Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

Cranberries and Christmas - they go together like Fred and Ginger, Bacon and Eggs, Chips and Salsa, Lucy and Ricky....well, you get the picture.  

I found this recipe in a magazine and made it the other night for a holiday gathering and everyone loved it. However, I thought adding orange zest and a bit of juice to the topping (before baking) would make it even better. I am going to be BOLD and make my additions to the recipe now, not having tested it yet with those additions!  I plan on making this again, with the additional orange juice in a couple of days. If it turns out badly, I will come back to this and change it. For now.....take your chances!

SO - if you feel bold, then add the zest and juice as I note below. If you'd like to make it without the orange, as the recipe was originally printed, simply eliminate those two ingredients.  (Hope this makes sense!).

Here 'tis~
Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

8 TBL unsalted butter, room temperature
1 C sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
zest of one orange
1/4 C orange juice
1 3/4 C fresh cranberries

1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 C flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C milk


1. Preheat the oven to 350 and put the rack in the center of the oven. Coat the entire pan (8 inch round cake pan) with 2 TBL of the butter. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 C of the sugar with the cinnamon and allspice. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the bottom of the pan. Add cranberries, in a single layer (as much as possible) on top of the sugar mixture.  Sprinkle zest over the cranberries, then drizzle gently with the orange juice.

2. In a stand mixer, or a hand mixer, cream the remaining 6 TBL of butter with 1/2 sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla. Combine well.  In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.  With mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk, until well combined.

3. Gently spoon batter over the cranberries, and smooth the top. Place pan on a baking sheet; bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 - 35 minutes.  Let the pan cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake; invert onto a rimmed serving platter.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Stuffed Mushrooms (otherwise known as Pat's Mushrooms)

In my family we call these "Pat's Mushrooms" because they came from my mom's friend, Pat. We also call them delicious because they are just that! For reasons none of us can explain, they have become a holiday appetizer for our family. I included this recipe in a book I made for Christmas gifts one year....and apparently it has become a favorite of my friend, Bill Elliott, and his family. I am happy to know he includes it in his holiday celebrations as well. 

Bill Elliott (with a beard!), John Lithgow and the Lucky Stars, getting ready for our show at Carnegie Hall.

Once you taste these mushrooms, you will want them every year too - I'm sure of it.


12  oz. Jimmy Dean Hot Sausage (NO SUBSTITUTES!)
1 TBL lemon juice
3 oz. cream cheese
dash of worcestershire
minced green onion to taste (about 4 onions for me)
about 25 mushrooms, cleaned,  stems removed

Brown and drain sausage. Add lemon juice, worcestershire and cream cheese. Then add green onion. Stuff mushroom caps and bake at 350 for 15 - 20 minutes or until mushrooms are cooked through.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Merry Christmas!

A very Merry Christmas to you!!
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Orange Cranberry Shortbread

I needed a cookie. I didn't just want a cookie....I NEEDED a cookie. I didn't want to spend a lot of time or money on ingredients for this one......because like I said, I NEEDED a cookie. Now. 

One of my "go-to" cookie recipes is shortbread. I suspect the woman who invented the recipe for shortbread did it out of the same need as mine and frankly, I think she should win an award for it. After all, it contains the 3 basics of any cookie recipe - flour, butter, sugar. When combined, those three things create one of the most divine tastes we can experience. Simple - and delicious.

In my pantry, I also had some orange-flavored cranberries (from Trader Joes) and one orange. SO I decided to add these to my basic recipe and VOILA! Yummy, Christmas shortbread! (Hereafter called, Orange Cranberry Shortbread).


1/2 C butter, softened
1/2 C powdered sugar
2 tsp orange zest
1 C flour
1/2 C finely chopped dried cranberries 
(tip: you can chop these by hand with about a TBL of flour - or you can do this step in a processor)


1. Preheat oven to 325

2. Cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and orange zest. Blend until smooth.

3. Add flour and stir by hand - a heavy wooden spoon is best for this. Add cranberries. When the flour is completely mixed into the butter mixture, knead it with your hand about 5-6 times, until smooth.

4. Prepare a sheet pan with either parchment paper, or a silpat mat (if you have a shortbread pan, spray it lightly with vegetable oil spray).

5. Pat the dough into an 8 inch circle (you can also make this into a square to make sticks, but I like the wedge shape from a circle) right on the sheet pan.  You can also roll it, if you have the patience.....  You can make a fancy edge and flute it, or just leave it plain. It will still taste delicious.

6. Cut the dough into 8 wedges, leaving the circle of dough intact!

7. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Let the shortbread cool in the pan for about 8 minutes, then cut again and loosen the wedges apart. Cool wedges on racks.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Crock Pot Chicken Mole

Every time I use my crock pot, I think to myself, "why don't I use this more often?".  I think the person who invented the crock pot should win an award - seriously. It is a brilliant idea - put stuff in, set the timer, eat several hours later. There is nothing easier than that - especially during the holidays!  

Lee was craving Mexican spices/flavors, and I found this recipe but decided to change a couple of things, which I think make it better. This recipe uses boneless, skinless chicken thighs - which are a flavorful, moist choice, and VERY easy on the wallet too. 

Crock Pot Chicken Mole


4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs 
kosher salt
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed
1 large chipotle chili, in adobo sauce
1/2 C sliced almonds toasted
1/4 C raisins
3 oz Ibarra Chocolate (this is a traditional Mexican chocolate - the flavor is unmatched! but if you can't find it you can use bittersweet chocolate), finely chopped 
3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
3 TBL olive oil
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
fresh cilantro leaves for serving


1. Season chicken pieces with salt and place in a 5-6 quart crock pot. In a blender, puree the rest of the ingredients (tomatoes, onion, ancho and chipotle chilis, almonds, raisins, chocolate, garlic, oil, cumin and cinnamon) until smooth. 

2. Pour tomato mixture over chicken pieces in crock pot, and cover. Cook on high for 4 hours (or low for 8 hours), until chicken is tender.

Serve over plain cooked rice; sprinkle with fresh cilantro to taste. 


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Time Is Here

Christmas time is here..........
Most people in my generation grew up watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, and for me, simply hearing this song practically makes me weep. I'm sure it's because it makes me feel like a kid again, when I had no worries or cares of life and bills, etc.  Vince Guaraldi is the composer (for those of you who may not know...) - and I think his sound and styling of this particular song single-handedly formed my love for jazz music.  Here's a link to his website: Click here for Vince Guaraldi's website

Lee Mendelson wrote the lyrics and in my opinion, they are full of the spirit of Christmas:
"Christmas time is here. Happiness and cheer. 
Oh that we could always see such spirit through the year".

Monday, December 5, 2011

Budgets are tight these days, and making a hearty meal that doesn't cost a lot can be challenging. Lee loves Pork in any form so he was happy when I told him I was going to make this Pork Shoulder Roast. He loves pork chops, pork ribs, bacon, pork roast, bacon (wait....I said that).  Well, you get the picture. This recipe turned out so well that we practically ate the WHOLE thing. Seriously. It was very moist and exactly how I'd hoped it would taste - roasted, smoky, tomato-ey (I know that's not a word) pork deliciousness.
The BEST part was that the roast cost about $8 and change. NICE!! 

I had some potatoes in the pantry, so I just roasted some with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, chopped parsley and rosemary during the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Pork Shoulder Roast with Tomatoes

3 lbs boneless pork shoulder roast, tied and patted dry
coarse salt and ground pepper
2 TBL extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced (I used my OXO mandoline)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 pints cherry tomatoes
2 1/2 C low-sodium chicken broth
2 TBL red wine vinegar
4 tsp smoked paprika

1. Preheat oven to 350. Season pork with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot, heat 1 TBL oil over medium high heat. Add pork, fat side down, and cook, turning until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer pork to a plate. 

Pour off fat, return pot to medium high and add 1 TBL oil. Add onion; cook until translucent, 5 minutes. 

Add garlic; cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add tomatoes; season with salt and pepper to taste. Add broth and vinegar and cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits. Return pork to pot with juices; sprinkle with paprika.

2. Bring mixture to boil over high heat. Cover, transfer to oven and cook 1 hour. Remove from oven, with tongs, flip pork. Return to oven, uncovered, until tender, 1 hour, basting with pork juices every 15 minutes. Transfer pork to cutting board, let rest for 15 minutes. Slice pork and serve with tomatoes and sauce.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ginger Cracks
(the best ginger cookie you will ever eat)

It's December 1st and the Christmas cookie baking season has officially begun!  I LOVE this time of year, not only because of the joy of the Season, but because it's a wonderful excuse for me to bake cookies.  I made the dough for Ginger Cracks a couple of days ago, divided it into 3 parts, froze two and made these cookies this morning. I'm going to give some to a friend who is doing a favor for me, and share the rest with Lee! (these are his personal favorites by the way).

I have had this recipe for many years and as most of my recipes go, I don't remember the source. I wish I could give credit where it is due. 

The taste of Gingerbread Cookies, I think, is completely set apart for the Christmas season. However, there is only ONE cookie I will devote the time to rolling and cutting and that is my Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies (recipe is here on my blog). Ginger Cracks give the wonderful, spicy taste of Gingerbread with the simplicity of scooping and baking. Tah-dah! EASY.

I hope you make these - I'm sure they will be a favorite of yours as well! Merry Christmas.

Ginger Cracks~

2 C plus 1 TBL unsifted all-purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 C vegetable shortening
4 TBL (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 C plus 2 TBL sugar
1 large egg
1/4 C plus 1 TBL mild, unsulphered molasses
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 C chopped crystallized ginger
about 1/2 C coarse decorator sugar for
rolling (you can also use regular sugar if
you can't find this)

1. Onto waxed paper, sift together flour, baking soda, baking
powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.

2. In a mixer, beat shortening and butter on low speed until
smooth and creamy, 2-3 minutes. Add sugar; beat on
medium speed 1 minute. Blend in egg, molasses and vanilla.
Scrape down sides of bowl frequently.

3. On low, add the flour in 2 additions, beating just until
particles of flour are absorbed. Blend in ginger. Dough will
be stiff and sticky.

4. Scrape dough onto large sheet of plastic wrap. Using a
spatula, flatten into a shallow cake. Wrap up dough and
freeze for 30 minutes before using. (Dough can be
refrigerated for up to 2 days).

5. Heat oven to 375.

6. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place
decorator sugar for rolling, in a bowl. For each cookie, shape
1 level TBL into a ball. Roll in the sugar. Place balls, 3
inches apart, on sheets, 9 per sheet. Dough will spread as it

Using a small cookie scoop makes it easy and cookies will be the same size.

Ready for the oven!

7. Bake in 375 oven for 12 minutes. As cookies bake, they will
puff up, then flatten out. Surfaces will appear crackly and
crinkly. Let stand on cookie sheets for 1 minute. Transfer to
wire racks. Let cool. Store in airtight container at room
temperature for up to 3-4 days.

These cookies never last for more than a couple of days around here....