Friday, December 28, 2012

Post-Christmas Sorting and Repurposing: Peppermint Pattie Brownies

Christmas is over and as much as I love this season, when it is over, I’m ready for it to be cleaned up and put away.  We came home yesterday from our tour-o-families for Christmas and hauled in all of our bags, dirty clothes, and gifts as well as the sacks of day-after-Christmas-sale-Target finds.  I immediately began putting away, sorting clothes and taking down the decorations.  While rearranging and assembling one of the kids' gifts, Dave and I watched The Holiday (because we hadn’t yet watched it this year and it’s a favorite of ours).

When putting away the decorations, I try to decide what things might be “winter” instead of Christmas, and therefore could be kept around for the next couple of months.  If things are blue and white, or snowy and wintery, then I like to keep them in use.  (It makes me feel better about how much work it is to decorate and un-decorate for just 3 weeks). 

I just bought 3 sets of these cute little melamine appetizer plates at Target on Wednesday and am trying to decide which ones could stay in use and not look too Christmasy. Maybe use the two snowflake ones and put away the tree/ornament/gift ones?  I'm not sure about the candy cane striped. They are questionable.

In life, I am always looking for good ways to re-use and repurpose things.  My mom taught me a great trick years ago.  When she had left over m&ms, after Christmas she would separate out the red and green and save the green for St. Patrick’s Day and serve the red for Valentine’s Day. Genius! We do it with M&Ms and Hershey’s kisses and any other green and red leftover things.

A couple of years ago, I started making these Peppermint Patty Brownies.  They are gooey and super terrific and are the perfect solution to York Peppermint Patties wrapped in Christmas foil.   (This week is a good time to find them ½ price at the store, if you don’t have any left over.)

These brownies are simple. You can use your favorite brownie mix if you have one on hand or use this recipe-which is rich and fudgey and uses both cocoa and melted semi sweet chocolate. (You know it's fudgey when the recipe calls for lining the pan with parchment or foil).

This recipe came from Everyday Food magazine, which I adore and have written about several times.  Sadly, I just got a notice in the mail a few weeks ago that after a long stent, Everyday Foods is no longer in print. There will be recipes and articles Everyday Food-related available on the Martha Stewart website, and features in other magazines of hers.  However, the half sheet, monthly recipe-filled magazine has come to an end.  I am sad. Many of my favorite recipes in the past decade have come from this publication.  Thankfully, I have about 3 years of them stacked in my house, needing to be sorted out and used, and books filled with years of great recipes from the magazine. (And most of them are available online).

1 stick butter, plus more for a pan
8 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips (or chopped)
1 cup sugar
3/4 tsp. salt (or a little less if using salted butter)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
25 small (1 1/2 inch) York peppermint patties

Unwrap 25 peppermint patties. Put to the side. 

Preheat oven to 350˚. Butter and line an 8 inch square pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides; butter parchment or foil.  Set aside. 
Place chocolate and butter in a medium bowl in the microwave and cook until melted (checking and stirring every minute or so).  
Whisk in sugar and salt until smooth; whisk in eggs.  Gently whisk in flour and cocoa powder just until smooth (do not overmix).
Spread 1/3 of batter in prepared pan.  

Arrange peppermint patties on batter in a single layer, leaving a narrow border on all sides. 
Top with remaining batter, and smooth surface.  
Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached – 30 to 40 minutes.  
Cool completely in pan.  
Use foil to lift from pan; peel off foil and discard.  
Cut into 16 squares (4 rows by 4 rows).

And now it's time to begin to think about our goals for the new year.  I write HERE about my love for a new year, a clean slate and goal setting at the beginning of the new year.  We are working on our goals and aspirations as individuals and as a family for the new year around my house. One of which is being as resourceful as we can!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Legacy of Heritage Gifts, Ham Balls and So Much More

Ruth Williams was my paternal grandmother. She was a classy lady.  She did things with style.  My mom credits her (her mother-in-law) for teaching her to celebrate the holidays with intentionality and creativity. My grandmother had some great traditions. One of them was what she called "heritage gifts".  As they were down-sizing in their later years, my grandparents started handing things down to us.  The lovely approach they took was to select things of theirs that they no longer wanted, needed,  or they no longer had room for, in their smaller condo. They would then decide who was the best recipient of these items and then she would type (on her typewriter) a fun note to go along with the gift, explaining the origin of the gift, the story behind it, and why it was being given to that particular person. I loved that it was a creative, intentional way to clean out the attic, and endow people with their "treasures". (Granted, some were more treasured than others).

Another gift she passed along was Ham Balls. Never in my life have I ever been served a ham ball outside of my grandmother's or my mother's home. Yet they are a favorite special savory treat.  When my parents got married, my dad brought a few recipes into the marriage hoping my mom would adopt into their new home and this was one of them.  They are meatballs, but made of a pork/ham combination baked in a sweet and tart glaze.  My grandmother made them many times when we would travel to see them.  We would arrive at dinner time and en route we would "guess" whether or not we would have ham balls for dinner. And most all of the time we did!

Ham Balls
1 1/4 lb. ground ham
1 1/4 lb. ground pork
2 cups plain bread crumbs
2 eggs, well-beaten
1/2 cup milk, or more if needed

1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water

Mix meat together with spoon. Add bread crumbs eggs and milk. Mix thoroughly. Roll into balls. In a bowl mix together sauce ingredients until sugar is dissolved.  Place ham balls in shallow pan, pour sauce over. Bake at 325˚ for 30 minutes, or until fully baked and have a nice firm edge.

Raw ham balls may be frozen and used a few at a time.
Yields about 50 balls.

*I only had 1 cup of plain bread crumbs when I made the recipe, so I made the second cup by toasting some whole wheat bread and crumbing it in the food processor.

I made them this week, so that I could make sure I had the recipe clear before posting them, and to get some photos. My family was so excited.  I told Dave I felt like I was channeling my grandmother, and should be wearing pumps, a silk dress and my apron as I made this dinner instead of the yoga pants and hoodie I had on. It was a very "Ruth" meal. If only I had made a congealed salad to go with it (served on a lettuce leaf on a salad plate)!

My family LOVES ham balls. They have really great flavor and it's fun to have something different! It makes 50 or more, so you can freeze some of them to bake at a later time.
Woohoo! The Publix butcher took care of me.

My mom had warned me that the trick of this recipe is that you have to have a butcher at the grocery grind the ham, as ground ham is not usually readily available. Some butchers won't do this because of the risk of contamination with their grinders.  I went to Publix, as my first stop, and they were super helpful and had the meat ground, packaged, and ready for me in just a few minutes. He said they have a separate grinder for speciality meats and since ham is fully cooked and bought in the store, it is not a contamination risk. The ground pork is already ground and prepackaged in our grocery.

I think Ham Balls are best served with mashed potatoes. My grandmother's baked mashed potatoes with cream cheese are my favorite mashed potatoes. (Of course, how could they not be: potatoes with butter and cream cheese).

Baked Mashed Potatoes (or Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes)
10 medium potatoes, peeled and boiled
1 stick butter
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 Tbsp. grated onion (or I used 1 tsp. dried, minced onion)
1 cup milk, heated
8 oz. cream cheese (at room temperature)

Whip potatoes in butter.  Add remaining ingredients and best until fluffy. (Add more milk if needed). Place in buttered casserole.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Stir once while baking. (May be prepared a day in advance and baked before serving.)
This photo does not do these potatoes justice.
 Trust me on this , they are incredible.

Another gift my grandmother passed along was the idea of tins of goodies filled with baked goods- candies and cookies for the holidays: divinity, peanut brittle, popcorn crunch, fudge. My mom joined this tradition and added chocolate dipped coconut squares, buckeyes, pralines, and one of my very favorites: sand tarts.  My mom got this recipe from the Helen Corbitt cookbook of Neiman Marcus. Some people call them Mexican Wedding Cookies, some Pecan Sandies. They are basically butter, pecans, and powdered sugar -  shortbread-like. They keep really well for more days than many cookies, which is a bonus during the holidays.  They are simple to make and yummy! If you like butter, pecans and powdered sugar, that is.

Sand Tarts
2 sticks butter (softened)
1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp. vanilla
Cream butter, add sugar, stir well and add flour, nuts, and vanilla.  Shape into balls or crescents and bake on ungreased cookie sheet lined with parchment paper at 325˚ for 20 minutes or until a light brown.  Roll in powdered sugar while warm.

(They keep in a closed container for a couple of weeks.)

This week approaching Christmas, I savor my heritage, all of my dear grandparents, the things I learned from them, including: great recipes, thoughtful traditions and loving me so generously.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Plum Spice Cake & Advent

It has been a full week.  December is here. It's nearing the end of the academic semester – wrapping up classes and grading and grading and grading. We decorated for Christmas. I did some baking.  We went to Knoxville for a quick trip last weekend for me to speak at a Women's Brunch at the church where I grew up.  It was such an honor to be there and give a charge to them (and me) to Prepare Room for Jesus this season.  I'm so thankful for the opportunity.  It has been the impetus for getting a proper focus in a month that has potential to sweep us into chaos.

I've been reading from some of my favorite Advent/Christmas Devotionals and books.  My favorite for the past few years in Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus complied by Nancy Guthrie, and this year I've added Preparing For Christmas by contemplative Richard Rohr.  They both are so rich and deep and are powerful in pointing me to Jesus at this season.

We've been making some christmas trees out of old books from Goodwill – super cheap, easy and vintage.  I made a couple last year and one of them got crushed in my hasty, poor packing job so I am re-doing.  I learned how to make them HERE.

And I've seen some breathtaking sunsets! What a gift they have been.

And I made this simple but super-tasty Plum Spice Cake for dinner with friends.  My friend Connie makes it most every Christmas and I have been the recipient of a loaf of it for many years!  It's one of her signature goodies.  It's great for dessert, but you can call it coffee cake and totally justify eating it for breakfast. (I took 1/2 of the cake to school on Monday and it was gobbled up in the morning hours.)

I made it in a Bundt pan for guests, but you can make it in little loaf pans to give away instead!

When I think of plums, I think of visions of sugar plums dancing in heads of sleepy characters in a classic Christmas story. Don't you?  Ironically, when I think of prunes, I think of grandmothers and a digestive remedy and much stigma.  And yet, prunes are plums – dehydrated plums. The mystery ingredient in this Plum Spice Cake is...

baby food prunes.  Yep. It's true.  (You just have to hide them from your kids, significant others, and housemates before the cake is made so that they give it an unbiased chance!)
Plum Spice Cake is a much more enticing name than Prune Cake, don't you think?

My favorite part of this cake is the lemony glaze, which is quite tart, combined with the moist, cinnamon/nutmegyness of the cake.  It is delightful!

Plum Spice Cake
1 cup canola oil
2 jars prune (or plum if you can't find it) baby food
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 cups self-rising flour
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans

Glaze: Powdered Sugar- about 2 cups
enough lemon juice to make it the desired consistency

Grease and flour bundt pan or loaf pans. (I used Baker's Joy, the all in one spray, and it worked beautifully).

Mix together oil, baby food, sugar, eggs in mixer until well blended. Add dry ingredients. Incorporate well. Add pecans. Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 300˚ for 1 hour (or until done, when checked with a toothpick).

Invert onto a serving dish.  Mix powdered sugar and lemon juice in a bowl adjusting until desired consistency is reached.  Drizzle generously over cake while it is still warm.

I'm headed to bed, hopefully to have some sugar plums dancing in my head, so that I can get up early and do a little Advent reading and maybe some paper grading by the Christmas tree. I hope your advent season is off to a good start.