Chewy Triple Chocolate Brownies and Baby Brothers

There are times in our lives when people who are no longer with us just “appear”. Maybe a light breeze touches your hair in just such a way to trigger a memory. Or the scent of a flower will recall a first love. There is a feeling of warmth; of comfort and a sadness all rolled into one that will sweep over you, even if it is only for a moment.

There are times when I miss my brother – when his loss is felt so deep, yet the memory of him warms me. These waves of emotion seem to come at the oddest of times. You would think that sense of loss would be the strongest on Christmas morning when you notice someone’s absent. Or the Thanksgiving Table, when we count our blessings and give thanks. Do I miss him then? Yes, but not in the same way as those flashes of him pop into my reality unexpectedly. They are joyfully sad surprise visits, when I am caught off guard. I miss my friend, my partner in crime.

Brother Dear loved all things chocolate. Chocolate cake eaten warm with butter on top. And Brownies – how he loved brownies! When I looked over my planned baking treats for Christmas, I realized that Brownies were not a part of that plan. I could sense his disapproval. Can’t have that. So here’s to you, baby brother. A Brownie true to his dark chocolate heart.

Chewy Triple Chocolate Brownies
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (about 1 minute in the microwave does the trick – just place the butter in a mug or bowl cut into chunks)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Adjust oven baking rack to the bottom and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 9 x 13 inch pan with foil to create a sling for the brownie batter. This will make it easier to remove the brownies from the pan. Just place a piece of foil in one direction, then place a piece of foil going the opposite direction. Allow the foil to hang over the sides. Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the boiling water and the cocoa powder. Use a whisk to stir until the cocoa powder is dissolved.

Add in the unsweetened chocolate, and whisk until all of the chocolate is melted. To the melted chocolate mixture, add melted butter and oil. Whisk to blend.

Add eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla. Whisk to blend wet ingredients.

In another bowl, mix sugar, flour, and salt. Stir until dry ingredients into wet ingredients until all are combined.

Fold in mini semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Use a spatula to scrape the batter into the pan lined with foil.

Bake on the bottom rack for 30 to 35 minutes. Insert a toothpick to check for doneness, you want some moist crumbles to be on the toothpick which means they are cooked just right. If the toothpick comes out clean, you’ve overcooked the brownies.

Remove the brownies from the oven and transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for about 90 minutes. Then, use the foil overhang to lift the brownies out of the pan. Allow the brownies to continue to cool for an additional 60 minutes. Cut the brownies into squares and serve.

Sweet Christmas Gifts from Your Kitchen

How many of you out there are baking cookies as gifts this holiday? Great! Homemade gifts are those that truly come from the heart, wrapped tightly in love. I bet a lot of you are going to include a tin of fudge with your cookies – you know, that fantasy fudge we all grew up on  from Kraft made with Marshmallow Fluff. The first candy I ever learned to make was Fantasy Fudge. It’s been around since before I was born. I grew up thinking there was no other Fudge on earth. While the recipe has been modified by Kraft over the years, I still use the one as it appeared on the back of a jar of Marshmallow Fluff way back when.

People once sent tins of cookies and candies and the notorious Fruit Cake. Gifts were made rather than bought. With the influence of social media and all those DIY sites, we seem to be embracing those traditions once more. Nothing could please this old gal more.

Years gone by, Hubby’s Mom would send us big tins of Rum Balls. You could smell the rum long before the package was opened. During her final years on earth, while the Rum Balls still managed to deliver a punch, we did notice that the rum content seemed to go down with each passing Christmas. I’m not saying that my Mother-in-Law was hitting the sauce when she was making her holiday gift baskets. I’m just making an observation – there was less rum in the balls and they weren’t nearly as round. Hum . . .

Funny story about those balls. Back in the day when they were still powerful, you could actually get a buzz if you had too many of her Rum Balls. Mom always mailed her rum balls to Hubby’s office for reasons I’ve never understood. One year while we were unloading the car packed full of pot-luck goodies and Mom’s Christmas offerings, our dog was begging for a little nibble. I gave her a rum ball. She continued to beg until she fell over. It turned out Hubby gave her a rum ball, as did each of our children. Poor thing, she was drunk!

This year, in addition to my usual Soft Gingerbread Cookies and Melt-in-your-mouth Peanut Butter cookies, I’ve decided to make some candies. Do you have a favorite Christmas Candy? I’d love to hear about it . . .

Christmas Gift Candies
Chocolate Clusters: Caramel Cashew Clusters
Divinity: Betty’s Delicious Divinity
Fudge: Eggnog Christmas Fudge
Fudge: Kraft Fantasy Fudge
Fudge: Layered Mint Chocolate Fudge
Rum Balls: Two Drink Limit Rum Balls
Truffles: Candy Cane Mint Oreo Truffles

Caramel Cashew Clusters
1 heaping cup Planter’s cashews
2 cups soft caramels , unwrapped
14 ounces Hershey’s chocolate bars

Line a large baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Place piles of about 6-7 cashews all around the pan.

Place unwrapped caramels in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for about 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds, until caramel is melted.

Pour a small spoonful of caramel over each cashew pile, making sure some of the caramel touches all of the cashews so they will stick together.

Place the pan in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to harden the caramel.

Meanwhile, break the chocolate bars into pieces and add to a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for about 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds, until chocolate is melted and smooth.

Remove the baking sheet from the fridge and use a spoon to coat each cluster in chocolate. Allow excess chocolate to drip off and place back on the baking sheet.

Refrigerate for a few more minutes for the chocolate to set. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the fridge.

Betty’s Divinity
2 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Cook sugar, corn syrup and water (use 1 tablespoon less water on humid days) in 2-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Continue cooking, without stirring, to 260 degrees on candy thermometer or until small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water forms a hard ball that holds its shape but is pliable.

Beat egg whites in medium bowl with electric mixer on high-speed until stiff peaks form.

Continue beating while pouring hot syrup in a thin stream into egg whites, beating constantly on medium speed. (For best results, use electric stand mixer, not a portable handheld mixer since beating time is about 10 minutes and mixture is thick.) Add vanilla. Beat until mixture holds its shape and becomes slightly dull. (Mixture may become too stiff for mixer.) Gently stir in nuts.

Drop mixture from buttered spoon onto waxed paper. Let stand at room temperature at least 12 hours, turning candies over once, until candies feel firm. Store in airtight container.

Eggnog Fudge
½ Cup Butter
¾ Cup Eggnog
2 Cups White Sugar
2 Cups White Chocolate Chips
(1) 7 Ounce Jar Marshmallow Creme
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
½ Teaspoon Nutmeg, Grated

Line a 9×9 pan with foil, leaving 2 inches over sides to use as “lift” handles. Spray with non stick cooking spray.

In a medium sauce pan, combine butter, sugar, and eggnog. Bring to a boil.

Cook until the temperature reaches 234 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Remove from heat. Stir in white chocolate until melted.

Stir in marshmallow creme, vanilla, and nutmeg.

Evenly spread into prepared pan.

Garnish with more grated nutmeg if desired.

Let fudge cool and set completely before serving. To cut, lift from pan. Place on a cutting board and cut with serrated knife or wire.

Kraft Fantasy Fudge
3 cups  sugar
3/4 cup  butter or margarine
1 small  can (5 oz.) evaporated milk (about 2/3 cup) (Do not use sweetened condensed milk)
1 (12 oz) package Semi-Sweet Chocolate chips
1 jar  (7 oz.) JET-PUFFED Marshmallow Creme
1 cup  chopped Walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla

LINE 9-inch square pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides. Lightly butter the foil.

Note: A 9-inch square pan will yield thick chunks of fudge. If a less thick piece of fudge is desired, use a 9 x 13-inch pan.

Bring sugar, butter and evaporated milk to full rolling boil in 3-qt. saucepan on medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook 5 minutes or until candy thermometer reaches 234F, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

ADD chocolate and stir until the chips have completely melted. Fold in marshmallow creme; stir until no streaks of marshmallow cream remain. Add nuts and vanilla; mix well.

POUR into prepared pan; spread to cover the pan completely. Work quickly as the fudge will set up in no time. Cool completely at room temperature.

Use foil handles to lift fudge from pan and transfer to a board. Peel off foil before cutting into squares.

Layered Mint Chocolate Fudge
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (14 oz) can Sweetened Condensed Milk, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 oz premium white chocolate chips
1 tablespoon peppermint extract
Green food coloring (optional)

Line an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan with waxed-paper. Set aside.

In heavy saucepan, over low heat, melt chocolate chips with 1 cup sweetened condensed milk; add vanilla and stir to blend. Spread half the mixture into prepared pan; chill 10 minutes or until firm. Hold remaining half of chocolate mixture at room temperature.

In heavy saucepan, over low heat, melt white chocolate chips with remaining sweetened condensed milk (mixture will be thick). Add peppermint extract and food coloring (optional). Spread on chilled chocolate layer; chill 10 minutes longer or until firm.

Spread reserved chocolate mixture on mint layer. Chill 2 hours or until firm. Turn onto cutting board; peel off paper and cut into squares. Store leftovers covered in refrigerator.

Two Drink Limit Rum Balls
1 (12-ounce) package vanilla wafers
1 (16-ounce) package pecan pieces
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup bourbon
1/3 cup dark rum
Sanding Sugar for garnish

Position knife blade in food processor bowl; add vanilla wafers. Process until crumbs are fine. Transfer to a large bowl.

Place pecans in processor bowl; process until finely chopped. Stir into vanilla wafer crumbs. Stir in honey, bourbon, and rum.

Shape into 1-inch balls, and roll in sugar or additional vanilla wafer crumbs. Place in an airtight container, and store in refrigerator up to one month.

Candy Cane Oreo Truffles
36 Oreos (Mint filled or original)
8 oz cream cheese, softened
16 oz. white chocolate chips
¼ cup crushed candy canes or peppermint candies, for decorating

Place the Oreo cookies in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely ground.

Add the cream cheese and pulse until the mixture is well combined and smooth.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using a cookies scoop, scoop the mixture into balls about 1-inch in diameter. Place the cookie balls on the baking sheet. Once all the balls have been created, place in the freezer until well chilled, at least 1 hour.

Remove truffles from freezer and dip in melted chocolate.

Return to baking sheet, immediately sprinkle tops with crushed candy canes then allow chocolate to set.

Store the truffles in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Wishing everyone a blessed Holiday Season filled with joy and all the makings of precious memories.

Filet Mignon with Brandy Cream and Peppercorns

When it comes to fancy steaks, Filet Mignon is at the top of my list. If you are craving a steak with true beefy goodness, this might not be the cut for you. Fat and marbling is what gives beef its flavor. A well-marbled Rib-Eye is delicious. Skirt steaks, although thin, are packed with flavor. Filet Mignon, while delicious, don’t necessarily have that rich beefy flavor. They are superior in tenderness, IF properly cooked. Filets require quick, high heat and should never be cooked beyond the point of medium-rare. Since this cut of meat is very lean, it can dry out and become tough if over-cooked. The tenderloin (from which Filet Mignon is cut) runs along both sides of the spine, and is usually harvested as two long snake-shaped cuts of beef.

beef cuts

While a true Filet Mignon comes from the small forward end of the tenderloin, some butchers in the United States label all types of tenderloin steaks “Filet Mignon”. In fact, the less desirable shape of the true Filet Mignon may be a hindrance, which is why most restaurants serve steaks cut from the wider end of the tenderloin. It is not only cost effective, the uniform appearance is much more presentable.

These filets are delicious, easy to prepare and will wow your dining guests. Served with fancy potatoes such as Duchess Potatoes and a splash of bright color from pan-seared asparagus tips, and you’ve got all the makings of a five-star dinner party.

Filet Mignon with Brandy Cream and Peppercorns
6 Filet Mignon 3/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons ketchup
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
5 drops Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of green peppercorns
3 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/3 cup of brandy
1/2 cup of whipping cream
Salt to taste

In a small bowl, combine ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and green peppercorns. Set aside until ready to use.

In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter with oil. Once the pan is hot and the butter melted, sear filets about 2 minutes per side. Remove steaks from the skillet, set aside and keep warm.

Note: One way to keep filets warm and hold the natural moisture is to plate the steaks on a dinner plate, stacked together if necessary. Cover with a steel mixing bowl inverted over the plate to create a dome. This will hold in the heat, while allowing the natural condensation to drip back into the meat.

To the now empty pan, add brandy and deglaze skillet by stirring the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.

Add ketchup-mustard mixture and cream, mix well.

Return meat to skillet. Season with salt and cook to desired doneness. (Steaks more to the medium side should be returned to the pan a few minutes ahead of those more to the medium-rare side).

When ready to serve, plate steaks and spoon sauce over the meat.

Lemon Parsley Chicken with Garlic

While reorganizing the chicken recipes in my yumprint file, I came across this yummy recipe that had a note “on blog”. Really? So I searched, and I searched – have I lost my mind? Was that note intended to remind me to share the recipe with you or had I truly shared this wonderful dish and now it was gone? It turns out, I had shared it in a way – as part of a collection of recipes. There it was, buried in part 7 of the Traveling Dinner Party series. If I had a hard time finding my recipe for this Chicken dish, how could I expect anyone else to find it? So I’ve pulled it out, shaken off the cobwebs and shared it once again.

I love anything cooked with wine. Some wine for the dish, some wine for me. Hey, you need to sample as you go, right? Don’t answer that! Years ago, I took a class on wine pairing. According to the instructor, you needed to sample each of the wines you were considering serving with the food to be served. As we all know, food influences the flavors of wines – different foods bring out different flavors in the same glass of wine. For me, that would be a bad idea. I’m a light weight – a few sips of wine and I would forget all about cooking.  Still, I love anything cooked in wine.

Another “lesson” the instructor insisted upon – never cook with a wine you aren’t willing to drink. While that might be a good rule for most wines, I cannot imagine sitting down to a glass of Marsala – can you? Just asking.

Lemon Parsley Chicken with Garlic
2 Tablespoons Flour
4 Large Chicken Breasts, boneless, skinned
5 Cloves Garlic
1/3 Cup Flat-Leaf (Italian) Parsley
1 Tablespoons finely chopped lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
2 Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
3/4 Cup Chicken Stock
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Riesling, Chenin Blanc or other fruity white wine

Chop parsley and set aside.

Remove the zest from the lemon, then slice lemon in half and squeeze out the juice. Add additional juice to measure 1/2 cup.

Finely chop 3 garlic cloves. Set aside.

Press 2 remaining garlic cloves into a small bowl. Stir in chopped parsley and lemon zest, set aside.

Spread the flour on a plate, season with salt and pepper, then lightly coat both sides of each chicken breast with the flour, shaking off the excess.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the chicken breasts and cook until lightly browned, turning once, about 3-5 minutes per side. Transfer breasts to a platter, and set aside.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan. Add the finely chopped garlic to the pan and saute over high heat until softened, about 20 seconds. Add the stock, lemon juice and white wine to the pant, deglaze to remove any browned bits from the pan bottom. Bring to a boil.

Return chicken to the pan and reduce heat to medium. Cook until chicken is opaque throughout and the juices run clear, about 25-30 minutes, depending upon thickness of chicken breast. Turn breast mid-way to allow flavors to soak in. Remove chicken with tongs to serving platter and keep warm in the oven.

Raise heat to high and boil the pan sauce until reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes. Pour pan juices over chicken and sprinkle the parsley-garlic mixture evenly over the top.

This chicken goes well with a delicious herb risotto or a simple pasta such as a linguine with garlic.

A Sweet Holiday Tradition – Christmas Baklava

A few years back, for Christmas my sister gave me a wonderful cookbook – a first for Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman). I loved it – the recipes were wonderful, the photographs heartwarming, and the little stories woven along the way were charming. Reading it was a lot like sitting down with a big cup of coffee in a friend’s cozy kitchen and talking about our two favorite things in life – family and cooking. That same year, I decided to “bake” my way through the Holiday Gift-Giving. Naturally, I called upon my old “friend” Ree for some new inspiration. Fudge was something I felt comfortable making, having done so for as long as I could remember. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white fudge swirls – some with nuts, some without. Peanut clusters and raisin clusters were some of my favorite “holiday” treats. And cookies – you haven’t seen cookies mass-produced in a home kitchen until you spent a weekend with my Dad. Back in his baking days, he started in November, baking racks and racks of cookies – swirl cookies, peanut butter cookies, sugar cookies galore. I swear, that man made dozens and dozens of cookies. Dad even had a six-foot baker’s rack in the garage where his awesome cookies cooled before being bagged up and stored in the freezer for Christmas. By the time Christmas arrived, we had cookies coming out our ears! That is except one year, when Dad had placed several dozen peanut butter cookies on the racks to cool. Our family pet, a Great Dane named Tina, who was the size of a small horse, somehow managed to break into the garage and ate all the cookies. Dad chased that dog from one end of our ranch house to the other, over and under tables, chairs and whatever else happened to be in the room. All the while Tina barked with that low, deep bark of hers. Dad never did manage to catch her, and finally they both collapsed in complete exhaustion. It was then that Tina approached, with those big eyes that said “I’m sorry” and lay her head in his lap. The next morning Dad was up early, baking yet again. Only this time he made sure Tina couldn’t break into the garage for round two.

Anyway, I wanted to treat my Dad to holiday “treats” with the same love he had shown his children over the years. With Kiddo and Hubby at my side, we spend days baking and decorating all sorts of wonderful things. I included the chocolate clusters I had loved as a child, and Dad’s favorite Walnut-Chocolate fudge. Kiddo did an awesome job hand painting snowflake sugar cookies – and just like real snow flakes, no two were alike. The end results of our efforts was a well-received giant tray of yummy goodness. I also wanted to venture outside my comfort zone and try something new – Greek Baklava. And thanks to The Pioneer Woman – my first attempt was a huge success.

Our “Sweet Treat” tray of goodies
Kiddo’s Snow Flake







It’s been a while since I last made Baklava for Christmas. Christmas Baklava is making an appearance again this year. All I can say is “welcome back”. This yummy recipe is completely Ree’s – no tweaking involved. Why mess with perfection?

Christmas Baklava
1 package Phyllo Dough
4 cups Chopped Walnuts Or Pecans
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1-1/2 stick Butter, Melted
2 cups Honey
1/2 cup Water
1/2 cup Sugar
3 teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Remove phyllo dough package from freezer and place in the fridge for 24 hours to thaw. Remove from fridge 1 hour before using.

When working with the phyllo dough, only remove the sheets you immediately need, keeping the other sheets covered in plastic wrap, then a damp cloth.

Toss together the chopped walnuts and cinnamon. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly butter a rectangular baking pan. Make sure the sheets of phyllo will generally fit the pan (if they’re a little bigger, that’s okay.) If they’re much bigger, just trim them with a sharp knife.

Butter the top sheet of phyllo with melted butter, then grab it and the unbuttered sheet below it. Set the two sheets in the pan, buttered sheet face down. Press lightly into the pan. Repeat this twice more, so that you have six sheets of phyllo in the pan, three of the sheets buttered.

Sprinkle on enough walnuts to make a single layer. Butter two sheets of phyllo and place them on top of the walnuts. Add more walnuts, then two more buttered phyllo sheets. Repeat this a couple more times, or until you’re out of walnuts. Top with 4 more buttered phyllo sheets, ending with a buttered top. Cut a diagonal diamond pattern in the baklava using a very sharp knife.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until the baklava is very golden brown.

While the baklava is baking, combine 1 stick of the butter, honey, water, sugar, and vanilla in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.

When you remove the baklava from the oven, drizzle half the saucepan evenly all over the top. Allow it to sit and absorb for a minute, then drizzle on a little more until you think it’s thoroughly moistened. You’ll likely have some of the honey mixture leftover.

Allow the baklava to cool, uncovered, for several hours. Once cool and sticky and divine, carefully remove them from the pan.

For some step by step directions; just follow the link below to visit The Pioneer Woman’s awesome site:

Joyful Christmas Nibbles to Brighten Your Table

One of my all time favorite things to do is create themed tables for holidays or special events. I can spend hours upon hours reading through recipes, visualizing the beautiful table in my mind. Holidays such as Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving are some of the easiest to bring together. Just check the internet – there are entire sites dedicated to holiday entertaining. And not just the big holidays. Do a little digging and you can find recipes and decorating tips for just about anything. I love them all. It’s the attention to detail that pulls me in. I am such a stickler for detail.

For your holiday consideration, I’ve put together a few of my favorite nibbles. Hope you find a recipe or two to add to your Holiday collection.

Joyful Christmas Nibbles
Baked Christmas Brie with Raspberry Jam
Crescent Christmas Ornament
Pastrami and Roast Beef Red Pepper Roll-Ups
Rosemary Wreath Smokies in a Blanket
Spicy Shrimp and Apricot Crescent Bites
Spinach Dip Breadstick Christmas Tree


Baked Christmas Brie with Raspberry Jam
Flour, for work surface
2 Sheets puff pastry, thawed
1 (7 oz.) round brie
1 Tablespoon raspberry jam
Egg wash, for brushing puff pastry
Crackers, for serving

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Unroll 1 puff pastry on a floured work surface.

Smear raspberry jam in center of puff pastry. Place brie on top of jam.

Fold corners of pastry around brie like you would a present. Seal with egg wash.

Cut second sheet of puff pastry into strips. Wrap two long strips around brie to create base of bow.

Cut long strip into smaller pieces to create ribbon for bow. Seal onto brie with egg wash in a bow shape.

Place brie on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cover all over with more egg wash.

Bake until deeply golden, about 15 minutes.

Serve with crackers.

Crescent Christmas Ornament
2 (8 oz) cans refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
4 oz cream cheese, softened
½ cup whipping cream
½ cup garlic & herb spreadable cheese
2 gold or sliver baking cups
Sprigs fresh rosemary as needed
1 Red bell pepper
1 Yellow bell pepper
Handful of Cherry Tomatoes
Fresh thyme

Heat oven to 375-degrees. Spray 12-inch pizza pan with nonstick cooking spray. Remove dough from 1 can, keeping dough in one piece – DO NOT UNROLL. With palms of hands, gently roll dough in one direction into 12-inch long log. With serrated knife, cut log into 20 slices. Repeat with 2nd can of dough.

At center of spray-coated pizza pan, arrange 2 slices side by side, pressing together to flatten inside edges and to form a circle. Place 7 slices in ring around center slices; press together lightly. Arrange 12 slices in next ring; press together lightly. Arrange 9 slices in last ring, overlapping edges slightly in ring. Press together gently. Bake for 13-18 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Gently loosen ornament form pan. Cool 5 minutes.

Gently remove ornament from pan, slide on wire rack to cool completely.

In medium bowl, beat cream cheese at medium speed until soft and fluffy. Slowly beat in whipping cream, beat until fluffy. Beat in spreadable cheese until well blended. Cover; refrigerate until serving time.

Place cooled ornament on large round serving tray, rearrange as necessary if crescent slices have separated. Spread entire ornament with cream cheese mixture. Shape one foil baking cup to resemble metal ornament top, folding in half at base. Cut small slit in top. Fold second baking cup inward from outside edges to make metal strip. Twist together at base to make loop for ornament top. Insert base into slit. Slide sprigs of rosemary through loop to resemble branches of pine tree.

Decorate ornament with vegetables as desired.

Suggestion: For New Year’s Eve arrange slices of vegetables to form numbers of coming year. Place in center of ornament, decorate as desired above and below numbers.

Pastrami and Roast Beef Red Pepper Roll-Ups
¼ lb thinly sliced pastrami (from deli counter)
½ lb thinly sliced roast beef (from deli counter)
2/3 cup Chive & Onion cream cheese spread
1 cup roasted red bell peppers (from jar) cut into ¾-inch wide strips.
Fresh rosemary sprigs

Carefully spread each slice of pastrami with cream cheese spread. Top each with roasted pepper piece at one edge. Starting at roasted pepper edge, roll up each slice tightly. Cover and refrigerate. Repeat with roast beef slices. Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

To serve, trim ends. Cut each roll into 1-inch thick pieces. Secure each with fresh rosemary. Makes about 80 bites

Rosemary Wreath Smokies in a Blanket
1 tube refrigerated crescent rolls
24 Little Smokie Cocktail Sausages
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
Egg wash
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
rosemary sprigs (for decoration)
Ketchup, for serving

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking pan with parchment paper.

Slice crescent rolls lengthwise into thirds. Brush all over with Dijon mustard. Place a mini cocktail sausage on the thick end of each triangle and roll up.

Arrange the smokies in a blanket, sided by side, in a circle on the baking sheet. They should be touching to form the wreath! Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the crescents are golden. Let cool for at least 20 minutes.

Lay rosemary sprigs around the inside of the wreath and place a small bowl filled with ketchup in the center.

Spicy Shrimp and Apricot Crescent Bites
1 (8 oz) can refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
1 ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
Apricot preserves
24 medium cooked shrimp, tails removed
24 sprigs fresh cilantro

Heat oven to 375-degrees. Unroll dough into 1 long rectangle; gently pressing perforations to seal. Place cayenne pepper in strainer and lightly dust dough with powder. Sprinkle with chopped peppers.

Starting with one long side, roll up dough jelly-roll fashion. With serrated knife, cut roll into 24 slices; place cut-side-down on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 13-15 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet; place on wire rack. Cool completely.

To assemble: top each bite with about ½ teaspoon apricot preserves and 1 shrimp. Garnish each with a cilantro sprig. Serve immediately.

Spinach Dip Breadstick Christmas Tree
12 oz Frozen Chopped Spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
6 oz cream cheese, softened
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup cheddar or mozzarella cheese
1 tube refrigerated thick crust pizza crust
2 tablespoons gutter
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

In a bowl, beat together the spinach and cream cheese. Add minced garlic, salt, onion powder, pepper, chili powder and 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning. Beat to combine.

Add Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup cheddar or Mozzarella cheese to the spinach mixture. Set aside.

Unroll the pizza crust on a piece of parchment paper. Using a pizza slicer, cut the crust into three triangles. This gives you one large triangle and two smaller ones. Transfer the smaller triangles to a second piece of parchment paper, placing the long side edges together, to make another large triangle. The dough will stretch out a little as you move it around – no biggie, just gently tug it into the shape you want, pressing the two halves together in the middle. This will be the base of the breadsticks. If desired, also gave the base a short little trunk. Pinch the seams of the base together to seal and create one large triangle about the same size at the remaining center cut piece.

Spread the spinach dip over the base.

Sprinkle on the remaining cheese, and then top with the first triangle of dough. You’ll likely have to tug at the dough a little bit to make sure it completely covers the base triangle.

Using a pizza cutter, cut slices from the middle to each edge about every inch down the triangle as shown below. Don’t slice all the way across; leave about an inch down the middle of the tree intact.

Grab each “slice” and twist it to form a tree shape. For the top slice that’s very short you’ll just give it a half twist; as you go further down the tree and hit longer slices you’ll give them two or three full twists.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 22 minutes until the bottom is completely cooked through.

The top is going to get nice and browned, but make sure to check that the bottom is cooked through. If you are cooking on a heavy cookie sheet, you may want to cook this on the lower rack in your oven.

Once out of the oven you can brush the breadsticks with melted butter, garlic salt, and seasonings. Serve while still warm and enjoy.

This awesome Christmas Tree recipe comes to us from It’s Always Autumn. Be sure to check out her original posting with great step-by-step photos.

Hope you have a wonderful Holiday Season!

The Pink Stuff

What is it about this simple Jell-O Salad that is so popular? Seems like at every family gathering throughout the summer; someone brings a big bowl of “the pink stuff”. Be it Auntie May or Cousin Mary. When families get together for a pot-luck in warm weather, someone always pipes up with “Oh, and I’ll make the pink stuff.” Or the question is raised “Who’s making the pink stuff?” It’s expected, like Uncle Bob grabbing you in a headlock and rubbing the top of your head or Aunt Virginia kissing everyone and leaving a big, red impression of her lips on your cheek. At the end of summer, the Pink Stuff is gone, only to reappear at the Thanksgiving or Christmas Table, then poof, gone again until the following summer.

I like The Pink Stuff. It’s pretty, refreshing and sweet. I’ve never figured out if it should be served with the rest of the meal or saved for later since it’s such a cross-over dish. I wouldn’t consider The Pink Stuff as a salad, and although often served as a side, it’s not the typical side dish either. Yet serve The Pink Stuff as a dessert and everyone will be wondering where’s the cake – the pie – the cookies! The only thing I like better than The Pink Stuff (keeping all things equal, of course) is The Green Stuff aka “Watergate Salad”. The Green Stuff is a post for another day, so stay tuned . . .

Jell-O Salad aka The Pink Stuff
1 (16 oz) Container Cottage Cheese, small curd
1 (3 oz) Box Strawberry Jell-O
1 (8 oz) Container Cool-Whip
1 (16 oz) Can Crushed Pineapples, well-drained
Maraschino Cherries for garnish, optional
Mint Leaves for Garnish, optional

Place cottage cheese in desired mold or serving dish. Sprinkle with dry Jell-O.

Fold in cool-whip. Add crushed pineapple.

Chill at least 3 hours or overnight.

Note: For Christmas, consider both Red and Green Maraschino Cherries for a Festive Holiday Garnish.

You can dress it up or serve it simple – it’s all up to you!