Let me begin by saying that Grammy’s little sister Sue also cooks. She is known as the family cookie and cupcake baker. Everyone in the family has their favorite Aunt Sue specialty and they’re not shy about making their requests. This cookie is one of my favorites, but it’s also the favorite of others in our clan.
There is a special story behind most of our family recipes, and Sue’s cookies are no exception. She shared the following about this family favorite:
“Gentle Sugar Cookies” are a basic Amish sugar cookie. I first tried the recipe when my nephew Allen was a little boy. He fell in love with them, but couldn’t remember what they were called. So, when he was ready for more, he’d ask me if I would make those “Gentle Cookies.” The name stuck, and they will forever be known as Gentle Cookies in our family.”
This recipe was originally called Country Kitchen Sugar Cookies from the Gooseberry Patch Country Baking Cookbook.
1 cup powdered sugar 1 cup sugar 1 cup butter 1 cup oil 2 eggs 1 tsp. cream of tartar 1 tsp. baking soda 1 tsp. salt 4 1/4 cup all-purpose flour 1 tsp. vanilla
Mix sugars, butter, oil and eggs together. Add dry ingredients and vanilla. Refrigerate until firm. Roll dough in balls and flatten with a glass that has been dipped in sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 8 minutes or until edges are slightly brown. Cookies will spread while baking, so do not make dough balls too large. Cool slightly on cookie sheet and then remove to a rack to cool completely.
They say that scent memories are very strong memories. As a child growing up, the scent I most associated with my Granny Hamilton was the smell of apples. Blindfold me and cover my ears and drop me onto her back porch and I would immediately know where I was just by the smell of honeysuckle in her yard and apples in her kitchen.
This recipe is one I remember her making, using some of her own homemade applesauce. It’s a heavy and dense cake, but very flavorful. To make it perfect, you have to use the Brown Sugar Frosting. Although I never remember her making it as a layer cake, I do just for the presentation value and, of course, because it gives me the excuse to have just a little more frosting with every bite.
It’s going to vary a bit from person to person based on their choice of applesauce. Mine has a slightly pink tint which comes from using my own homemade cinnamon applesauce in the recipe.
For the cake:
2 1/2 cups flour, sifted 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon cloves, ground 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened 1 cup granulated sugar 2 eggs, room temperature 1 1/2 cups applesauce, thick and cold 3/4 cup raisins (optional) 1/2 cup nuts, chopped (optional)
For the Brown Sugar Frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter 1 1/2 cup brown sugar 1/3 cup milk 1 teaspoon vanilla 4 cups powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and granulated sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time and continue beating until the mixture is pale yellow and creamy. Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and spices. Add to the butter and sugar mixture, beating just until the dry ingredients begin to incorporate. Add in the applesauce and continue beating just until mixed. Do not over beat the mixture. Add in the raisins and/or nuts if using, stirring in by hand.
Grease a 9 x 13 pan or 2, 8 or 9 inch cake pans. If using round layer pans, spray the pans, add parchment and then spray the parchment with non-stick spray. Add the batter, making sure to distribute it evenly.
Bake the cake in the preheated 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes for the layers and 40-45 minutes for a 9 x 13. Check before the max doneness time given here as ovens vary.
Remove from oven and cool completely. If using round layers, remove from pans and let cool on a wire rack before frosting.
BROWN SUGAR FROSTING:
In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the brown sugar, stirring to mix well. Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. Add the milk and continue cooking until the mixture again comes to a boil. Cook for about 2 minutes or until it begins to thicken. Turn off heat and add vanilla. Let cool until lukewarm.
Add the brown sugar mixture to the powdered sugar and beat until creamy. This frosting sets up pretty quickly, so if you’re making a layer cake, you’ll need to work fast to get it frosted before the frosting stiffens.
Decorate the top with whole or chopped pecans, if desired. Cover when storing.
The first recipe post of 2021 has to include the traditional black-eyed pea. According to the internet (and I did have to go look it up to be certain), although eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s is a southern tradition to ensure prosperity for the coming year, this has been considered good luck by various groups for at least 1,500 years. So, who am I to buck tradition? What I can do, however, is try to make my black-eyed peas a little more interesting than usual.
This recipe came about, as many of mine do, by accident. I had planned to make my Spicy Bean Soup and found that I didn’t have any Navy beans. I substituted black-eyed peas and my husband informed me that he actually like those better. My head started spinning with ideas and, voila, Creole Black-Eyed Pea Soup was born.
Note in the photos that I’m using a couple of treasured Christmas gifts to serve my New Year’s Day soup. My beautiful pottery bowl comes from the talented hands of the artisans at Stone-Penland Pottery. (I highly recommend their products!) The cutting board was a gift from my husband and came from Hailey Home.
1 small yellow onion, finely diced 1 small green bell pepper, finely diced 2 small red bell pepper, finely diced 4 stalks celery, finely diced 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 teaspoons creole seasoning (I used Tony Chachere, but use your favorite) 12 ounces turkey smoked sausage, cut into bite size pieces 2 tablespoons olive oil 4 cans black-eyed peas 1 can Rotel tomatoes
Place a dutch oven or heavy bottom soup pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil. When oil is heated, add the onion, green and red bell pepper and celery. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes. be careful not to burn the garlic.
Add the turkey sausage and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft and the sausage has heated. Add the cans of black-eyes peas, the Rotel tomatoes and the creole seasoning.
Continue to simmer for about 30 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Taste and add more creole seasoning if you wish.
The last decadent recipe of 2020. This is a new one I found on Food Network’s website when I was looking for a special, festive and new dessert to serve for Christmas Eve. This one is definitely worthy of a special event and was well received by everyone. It’s important to note that it’s not something you can throw together at the last minute. This recipe is one that needs to be prepared early enough to allow the cheesecake ample time to cool completely and then chill in the refrigerator. But, it’s worth the wait!
For the crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (I actually used the gluten free crumbs to make this GF friendly) 2 tablespoons sugar pinch of nutmeg pinch of salt 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
For the filling:
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiardelli white chocolate chips for convenience) 4, 8 ounce packages of cream cheese, softened and room temperature 1 cup sour cream 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar 4 large eggs, room temperature 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract pinch of salt
For the topping:
1, 1 pound bag fresh cranberries (if you use frozen, thaw and drain them) 1 cup sugar 1 teaspoon grated orange zest 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice 3/4 cup water 1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoons water (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set racks in the lower third and middle of oven.
Mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, nutmeg and salt in a bowl. Add the melted butter and mix with hands or a fork until combined. Press into the bottom and 1 inch up the sides of a 9 inch springform pan. Put in the freezer until ready to fill and bake.
To make the filling, beat the cream cheese, sour cream and sugar together in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 7 minutes). Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add the cornstarch and beat an additional 2 minutes. Beat in the melted white chocolate, vanilla and salt until combined.
Fill a roasting pan about halfway with water and set on the lower oven rack. Pour the filling into your prepared graham cracker crust and smooth the top. Set on the middle oven rack and bake until the edge is set but the center still jiggles slightly, 1 hour and 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and allow the cheesecake to sit in the oven for an additional 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Then cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
To make the topping, combine the cranberries, sugar, orange zest and juice and 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring the mixture, and then reduce the heat to a medium low and simmer until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. The cranberries will begin to “pop.” If you want the sauce to be thicker, you can add some cornstarch dissolved in water to thicken the liquid. Transfer the topping to a bowl and refrigerate until completely cool.
To serve, run a hot knife around the edge of the cheesecake, then remove from the springform ring. Top with the cranberry mixture and white chocolate shavings if desired.
You don’t have to smoke your prime rib. In fact, I followed pretty much this same process for years when roasting my Christmas Eve prime rib in the oven. However, there’s just something extra tasty about having a high quality prime rib roasted on your smoker.
This is more of a process than a recipe. The time it takes and the amount of seasoning you use is dependent on the size of the prime rib roast and your personal taste. Here’s how we do it in our family and I guarantee, it turns out great every time. That is, IF you start with a really high quality piece of beef.
Before roasting, make sure you allow your prime rib roast to come to room temperature. You want your meat thermometer readings to be accurate so you don’t over or undercook your roast.
Using butcher’s twine, tie the roast to help it maintain it’s shape while it cooks. Makes beautiful slices for presentation.
Using your hands, rub the outside of the prime rib with olive oil. Make sure you get all sides and the bottom. The olive oil helps the seasoning adhere to the meat.
Liberally sprinkle the outside of the roast with all purpose seasoning, again making sure you do all sides and the bottom. Follow this with the prime rib seasoning. The amount you use may vary according to your taste. I use a very generous amount as our family likes the seasoning “crust” on the prime rib best. Let the roast rest for about 30 minutes to an hour to allow the seasonings to properly adhere. Now you’re ready to cook.
Bring your smoker to a temp of about 300 degrees. We use a competition blend of woods that include hickory and cherry. Insert your meat probes, if using, into the meat making sure to avoid any pockets of fat so you get an accurate temperature reading. Place the roast on the rack and smoke until you reach the doneness you desire. We think it’s a crime to serve prime rib over medium rare, but it’s your personal choice. Rule of thumb is about 2 1/2 to 3 hours at 300 degrees for 10 pounds. You need the internal temp to be about 125 degrees for medium rare.
Remove from the smoker and let rest, covered with foil for about 30 minutes. Serve slices with horseradish cream sauce.
Horseradish Cream Sauce
2-3 tablespoons prepared horseradish 8 ounces sour cream 1/4 cup lemon juice 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1 teaspoon all purpose seasoning fresh chopped chives (optional)
Mix ingredients together and allow to chill before serving.
My daughter introduced me to these heavenly treats. They’re definitely an indulgence and take a number of ingredients, but, oh my! They’re certainly worth the effort! I found this version on Belle of the Kitchen’s site.
For the bars:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted 1 1/2 cups cups brown sugar, packed 2 eggs 1 teaspoon orange extract 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 cup white chocolate chips 3/4 cup Craisins
For the frosting and topping:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened 1 1/2 cup powdered sugar 1/2 teaspoon orange extract 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/3 cup Craisins, chopped 2 squares white baking chocolate or almond bark, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment paper.
Using a mixer, beat together the melted butter and brown sugar. Add in eggs and the extracts, mixing well. Add in the flour, baking powder, salt and ground ginger and beat until just blended. Do not overmix.
Stir the white chocolate chips and the Craisins in by hand. Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 18-22 minutes or until set in the middle and golden brown around the edges. (Don’t overbake as this will cause the bars to become dry and hard.) Remove from oven and allow the bars to cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar together with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Add the orange and vanilla extract and mix well. Top the cooled bars with frosting. Sprinkle the chopped Craisins evenly across the top and drizzle melted white chocolate in strands across the top of the bars using a fork to create “streaks” of chocolate.
Refrigerate for at least an hour before cutting to allow for more uniform slices. Store in refrigerator.
I’m not one of those cooks who produces decorated sugar cookies that are tiny works of art. I am a regular Mom and Grammy who makes cookies that taste good and become a fun experience to share with my children and grandchildren.
My favorite holiday sugar cookie recipe is from King Arthur Baking Company and it’s called King Arthur’s Special Sugar Cookies. This particular recipe is no longer on their website, so lucky for me I always keep a print copy!
The dough needs to be chilled before working with it. I generally make the dough the day before I plan to bake the cookies so that it saves me a little time.
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter 1/2 cup cream cheese, softened 1 cup sugar 3 large eggs 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract + 1 teaspoon almond extract, or the flavoring of your choice 3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt Sparkling white sugar, optional, for decorating
In a large bowl, cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the extract or flavorings. Stir in the dry ingredients.
Divide the dough in half, wrapping each half in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 2 hours.
To bake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Working with one portion at a time, roll the dough out to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into your favorite shapes with a cookie cutter. Sprinkle with sugar, if desired.
Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes, or until they’re a very light brown. Remove the cookies from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.
Frost the cookies as you like, or dip them in chocolate. These also make great cookies sandwiched with jam.
Pssssst…want to know a secret? I have a holiday treat recipe that is so easy a child can do it. As a matter of fact, it’s a great activity for you and your kids to do together. These cinnamon spiced pecans are a wonderful snack, an easy and thoughtful gift, and everyone loves them. They only take a handful of ingredients and the whole thing is ready from start to finish in about 30 minutes.
1/2 cup granulated sugar 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 large egg white 1 pound large pecan halves
In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, lightly best the egg white. Add the pecans, stirring until coated. Sprinkle with the sugar mixture and mix well, taking care not to break the pecans.
Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove nuts from baking sheet and cool on waxed paper.
Need something pretty, impressive and super simple to add to your holiday gift basket? This simple “recipe” is limited only by your own creativity. You can make it so that it is cute or you can make it truly elegant. Using a base of melted almond bark, the toppings can be anything that suits your taste or allows you to use what you have on hand.
Chocolate or White Chocolate Almond Bark
Sweet toppings: Holiday M&M’s, Sprinkles, crushed peppermint candies, mini marshmallows, crushed Oreo cookies, caramel corn, dried fruits such as cranberries, cherries, fig, etc.
Break the Almond Bark into chunks and place in a large microwave safe bowl. Place bowl in the microwave and heat for 1 minute on high. Remove and stir. Continue heating in the microwave for another :15 seconds. Stir. Continue until the Almond Bark is melted and smooth.
Pour onto a parchment lined 15 x 10 pan, spreading until it is smooth. This doesn’t need to reach all edges and corners of the pan – it just needs to be evenly distributed.
Add toppings to make the combinations you enjoy. Sweet and salty are great together. Combinations of dried fruit and nuts, or pretzels and candies…use your imagination.
Let cool completely (overnight in the refrigerator or in a very cool place). Break into pieces. Store in a sealable container.
My family, friends and coworkers have received this as a gift from me for years. It’s another great excuse to use my Granny’s cast iron skillet and a wonderful, easy, and impressive bit of holiday extravagance. By extravagance, I mean this is NOT a low-fat or low-calorie item. That’s why we break it into little pieces and just have a bite or two at a time. Gift it, and encourage people to savor it one bite at a time.
1 pound butter 2 cups granulated sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips 1 cup blanched almonds, toasted and chopped into small pieces
Things you will need: a large cast iron skillet, a 10 x 15 inch baking sheet, parchment paper, wooden spoon, candy thermometer
It’s important that you have all of your ingredients and your equipment ready when you begin. This process moves pretty quickly and you won’t have enough hands to stop unwrap, measure, etc., as you work on the toffee.
Start by lining the baking sheet with the parchment paper and set aside.
Melt the butter in the cast iron skillet over medium heat. When it’s mostly melted, add the sugar and salt and stir to combine. Using your wooden spoon, continue to stir to keep the mixture moving. The toffee will begin to bubble and will start to change color as you stir it. Keep going! You’ll want the mixture to darken to a deep golden brown. It should reach about 300 degrees on your candy thermometer. Remove from heat and mix in the vanilla.
Immediately pour the candy mixture into the pan lined with parchment paper. Spread it until it is fairly evenly distributed. It doesn’t have to reach all edges of the pan. It will begin to set-up quickly so your window of time to spread it is very brief.
Allow it to cool for about 3-5 minutes and then sprinkle with the semi-sweet chocolate chips. Let the chocolates sit for a minute until they begin to melt a bit. Using an offset spatula, spread the melting chocolate evenly over the top of the warm toffee base. Immediately sprinkle with the chopped almonds. (I like to do this with my hands, crushing the almonds slightly as I sprinkle them.) It helps if you carefully press the nuts into the melted chocolate so they adhere well.
This needs to cool completely, at least 6 hours or overnight. I put it in the refrigerator once the pan cools. Break the toffee into small pieces and store in an airtight container.