Christmas Eve Buffet Cheese Ball

So I think this year, I might subject friends and family to my odd sense of nostalgia and hope I, the one who has this in my memory, am not disappointed.

For some reason, known only to herself (she never did explain it), my mother left me in charge of deciding the food for Christmas Eve. Not the making in all, or even most, cases, but the deciding. In our family which was rather large even though is was just my 3 siblings, me, my parents, and our older siblings kids, we opened presents from each other on Christmas Eve, so it was a night of perpetual snacking and in my case eating enough vanilla taffy to almost (almost, but not quite), make myself sick. Oh, and fudge too. And I don’t even like fudge (Groundhog Day.)

D&D_1499This was one of the things that I wanted every year and also made myself – not exactly difficult even though we had no food processor or mini chopper. You just did it the old fashioned way, by hand – no harm in that. I have no idea where this came from, but in my made-up back-story for it, it was a contribution to a local newspaper from some woman who would call herself by her husband’s name, you know what I mean. Instead of Mary Smith, she would be Mrs. John Smith, like she didn’t have an existence outside of him – yes, going off the rails here a bit, but that kind of thing just makes me slightly crazy.

Here for posterity’s sake.

8 ozs  cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar, room temperature
3 Tbs well-drained horseradish
1/4 cup finely chopped dried beef

Combine cream cheese, cheddar, horseradish until well blended. Make into a ball and chill. Roll in dried beef until covered. Chill several hours. Let sit at room temperature before serving. Serve with Triscuits or whatever crackers you like, but when I was 12, Triscuits is what I did. And everyone else did too.

Several questions arise – the first being do they still make dried beef in those odd little jars (not that I could tell, and I looked), where is it in the store if they do and what are my other options? I’m thinking pan fried proscuitto minced.
Also – only 1/2 cup of sharp cheddar. First, must be Cabot seriously sharp, but needs to be orange for color contrast and it will most certainly be more than 1/2 a measly cup. Please.
I will taste and check the horseradish level, but must be careful not to blow everyone’s palate. I tend to like just a click more horseradish than most people.

What I did make –

8 ozs cream cheese, softened
1 cup extra sharp cheddar, shredded at room temperature
3 Tbs well drained horseradish
1 cup minced dried cranberries
3 scallions minced
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 Tbs chives, minced
3 scallions, minced
1/2 cup dried cranberries, minced

Combine cream cheese, cheddar, and horseradish until well combined. Add in cranberries, scallions, and pecans. Roll into a ball and cover with plastic and chill until firm.

When ready to serve, mix coating ingredients in a wide bowl, and roll cheese ball in to cover, pressing in as necessary. Serve with crackers or toasted bread.

23 December 2017 – for Christmas Eve.
Never hurts to try something new, esp. if it is really good – and um, it was.


I have no idea why my mother made these for Christmas. None whatsoever. Another thing that will never be explained, but somehow this came back into my memory this fall and I thought I would at least make it once as an adult and decide if it was as good as I remember. And to also see what the Boy would think of it. I am sure the MotH will not touch it with a ten foot pole. No surprise there really. **

This isn’t so much a recipe but a method really, but so many recipes included chocolate in the Haystacks and I can damn sure tell you that was not in my mom’s recipe. Peanut butter was not involved either. Can we say, ugh? Sometimes simple, really, is best.

D&D_2559This recipe uses nuts and I can see how some salted dry roasted or honey roasted peanuts would be good, but I think I am going to go with some chopped up pretzel bits. It is all about the salt, especially when you are dealing with something as cloying sweet as butterscotch morsels.

24 ounces butterscotch chips
5 ounces chow mein noodles – what to do w/the rest of them??
1½ cup chopped nuts (dry roasted peanuts, almonds, or cashews are a few good choices)
1 1/2 cups chopped pretzel pieces –  dipping sticks – what else can I do with them??

Melt butterscotch morsels gently in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Do not let bowl touch water or get water in chips – not good juju.

Combine noodles and nuts in a large bowl. Pour melted butterscotch over noodle/pretzel mixture and combine until everything is coated.

Drop heaping tablespoons onto parchment or wax paper and let cool. Serve or store in airtight containers.

Source She Wears Many Hats

** Strange thing, both the MotH and the Boy said I have done this before, and I honestly think they are both imagining things. Much as I *love* butterscotch, I really think I would remember it. That said, I know I have never done this with pretzel pieces.

And now I have more pretzels to play with – more chocolate dipping might be involved. But no chocolate in haystacks – um, ever.

Spinach Dip

I did not make spinach dip this year for Thanksgiving since it was just a family meal and no need for any more leftovers than we already had, so I made this for Christmas Eve. Because for the Boy this is a requirement. You know when he runs out of Hawaiian rolls, he will use regular sandwich bread and make a sandwich out of this.

Not sure how I feel about that, but now that I am thinking on it. This might make a base for a pretty good grilled cheese (w/some cheddar or something) sandwich on some crusty Italian bread from the good old Publix. Might need to give that some more thought and surprise the Boy with it.

D&D_14958 ozs cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 package Knorr vegetable soup mix
2 packages frozen chopped spinach, drained and all the liquid pressed out
1 can water chestnuts, minced*
King’s Hawaiian Rolls

Mix together cream cheese and mayonnaise. Add vegetable soup mix, and mix to combine thoroughly. No, I mean it. This is important.
Add spinach and water chestnuts and mix. Refrigerate overnight.
Let sit at room temperature for about an hour or so before serving. You do not want it to be ice cold – not good eats. Serve with Hawaiian rolls. Sliced horizontally and then vertically, so you get 4 pieces of Hawaiian bread from each roll.

Serve and make a total pig of yourself. It is just inevitable.

*I think you can get minced water chestnuts at the store, but I like sliced and then I mince them myself. I am not sure the Boy knows they are in there, but …. we’ll just keep quiet about it then, won’t we.

There is nothing terribly special about this, but it is another of those traditions that started back in my trouble youth, as Jimmy Buffet would say – read: early 20s. Another recipe that my mom let me add to the Christmas eve tradition and it just stuck. Nothing wrong with it being vegetarian and I do not do much mayo or any sour cream – the original recipe was overloaded with it. Again my friend Marie is the one that said, put the cream cheese it – have been doing it ever since (like the late 80s – oh, lord).   I added the Hawaiian rolls a few years later and that really works well.

That said, any holiday is better with a great dip. Or two, or ten.

Stupidly – Easy Chocolate Fudge

My mom always made fudge for Christmas. She would put them in her Christmas tins, and me, being me, do the same thing. I would have a bit or two, but – again – not a chocolate person – even then, as a kid. Well, it is what it is. D&D_2579

I have tried to recreate my mom’s fudge with not a whole bunch of success.  I do not like recipes that use marshmallow stuff (fluff, cream, um, whatever), or, heaven forbid, peanut butter – dear lord, who thinks either one of those things are a good idea. Also, all fudge needs nuts and as usually, I prefer walnuts.

While this made shite-loads of fudge (in my opinion), it was also pretty damn good and it recalls my mom’s fudge – and that was enough just to make me happy. So here it is – stupidly good, really easy, chocolate fudge.  Sometime, simple is just best. Yep.

4 Tbs unsalted butter
16 ozs semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Spray 8 x 8 inch baking pan with cooking spray. Line with parchment, with an overhang on two sides for easier removal from pan.

Place a large glass bowl over a pot of barely simmering water – do not let bowl touch water or get water in chocolate mixture. Combine all ingredients except walnuts until just melted and well combined. Mix in nuts – sorry – required.

Put fudge mixture into prepared pan and refrigerate until set – 4 hours, but best overnight. Using parchment sling, lift fudge out of pan and cut into small pieces (this is rich, so smaller is better.)


Source: via the New York Times

Pecan Tassies

Another Christmas requirement. I just cannot help myself. I need them for Christmas. No, I really need them. I am sure I have been making these for, dear lord, 20 years or more and they are still as good today as they were back then. I do have much better mini muffin pans now but I remember the good old days of making these. And they were messy days indeed. Also lots of hand washing dishes. Even though I do that now too. Please need a new dishwasher – just to be spoiled again. D&D_2545.jpg

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups all purpose flour
2 large eggs
2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1  1/2 cups pecans, chopped (I mix both pecans and walnuts. I like the meaty texture of walnuts.

In a stand mixer, beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Add the flour and pat into two disks and chill for an hour or so but I usually let it chill overnight.

Lightly beat eggs and add sugar and vanilla and stir in pecans (or whatever combination of nuts).

Press dough into greased mini muffin pans and fill with nut mixture with in 1/4 inch of the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 – 28 minutes turning pans half way through.

22 December 2017 – make dough, morning; 23 December – bake – 3/4 c pecans & 3/4 c walnuts. In my opinion, it needs the walnuts – it is definitely a texture thing, if that makes any sense at all.

Home Cooking can save the World

Home cooking can save the World – I heard someone say this recently,  and I started to think about … what does a statement like that really mean?  Is it true? When I get slightly sappy (not often at all) I think it might be true. But then the better part of me goes, um, no – because I don’t like to be sappy.


My Mom’s Banana Nut Bread – A Tradition in my family.

But I do believe in home cooking and I do think it can make a difference, and I know that, as dumb as it sounds, I do think home cooking and passing on recipes, makes a difference in kind of the big scheme of things and in the kind of person you will turn out to be, and in the the way you will influence the next generation. Your kids, your nieces or nephews and if you are lucky their spouses too. I hate to say it, but I feel this is a dying art.

I know I would love to teach the Boy more than I have. But we have the Wednesday Cooking School – at least for now, until he gets busier at work, but so far it has been interesting and fun – it kind of makes me stupidly happy. I am glad he is interested in figuring out how I make the things he likes. I also know I should have asked my mom so much more. Thanksgiving reminds me of that every year – cannot get cornbread dressing correct – ugh.

I guess that I thought I would be able to ask my mom things for way longer than I was able to and that should put you all on notice, no really. Ask for those things and write them down better than I did. Although my mom’s recipe for roast beef – “it is seared when the smoke detector goes off” just makes me smile every time I think about it. It is pretty damn funny and it was also correct.

This has made me a fan of asking people I like for their family recipes. You know, old family recipes are important. They would not be around if they were not successful if they did not make people for generations happy. My friend Elaine’s carrot cake is an example. It was her grandmother’s recipe, and it seemed a bit strange to me – no butter? – but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the best carrot cake I’ve ever eaten (Sorry Mrs. Fields). Damnation – I want to make one every week – yes, every week, but that would really work against me (in the clothing department).


Best Sugar Cookies


Sugar Cookies

Remember when I was “devastated” over a lost sugar cookie recipe? I really did look everywhere, which to me meant I looked in binder after binder and I decided one thing – I’m bloody terrible at keeping up with recipes. Once I pull them out of the binder everything pretty much goes to hell. I finally found this recipe on the back side of another cookie recipe that I had been planning to make for a few weeks – duh, turn things over. This is not the first time this has happened. Sad.

That said, I’ve been making this sugar cookie recipe for about ever – over ten years now. Originally, I made this for Christmas – Christmas Eve in particular, but with so much other stuff going on, I kind of pushed these into the new year and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. A few years back I started making these for Mardi Gras. I had the colored sugars for it, but that was about it.

The cookie cutters I used for a few year are those of my mom. She had a set of card suits cookie cutters – spade, heart, diamond, club – which is kind of strange to be honest, but she was a great card player, especially with her sister. I never could get the hang of gin rummy. But I am happy to have these cookie cutters – along with a couple of others. They have been around as long as I can remember.

I do like to order weird colors of sanding sugars (those are usually the ones on sale), so one year I got a dark purple and a pale green – both from William-Sonoma. When you mix the pale green with a Christmas green, it works. Kind of like when you mix orange and yellow together you get the gold that you’re looking for  – the Mardi Gras colors.

Truth be told, I have ordered Mardi Gras cookie cutters for our pot luck at work. This makes me happy. I guess it’s just the simple things – or maybe I’m just a bit simple.

So here’s the recipe from the Food Network Kitchens – at least I think that’s where it is from. Again – me a keeping up with recipes – ugh.

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Over a piece of waxed paper, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer,  cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time and then the vanilla. Sift flour into butter mixture, 1 cup at a time until just combined. Dump out onto plastic wrap and shape into a disk. Cover with plastic and chill 3 to 4 hours.*

Roll out dough until 1/4 inch and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Brush and sprinkle with colored sugars. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 8 – 10 minutes until edges are slightly golden. Remove cookies to a rack to cool completely.

December 2002 – best sugar cookies ever
January 2003 – bake on parchment, spilled sugar comes off easier than a Silpat – for cast boy – granulated sugar is pretty too.
24 December 2003 – 8 minutes, to D&S for Christmas Eve
24 December 2004 – vvg as always
24 December 2006
December 2007
December 2008
February 2012 – Mardi Gras
28 January 2014
19 January 2016 – Mardi Gras practice

*Or overnight. This dough keeps pretty damn well for a few days as long as it is properly wrapped.