this quick biscuit

Say that five times fast.

Are you guys getting sick of dessert posts? I am, so here’s something a little different: heavy cream biscuits. You can whip these up on Christmas morning — pre- or post-gift opening — and no one will believe how incredibly easy they were to make.

♦2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tbl. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/4 c. heavy cream, plus some for brushing

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add cream and stir until dough forms. Gather into a ball, and roll out onto a lightly floured surface — about 10 inches round (1/2-inch thick). Using a circular cutter (or a drinking glass, in my case), cut as many rounds as possible out of the dough. Make sure you dip the cutter/glass in flour before each cut; it’ll make your life a lot easier. Gather scraps, roll into another round and repeat. Place biscuits on a greased baking sheet. Brush with additional heavy cream. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes at 425 degrees.

Total time? 10 minutes prep, 15 minutes bake.
$2 heavy cream
Overall success relative to expectations? 9 out of 10. Four ingredients and less than a half hour later, I had biscuits more banging than Pillsbury (and cheaper). I got about 12 out of this recipe, and I’d suggest serving with butter and/or jelly. The outside was crisp, the inside was flaky and my house smelled amazing. And I finally got to bust out my new silicone brush to soak these suckers in heavy cream!! (It’s the little things.)

cane and able

Every Christmas Eve, I have dinner with my immediate family, and spend the latter portion of the night BSing and watching approximately three showings of “A Christmas Story” with my 2.5 Jewish friends and assorted others at my friend Jackie’s house. It’s been a tradition of ours since middle school. A few years ago, we started a new tradition: the retelling of one of my most shining moments of brilliance.

See, Jackie has this snowman statue outside her front door (at left). And if you’ve ever read any of my posts, you know I’m a proponent of word play — especially the corny kind. So upon seeing this snowman five or so years ago, I thought I was clever commenting on his accessories in what I thought was the ‘punniest’ way possible…

Me: Nice snowman, Jac.
Steve: I like his top hat.
Me: I like his candy CANE — get it?! He’s using it like a cane?
[full minute of silence]

Yup. It wasn’t until age 20 that I realized the parallel between the candy cane moniker and its shape is no coincidence. (I promise I’m not as brain dead as this story suggests.) With Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses, though, I don’t have to worry about that whole walking stick shape thing because the sharp minty flavor is packed into chewable little drops of awesome, and these cookies successfully put those little dollops on display.

Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses

♦1-1/2 c. powdered sugar
1-1/4 c. butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. peppermint extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. finely chopped Candy Cane flavored Hershey’s Kisses (about 15)
granulated sugar for rolling
about 30 Candy Cane Kisses

Make sure there’s room enough in your freezer for a cookie sheet. Combine powdered sugar, butter, extracts and egg.Beat at medium speed for about three minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Add to wet mixture and beat for about two minutes. The mixture will be very crumbly. Stir in chopped Kisses. Shape dough into 1-inch balls, roll in granulated sugar and place on cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees.

As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, press a Candy Cane Kiss in the center of each cookie. Hold the outsides of the cookie together as they will crack a little with the pressure. Place cookies immediately into the freezer to allow Kisses to set; otherwise, they will melt into a sloppy mess. When set, store in a covered container at room temperature.

Total time? 20 prep, 12 minutes bake, 30 minutes set. 
$2.50 Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses (one package), $3 mint extract
Overall success relative to expectations? 6 out of 10. These cookies are pretty dense; I’m going to guess it’s due to the bevy of butter and the use of powdered sugar in the mix instead of granulated. I wanted a little more mint out of the cookie itself (would consider using 2 tsp. of extract next time), and while the whole Kiss on top has nice to look at it, it makes consumption of the cookie a little less convenient. Maybe it would have been better to leave them out of the freezer and take my chances with those sloppy Kiss puddles.

cran them in your mouth

Now that I’ve become somewhat of a baking addict, I’m oh-so-jealous of my friends who’ve been to cookie exchanges during the holiday season. The event seems like a middle-age woman type of thing, but the concept is genius: bake one type of cookie, trade with 10-20 people and come home with a vast assortment of cookies for you to keep picking at all week.

No cookie exchange invites for me this year, though; I guess word of my culinary prowess hasn’t yet reached the masses. But if you’ve got one coming up, or are looking for an easy sweet to bring to Christmas dinner this weekend, these dark chocolate cranberry oatmeal cookies are perfect. They’re beautiful and freaking delicious. The dark chocolate chips (I used my fancy schmancy Ghirardelli chunks) were a perfect balance for the tart cranberries, and the hint of cinnamon was just right.

♦1-1/4 sticks of butter, room temperature
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. Quaker oats
1-1/4 c. dark chocolate chips
1 c. chopped fresh cranberries

Cream together butter and sugars. Add egg, then vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon, then add to butter mixture. Add oats, and blend well. Stir in dark chocolate chips and cranberries, and mix. Scoop onto lined baking sheets, and bake for 15 to 18 minutes at 350 degrees.

Total time? 15 minutes prep, 18 minutes bake.
$3.99 for more fresh cranberries than you need, $2 oats, $2.50 Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips (on sale)
Overall success relative to expectations? 10 out of 10. I’m not a sweets person, but I couldn’t stop eating these — like, every time I walked into the kitchen. I was desperately giving them away to friends and family to keep myself from gaining 10 pounds. Yields about 30 medium-size cookies. And if you’re not feeling the holiday warm-and-fuzzies, skip the cookie exchange and eat them all yourself. I certainly won’t judge.

the makings of a fabulous cookie

barking up the right tree

The time I spend trolling the Internet for “food porn” is tantamount to that which a 20-year-old frat guy spends looking at, well, different types of images, but ever since a devastating virus took over my computer last week, everyone’s been accusing me of having an addiction to some not-so-G-rated things. Regardless, somewhere in my innocent Internet surfing, I infected my laptop and had to pay the Best Buy Geek Squad $200+ to get the “this virus will break your life” message off my desktop. (Not a joke.)

Until I was computer-less for four straight days, I didn’t realize just how incapable I am of functioning without one. It’s quite sad, really. Fortunately, I was hosting (and catering) my friends’ annual Thieving Elves party this past weekend, and no computer was necessary for my eight straight hours in the kitchen.

I’m going to try to get up as many recipes as possible over the next few days so you can impress your friends and spread simple holiday cheer this weekend. And if I get up no recipe other than this peppermint popcorn bark, you’ll still be a hit at your parties; it’s easy to make, great for groups and super tasty. Just make sure you “warn” people what’s in the bowl; I had an unsuspecting taster get a minty — but not unwelcome — surprise when he picked up what he thought was a rice krispie treat.

totally crushin'

A few notes: Unwrapping the candy canes is frustrating. The stupid cellophane wrappers latched onto my hands, and after some violent shaking, they flew onto the wall above my trash can… and there they stayed. Beating the bejeezus out of the candy canes is the best part of this process. I had a good time taking a rolling pin and letting my assorted frustrations loose on the little suckers. They got their revenge, though; the mint vapors the beating released burned my nostrils and a small shard shot into my eye. Yup. Candy cane in the eye.

♦Two bags of cooked microwave popcorn (butter, or non-)
1 lb. almond bark
1 6-oz. box of candy canes, crushed
2 tsp. peppermint extract
3/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted

Place popped popcorn in giant bowl. Unwrap candy canes, place in a plastic bag and beat with a rolling pin. Dump in popcorn. Melt almond bark according to instructions on package. When melted, add peppermint extract; the mixture will seize (and make a crackling noise), but don’t panic. Pour over popcorn/candy mixture, and stir well. Pour mixture onto waxed paper, spread out evenly and leave it be. Melt chocolate chips in microwave, and drizzle on cooling bark with a fork. When completely cooled, break into chunks.

Total time? 25 minutes, plus cooling time.
$2.57 for pound of almond bark, 89¢ box of candy canes, $1 microwavable popcorn, $3 mint extract, $1.69 chocolate chips.
Overall success relative to expectations? 10 out of 10. Of all the things I made for my Christmas party, I did not expect this to be one of my favorites, but the end result blew me away. The peppermint was crisp, the bark was sweet — but not overly so — and it made my house smell amazing. The picture doesn’t do it justice, but trust me — it’s a must-make.

pesto pepper pinwheels

Short and sweet — the entry, not the dish. (These things are actually long [to start] and savory.)

(And this entry really isn’t sweet, either; it’s actually quite dry.)

If you’ve got any sort of party on the horizon, do these up.

♦1 can of Pillsbury crescent rolls
1/4 c. basil pesto
1/4 c. chopped roasted red peppers (from a jar)
handful of mozzarella cheese

Unroll dough and separate into four rectangles. Spread pesto over each rectangle within 1/4-inch of the edges. Sprinkle with red peppers and mozzarella cheese. Starting with one of the short sides, roll each rectangle, and press edge to seal. With a serrated knife, cut each roll into six slices. Place on baking sheet, and bake for 13-17 minutes at 350 degrees, or until golden brown.

Total time? 7 minutes prep, 15 minutes bake.
Cost? $1.33 Pillsbury crescents, $4.99 jar of red peppers, $1 pesto mix
Overall success relative to expectations? 7 out of 10. It’s hard to make something involving crescent dough taste bad, but these flavors blended really well and made for an enjoyable, hand-held snack. My only complaint was that my pesto spread was a little too liquescent because I used one of those package mixes; I’d recommend using thick pesto from a jar. Makes 24. Adapted from Pillsbury.

chicken zucnuggets

Remember Happy Meals? I do. I remember eating one virtually every Saturday afternoon from age 5 to 9 — and this was before McDonalds revamped its children’s menu with “healthy” alternatives. Why did my parents think it was a good idea to pump me full of french fries, orange drink and questionable meat nuggets on a weekly basis? Sure, those chubby years gave me some time to develop a stellar personality, but I would have made it there eventually. All I got from those Happy Meals were cheap Barbie figurines and stacks of embarrassing elementary school photos. And probably heart disease.

I recently found and made this “sneaky” recipe that uses lean meat and zucchini to make chicken nuggets healthier than those you’d find at McD’s (or even the bagged, frozen variety). I don’t have any kids to fool with this, but I think it’d work on my unsuspecting picky-eater friends. The consistency is on par with a traditional chicken nugget and they’re breaded, but baking them saves you some calories and clean-up time.

mmm, non-questionable meat nuggets

♦1 1/2 c. grated zucchini
1 lb. ground chicken
1 egg
1 tsp. onion salt
2 c. bread crumbs

Mix zucchini, chicken, egg and onion salt until well combined.  Form 1 to 2 tablespoons of mixture into small balls, press flat (until about 1/2-inch thick) and coat in bread crumbs.  Transfer to lightly greased baking sheet.  Once all nuggets have been formed and breaded, give them a light spray of cooking spray.  Bake at 400 degrees for 13 to 15 minutes. Serve with barbecue sauce, ketchup, honey mustard or — my condiment of choice — pure honey.

Total time? 10 minutes prep, 15 minutes bake.
Cost? $2.99 ground chicken, $1 zucchini, $1 bread crumbs
Overall success relative to expectations? 6 out of 10. Instead of grating the zucchini as the recipe recommended, I did some sort of chopping-slicing hybrid and ended up with pieces too big and visible to sell anyone on this being a “normal” chicken nugget. The bread crumbs were plain, and I accidentally used onion powder instead of onion salt, so I lost a lot of flavor points there. Still, these have potential to be a not-as-delicious-and-fatty-as-McNuggets-but-still-tasty-and-healthier meal or snack. Recipe yields 18-20 medium nuggets. Hot Wheels toy not included.