enjoy making Peanut Butter Cup cookies for two reasons: they are easy to make and they contain chocolate peanut butter cups.  The first thing I do when preparing to bake this recipe is to sit in front of the TV and unwrap two small packages  of peanut butter cups(one milk chocolate and the other dark chocolate).  This unwrapping process includes watching a Christmas program and nibbling on a few of the peanut butter cups while trying to keep the little extra pieces of chocolate from getting all over the living room.

With my peanut butter cups unwrapped, it’s time to make the cookies.  Because there are only three steps to the directions, the recipe very easy to make.  I start by creaming the butter with the sugar.  Using my adjustable measuring cup, I measured out the ½ cup of peanut butter (Crunchy Jiff).  I really like the adjustable measuring cup when I measure a sticky substance like peanut butter, molasses and corn syrup, because once you fill the measuring area, you push the plunger and then just scrape off the ingredient.  There is no using a spatula (or your finger) and trying to get the all the sticky ingredient out of the measuring cup.

Once I creamed the sugars, I added the egg, vanilla, and milk and mixed, then I added the flour.  The directions call to shape the dough into 40 small balls.  If you try, you will quickly find the dough is very gummy and when you try to form the balls, you will just end up with a mess.  To solve the problem you can either spoon about a teaspoon of dough into the mini muffin pan (that’s what I did this time), or chill the dough for about an hour, and then you can form the dough into balls.

Once the pan of cookies has finished baking, I removed the pan from the oven and quickly pressed a peanut butter cup into the center of one of the cookies.  I usually fill two or three cookies, and then I use a fork and remove the cookies from the muffin pan.  I have found that if you wait too long to remove the cookies, the peanut butter cup gets very soft from the heat of the cookie and will deform when you take it out of the pan.  You could wait for everything to cool before removing the cookies, but that would take about an hour for the peanut butter cups to cool.  If you want to make another batch of cookies right away, then remove the cookies just after you press the peanut butter cup into the center.

The last time I made this recipe, I ended up with about fifty finished cookies.  Once they were completely cool, I placed them in a Ziploc bag and popped them into the freezer.  When our family comes for Christmas, I will remove the cookies from the freezer about thirty minutes before serving and they will be just as fresh as the day I made them.

Find the recipe at:

Adventures In Food: Author: Kerry Howell

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Black-Eyed Susan Cookies

We enjoy having Black-Eyed Susan’s as part of our desserts for Christmas.  These cookies are very festive being a white shortbread with a chocolate kiss added on top.  My wife received this recipe in 1994 from a friend at a cookie exchange and we have occasionally made them at Christmas ever since.  We have not made them every year because we have not been happy with the results.

The problem that we encountered with these cookies is that the original directions we received specifies to mix the dough, make balls and place on a cookie sheet, press a chocolate kiss into the center and bake.  The resulting cookies were good, but the tips of the kisses burned and the rest of the chocolate bubbled and was not very appetizing.  We tried adding the kisses near the end of the baking process which helped a little.  My inspiration to fix this recipe came from making Peanut Butter Cup Cookies, where the peanut butter cup is added after the cookies finish baking and are removed from the oven.  This year I found this process also works great when baking Black-Eyed Susan’s.

The following recipe includes the modified directions:

1-cup sugar
1 ½ cups margarine or butter
1 egg (room temperature)
1-Teaspoon baking powder
½-Teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1-Teaspoon vanilla
3 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 Package Chocolate Kisses, Stars, or balls
  1. In bowl of stand mixer, add the margarine and sugar and beat on medium speed for several minutes until creamed.
  2. Add the egg, baking powder, almond extract, and vanilla to the margarine mixture and mix until well mixed.
  3. Add the flour slowly while mixing on low speed, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary.  Mix until all the flour is incorporated into the dough.
  4. Place bowl with dough in the refrigerator to chill for 1 to 2 hours.
  5. Form dough into one-inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet.
  6. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes
  7. Remove from oven and press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie.
  8. Move the cookies from the cookie sheet to a cooling rack and let sit until the chocolate is fully cool.
The cookies that I made this year are well formed and the chocolate kisses retained their shape and texture.  I was out of almond extract, so I left it out and the cookies still taste great.  These cookies are very light yet they retain their shape and don’t easily crumble, they also freeze very well.  I place the cooled cookies into a large Ziploc bag, and put it in the freezer.  Let the frozen cookies thaw for a few minutes, and they are ready to serve. 

The recipe made about four dozen cookies, just right for a bag of Hersey’s KISSES. 

Next I may have to try making the recipe with some of the other Hersey’s KISSES varieties like Special Dark or Mint Truffle, and see how they turn out.

Adventures In Food: Author: Kerry Howell

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Return from Hiatus

It has been several months since my last food post. During that time, my wife and I spend about four weeks traveling around Germany and a week in the Czech Republic.

At some point, I will share about some of our experiences and some of the food that we tried.

I have been busy cooking and trying new recipes, and especially now that it is the month of December and close to Christmas, I have been busy in the kitchen with cookies. I have already made several batches of my Ginger Cookies. I also made and will write about; Black Eyed Susan’s, Mini Reese Peanut Butter cup cookies and a chocolate-Cherry checkerboard cookie.

Now I just need to get busy and write, so tomorrow I will have a new post!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Frog Eye Salad

Recently we invited to a family gathering where the hamburgers and hotdogs would be provided, and we were asked to bring a side dish.  This gave me the chance to make Frog Eye Salad, my wife received this recipe years ago from her aunt and it continues to be one of our favorite salads.  This recipe that makes a very large quantity of salad, and we only make it when there will be quite a few people present to consume it.  This salad is very easy to make, though it does require some preparation the day before it is to be served.

Frog Eye Salad Recipe:
   1 package Acini Di Pepe No 44 Pasta
   ½ teaspoon salt
   1 2/4 cup pineapple juice (drained from cans of pineapple)
   ¾ cup sugar
   3 tablespoons flour
   3 eggs
   2 cans chunk pineapple, 16 ounce (drained, save juice)
   1 can crushed pineapple, 16 ounces (drained, save juice)
   4 cans Mandarin oranges (drained, one can for garnish)
   1 cups small marshmallows
   1 cup coconut
   12 ounce Cool Whip

  1. Cook entire box of Pasta per directions on package with the ½ teaspoon of salt in a 3-quart pan.  Rinse cooked pasta in cold water and cool.
  2. In a medium saucepan, mix the 1 ¾ cups of pineapple juice, ¾ cup of sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, and 3 eggs.  Cook on medium heat stirring constantly until thick (approximately two minutes after it starts to boil).
  3. Mix the sauce with the pasta and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Mix remaining ingredients and mix with the pasta, garish the top with the remaining mandarin orange slices.
Because we were traveling to Seattle for the function, I decided to start the salad the night before we left home; I cooked the pasta with the salted water in a large stockpot.  Once the pasta was completely cooked, I drained the pasta and placed it in a large ceramic bowl in the refrigerator to cool.

While the pasta cooled, I drained the cans of pineapple and mixed the ingredients for the pineapple sauce in a medium saucepan.  I placed the saucepan on the range on medium heat and started stirring.  It took about ten minutes to bring the mixture to a boil.

I noticed that some of the egg whites where starting to cook together, but I just stirred a little more to break up the clumps.

I used a large mixing bowl and stirred the warm pineapple sauce into the cool pasta then I returned the pasta to the ceramic bowl and returned the pasta to the refrigerator for the night.

The next day we drove to Seattle where we spent the night.  In the morning, I mixed the remaining ingredients into the pasta.  The container of Cool Whip was only available in 20 and 10-ounce sizes, so I purchased a 20-ounce container and only used part of the contents.  The cans of pineapple were also larger than specified in the recipe, but I went ahead and used the entire cans of pineapple in the recipe
We divided the salad into two bowls and garnished the top of each bowl of salad with the fourth can of mandarin oranges.  I neglected to take a photo of the finished salad, so you will have to use your imagination.  We divided the salad because in the past, when we serve one large bowl, sometimes only a small amount of the salad gets eaten (people think it is cottage cheese), so we decided to put out one bowl and if was eaten, we would put out the second bowl.  As it turns out, there were only enough people at the event to eat the one bowl, so we ate the remainder with our family the next day.

If you need a salad to serve a large number of guests, Frog Eye Salad and a great salad to make.  However, you might want to set out a small card with the ingredients, so people know exactly what they are eating.  We will continue to make the salad, and over time, we may put out less and less so that there is more for us to eat after the party!

Adventures In Food: Author: Kerry Howell

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Panna Cotta with Balsamic Berries

While going through some magazines, my wife found a recipe, in House Beautiful that she thought looked good.  It is a recipe for Panna Cotta with Balsamic Berries by Ina Garten the Barefoot Contessa.  A few days after she gave me the recipe, we were having some friends over for to share a BBQ dinner, and my wife asked if I would make this recipe for dessert.

After a quick trip to the store for whipping cream, one vanilla bean and some fresh berries, I was ready to make the dessert.  I started the day before our BBQ and made the cream portion of the dessert.  I read the directions and quickly decided that while the dessert looks complicated, it is quite easy to make.

I started by cutting a slit the length of the vanilla bean and using the blade of a knife to scrape out the seeds.  I was expecting seeds I could see, but instead the seeds looked like black tar as I scraped out the bean.  Next, in a large mixing bowl I added 1 1/2–cups of the whipping cream, a pint of whole milk yogurt, 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract, the vanilla bean seeds and then used a whisk to mix all the ingredients.

Into a medium saucepan, I deposited another 1 ½-cups of the cream, and ¾-cup of sugar and stirred the sugar into the cream.  I set the saucepan over a burner on the range and set the heat to medium to bring the cream to a simmer.  While the cream heated, I added one package of unflavored gelatin powder into 1 ½ tablespoons of cold water and mixed.  The gelatin had to sit and soften for 10 minutes, which is about the time it took for the cream to simmer.  I didn’t want to mix the gelatin too early because I learned in another recipe that if it is left too long, it becomes a hard mess that is virtually unusable.

Once the cream mixture began to simmer, I removed it from the heat and whisked the gelatin into the cream.  Next, I slowly added the hot cream mixture to the cold cream in the mixing bowl and combined the two cream mixtures using the whisk.  I set out eight ramekins, poured the cream mixture into the ramekins, filling seven of the eight.  I could have poured less of the mixture into each ramekin and prepared all eight, but seven was fine for our dinner and gave a larger portion of the cream to each guest.

I placed the ramekins on a cookie sheet and placed them in the refrigerator to cool.  Once the cream mixture was cool, I covered each ramekin with plastic wrap and I finished for the night.

On the morning of the BBQ, I did some more preparation of the dessert by slicing two pints of fresh strawberries into a large bowl.  Next, I added a pint of fresh raspberries and a pint of fresh blueberries.  I sprinkled three tablespoons of sugar over the berries and mixed the sugar into the berries.  The recipe calls for two tablespoons of sugar, but the raspberries were a little sour so I added more.  I covered the berries with plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator to stay cool.

Thirty minutes before it was time to serve the dessert, I added five tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and a touch of black pepper to the berries and stirred to mix.

Next came the trickiest part, the directions say to run a small knife around the sides of each dessert and then dip the bottoms in hot tap water to loosen the cream and then turn over on a plate and tap the bottom and the cream should fall out.  I did all this and the cream remained stuck in the ramekin.  I found that while having the ramekin inverted, I insert the knife blade along the side of the dessert to make a small opening to allow air to enter, and then the cream drops out of the ramekin onto the plate.

All that remained was to spoon some of the berries around the cream and then grate a little bit of fresh lemon peel onto the cream and serve.

Everyone enjoyed their panna cotta dessert.  The cream portion was very light and the little bit of lemon zest added just a little enhancement to the flavor.  I would never have thought to use balsamic vinegar with fresh berries, but the vinegar added just a little bite to the sweetness of the berries and was delicious.

This is a dessert that I will make again; the hardest part will be waiting until all three types of berries are again in season.  At first glance, the dessert looks very difficult to make, but in the end I found it very easy to make.  When I looked for the recipe on-line, I was initially surprised that some of the measurements of the ingredients were different, then I quickly realized that the on-line version is makes 4 servings instead of 8, so all the measurements are one half of the recipe from the magazine.

Find the recipe at:

Adventures In Food: Author: Kerry Howell

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bunnymallow Treats

My wife recently mentioned to me that we had some marshmallows that needed to be used up.  On my next trip to the store, I picked up a box of Rice Krispies so that I would be ready to make marshmallow treats.  When I went to make the recipe and got out the bag of marshmallows, I found that my wife had purchased the bag around Easter, and the marshmallows were in the shape of bunnies.  I decided that no real bunnies would be injured in the cooking process of making the treats, and I decided to go ahead and make Bunnymallow Treats.

I followed the recipe printed on the box of Rick Krispies and melted the margarine in a saucepan and then added the marshmallows and stirred until all the bunnies were melted.  I was concerned at the color of the resulting mixture because the bunnies were several different pastel colors for Easter, but the resulting mixture was slightly pinkish-gray and didn’t detract from the final results.

Once all the bunnies melted, I added the Rice Krispies, mixed it all together, and spread it out in a prepared pan to cool.  Once the contents of the pan were cool, I cut the treats into two-inch squares and individually wrapped them in plastic wrap.

The bunnymallow treats are good, but had a taste that wasn’t quite right, they are almost too sweet.  I checked the package of the bunny shaped marshmallows, and they were vanilla flavored, that explains the off taste.

Making the bunnymallow treats was a great way to use up the extra marshmallows before they hardened.  I guess we could have made smores with them, but somehow using bunnies shaped marshmallows for smores just doesn’t seem right.  Next time I make marshmallow treats, I will stick to the standard white regular marshmallows without any color or flavoring.

Adventures In Food: Author: Kerry Howell

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Rosemary Foccacia

While my wife and I were out walking a few nights ago, we stopped to talk with a neighbor who was out gardening in her yard.  Before we resumed our walk, I asked the neighbor if I could have a sprig of fresh rosemary that was growing beside her driveway.  She said I could take all I wanted, and sent me on my way a sprig of rosemary in my pocket. 

With some fresh rosemary in hand, I decided it was time to make some rosemary Foccacia bread.  Several years ago (for medical reasons), I could not consume any salt for two weeks and had to specially prepare all my meals including making my own bread.  I used a recipe from The No Salt Cookbook to make Foccacia bread with rosemary that didn’t contain any salt and it was a big hit in our household.

For this Foccacia, I turned to our Bread Machine Magic book and the listed recipe.

Foccacia Bread:
Courtesy of Bread Machine Magic by Linda Rehberg & Lois Conway

   1 cup water
   3 cups all purpose flour
   1 teaspoon salt
   1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
   2 teaspoons herbs (I used fresh rosemary finely chopped)
   1 ½ teaspoons dry yeast

All the ingredients are added in order to the bread machine and then I set the machine on the dough setting and pressed the start button.  The bread machine mixed and kneaded for about 20 minutes and then let the dough rise.  When the cycle was over, I was surprised to see the dough had not risen like I expected.

I went ahead, removed the dough from the bread machine, and turned it out onto our baking stone sprinkled with corn meal.  I worked the dough to spread it into a large rectangle for baking, but found the dough was very tough to work.  This is not the experience that I had using the other recipe.

Trying not to overwork the dough, I managed to get a decent sized rectangle for the bread, though I did tear the dough in one area.  The dough was like a rubber band, I would stretch it to shape and when I let go, it would snap back to its original size.  I covered the resulting loaf with a kitchen towel and let it rise for 40 minutes.  Once the dough had risen, I followed the directions, used my finger to poked holes in the dough about every inch to assist in the baking, and then brushed the top with olive oil.  I baked the Foccacia at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

The Foccacia had a pleasant rosemary taste though the bread seemed very dense and was not quite the light bread that I baked in the past.  Possible problems could be the recipe that I used, or maybe our yeast is getting old.  I am going to have to find our copy of The No Salt Cookbook and make the recipe again to see if I can figure out why the Foccacia was so dense.  I will have to take a walk down the street and ask the neighbor for some more rosemary and take a trip to the store for a new jar of yeast.  It will be interesting to see how the two recipes compare.

Adventures In Food: Author: Kerry Howell


Monday, August 2, 2010

Pork in Mushroom Sauce

The other day my wife asked me what was for dinner.  I responded that I didn’t know, and asked if anything sounded good.  She said how about pork in mushroom sauce.  I checked our freezer and we didn’t have any frozen pork chops or loin, so while I when I went out that afternoon to donate blood, I stopped by the store and picked up a package of sliced pork loin pieces.  This recipe is so easy to make, I don’t even have to ask my wife how to make it anymore.

Pork in Mushroom Sauce

   Pork chops or loin pieces (enough to fill a 9x13 inch baking pan)
   2-cans cream of mushroom soup, 10½ ounce, condensed
   2-cans mushrooms sliced, 4 ounce
   2-tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
   Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place pork pieces in a single layer in the baking pan then lightly salt and pepper.  Mix the ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.  Spread sauce mixture over the pork; be sure to cover the top of each piece to prevent drying.  Cover the pan with foil and bake for 60 minutes or until the thickest piece reaches 165 degrees in the center.

In the past, I found that if I use all the mushroom sauce to cover the pork, then I usually get a boil over in the oven and have to clean it afterwards.  As I prepared the recipe this time, I filled the baking pan with the pork pieces and had three left over.  Instead of freezing these pieces, I went ahead and used another small baking pan with the three pieces and there was enough mushroom sauce to fill both pans.  Because I split the mushroom sauce between the two pans, I had no boil over in the oven.  Hurray!

These pieces are quite a bit thicker than I would normally bake (I would usually butterfly the pieces to make them thinner), so they required about 70 minutes baking before the pork pieces reached the correct internal temperature.  Once I removed it from the oven, I let it sit for about five minute to allow the carryover heat to finish cooking the pork.

We had our pork with mushroom sauce over brown rice and a green salad.  The mushroom sauce goes well with either rice or baked potato.  I like this recipe because it only requires about 10 minutes of preparation time, and then the rest is letting it cook while you do other activities.  It seems like a hearty meal and we usually have it in the fall and winter, but on a summer night it tasted great and also made for a surprisingly light and delicious meal.

Adventures In Food: Author: Kerry Howell