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5 easy recipes for the holiday cook

Cooks don’t have to be overwhelmed and under-appreciated

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  • More ideas for easy holiday recipes

    We thought a few more recipes might be helpful from beverages to desserts.

    •  Slow Cooker Hot Chocolate: Have a batch of this warm chocolaty beverage ready on the kitchen counter. Whisk together 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk, 1 cup instant nonfat dry milk, 4 1/2 cups milk, 3 cups whipping cream and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a 4-quart slow cooker. Add a 10-ounce package of bittersweet chocolate morsels and a 12-ounce package of semisweet chocolate morsels. Cover and cook on low for four hours, whisking until smooth after 2 hours. Stir in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract and serve with mini-marshmallows. Adults may enjoy it with a splash of coffee, chocolate or orange liqueur. Makes 12 cups.

    •  Simple Baked Eggs: No breakfast is simpler than baked eggs. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat each of six ramekins with 1/2 teaspoon butter. Break an egg into each ramekin. Sprinkle eggs evenly with pepper and salt. Spoon 1 teaspoon whipping cream over each egg. Place ramekins in a 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish; add hot water to the pan to the depth of 1 1/4 inches. Bake for 25 minutes or until eggs are set. Serve with toast or bacon for dipping in yolks. Makes 6 eggs.

    •  Gorgonzola Truffles: These would make an easy make-ahead appetizer and likely would work rolled in toasted pecans instead of bacon. Beat four ounces softened cream cheese, four ounces crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, 2 teaspoons finely chopped onion, 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper together in an electric mixer until combined. Cover tightly and chill for 1 hour in the refrigerator. (Mixture can be made up to 3 days ahead.) Roll cheese mixture into 3/4-inch balls. Roll each ball in cooked crumbled bacon, about 1/2 cup. Serve with apple slices or grapes.

    From: “Southern Living Big Book of Slow Cooking,”(Oxmoor House, 2012); “Cooking Light The Complete Quick Cook,” by Bruce Weinstein & Mark Scarbrough (Oxmoor House, 2011); “Southern Living Home Cooking Basics,” (Oxmoor House, 2012).


  • Not Your Nana’s Spice Thins

    This is not your typical gingersnap cookie. This recipe uses no molasses, instead calls for cardamom and lemon zest. Author Nancy Baggett writes, “The end result is a cookie with a light, fresh, unique spice taste.” From “Simply Sensational Cookies: Bright Fresh Flavors, Natural Colors and Easy, Streamlined Techniques,” by Nancy Baggett (Wiley, 2012).

    1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

    1 1/4 teaspoons ground cloves

    1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger

    1 teaspoon ground cardamom

    1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

    3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened

    1/3 cup light or dark corn syrup

    3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish

    1/4 teaspoon baking soda

    1 large egg, at room temperature

    1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

    3 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour

    STIR cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom and nutmeg together in a small cup. Set aside.

    BEAT butter, corn syrup, 3/4 cup sugar and baking soda until lightened and smooth. Reserve 2 teaspoons of the spice blend for garnish, then add the remainder to the butter mixture. Add egg and lemon zest to the butter mixture. Beat until well blended, scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in about half of the flour until evenly incorporated. Stir or beat in the remaining flour; the dough will be fairly stiff. (If overly stiff and dry, work in a few drops of water.)

    DIVIDE dough in half. On wax paper, shape each portion into an 11-inch-long, evenly thick log. Stretch each out from the center slightly if thicker in the middle. Thoroughly stir 2 tablespoons granulated sugar into the reserved spice mixture. Sprinkle each of the logs with half of the sugar-spice mixture, turning them until lightly coated all over. Roll up each log in plastic wrap, smoothing the dough as you work. Twist the ends of the plastic to secure it. For nicely rounded wafers, slip each log into a discarded paper towel tube (or a wrapping paper tube cut in half) that has been slit lengthwise, then secure with tape or rubber bands.

    FREEZE dough for 30 to 40 minutes or until it is very firm but not too hard to cut. Or insert in freezer bags for up to 2 months. Let thoroughly frozen logs soften at room temperature for about 20 minutes before using.

    POSITION a rack in the middle of the oven; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line several large baking sheets with parchment paper.

    CUT each log into 1/4-inch-thick slices using a very sharp knife. To keep the log round, rotate it a quarter turn after each cut. Space the cookies about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake one sheet at a time for 9 to 12 minutes, just until cookies are beginning to feel firm when pressed in the center; be very careful not to over bake. Transfer to a wire rack and let stand until cooled completely.

    Yield: 60-70 cookies


  • Caramelized Bacon

    A sweet and spicy, addictive appetizer that is perfect with a cocktail. From “Barefoot Contessa Foolproof,” by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, 2012).

    1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

    1/2 cup chopped or whole pecans

    2 teaspoons kosher salt

    1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

    2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

    1/2 pound thick-sliced applewood-smoked bacon

    HEAT oven to 375 degrees. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil (for easy cleaning) and place a wire baking rack on top.

    COMBINE brown sugar and pecans in a food processor and process until the pecans are finely ground. Add salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper and pulse to combine. Add maple syrup and pulse again to moisten crumbs.

    CUT each bacon slice in half crosswise and line up the pieces on the baking rack without touching. With a small spoon, evenly spread the pecan mixture on top of each piece of bacon, using all of the mixture. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the topping is very browned but not burnt. If it’s under baked, the bacon won’t crisp as it cools.

    TRANSFER hot bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside to cool. Serve at room temperature.

    Yield: 15 to 20 pieces


  • Morning Glory Muffins

    This recipe can also make loaves. Pour batter into 2 greased and floured 8-by-4-inch loaf pans and bake in a 350-degree oven for 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool and freeze as directed below. From “Fix It & Freeze It, Heat It & Eat It,” (Oxmoor House, 2012).

    1 cup chopped pecans

    3 cups all-purpose flour

    1 teaspoon salt

    1 teaspoon baking soda

    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

    2 cups sugar

    3/4 cup canola oil

    3 large eggs

    2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained

    2 large carrots, finely grated, about 2 cups

    1 cup golden raisins

    HEAT oven to 350 degrees. Bake pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet for 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through. Cool completely on a wire rack, about 15 minutes.

    COMBINE flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Make a well in center of mixture.

    WHISK together sugar, canola oil, eggs and vanilla extract in a medium bowl. Fold in crushed pineapple and carrots. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in toasted pecans and raisins.

    SPOON into lightly greased muffin pans, filling two-thirds. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 5 minutes. Remove pans from wire racks and cool completely about 30 minutes.

    FREEZE cooled muffins in a labeled zip-top plastic freezer bag for up to 1 month. To serve, remove from bag, and let thaw at room temperature.

    Yield: 2 dozen muffins


  • Winter Minestrone

    Author Ina Garten serves this soup with garlic bruschetta, which is easy to make. Toast thin slices of French bread, brushed with olive oil, in a 425-degree oven for 6 minutes. Rub each piece of toast with a peeled garlic clove. Adapted from “Barefoot Contessa Foolproof” by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, 2012).

    Good olive oil

    4 ounces pancetta or bacon, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

    1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions

    3 carrots, peeled and diced

    3 stalks celery, diced

    2 1/2 cups diced peeled butternut squash

    1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic, about 4 cloves

    2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

    28 ounces canned diced tomatoes

    6 to 8 cups chicken stock or broth

    1 bay leaf

    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

    1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

    2 cups cooked small pasta, such as tubetti, orzo, riso or farfalline

    8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves

    1/2 cup good dry white wine

    2 tablespoons store-bought pesto

    Garlic bruschetta, for serving

    Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

    HEAT 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add pancetta and cook over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add onions, carrots, celery, squash, garlic and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until vegetables begin to soften.

    ADD tomatoes, 6 cups of chicken stock or broth, bay leaf, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt nd 1 teaspoon black pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

    REMOVE bay leaf and discard. Add beans and cooked pasta and heat through. The soup should be quite thick but if it’s too thick add more chicken stock. Just before serving, reheat soup, add spinach, and toss with 2 big spoons, like tossing a salad. Cook just until leaves are wilted. Stir in white wine and pesto. Add salt to taste, if needed. Serve with bruschetta and sprinkled with parmesan cheese, if desired.

    Yield: 8-10 servings


  • Red Zinger Punch

    You can serve punch without alcohol for a family gathering and let the adults add vodka or rum if desired.

    1 2-liter bottle lemon-lime soda

    3 bags of red zinger teas

    Vodka or rum, if desired

    POUR out 1/4 of the lemon-lime soda into a glass. Enjoy soda over ice. Stuff tea bags into soda bottle. Refrigerate overnight. Serve punch over ice. Let adults add a splash of vodka or rum if they desire.

    Yield: 6-8 servings



Christmas can be overwhelming for the cook. It can mean two big meals – one on Christmas Eve, another on Christmas Day. It can require a breakfast before or after presents are opened. It also seems to demand an array of cookies.

My mother declared an end to this craziness years ago. She would spend hours preparing a big meal that we would be too full to eat because we had stuffed ourselves on appetizers. One year, she said, “No more.” She let us have our shrimp with cocktail sauce, our triple-cream brie, our buffalo chicken dip and then set out a pot of soup and ham sandwiches for whenever hunger struck again.

In that spirit, we offer five recipes to make this year’s holiday meals easier on the cook.

There’s a recipe from the Food Network’s “Barefoot Contessa,” Ina Garten for a minestrone to serve with ham sandwiches in the spirit of my mother’s approach. There’s another Garten recipe for caramelized bacon, an appetizer that you can probably pull together with ingredients already on hand.

Since make-ahead recipes are so useful this time of year, we share one for a slice-and-bake spice cookie; the logs of dough can be stashed in the freezer and baked as needed. There’s an easy red zinger punch that can be served to the children or spiked for the adults.

Finally, we offer a recipe for morning glory muffins, which can be pulled from the freezer and thawed before serving with fruit for a relaxed breakfast.

The best holiday gift to ourselves may be a break from crazed, under-appreciated cooking.

Weigl: 919-829-4848
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