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Monday, December 15, 2008

Spread Holiday Cheer With These Easy Recipes

Puff Pastry Wreath Preparation Time: 30 minutes Bake Time: 15 to 18 minutes Serves 12. Ingredients 1 box (17 ounces) frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed 1 large egg, beaten 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary 1 cup cheese spread (8 ounces), any flavor Fresh rosemary sprigs for garnish Fresh cranberries for garnish. 1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Place the puff pastry sheets on a lightly floured work surface. Cut out twenty-four 3- to 4-inch leaf shapes using a cookie cutter. 2. Arrange the pastry leaves in a slightly overlapping circle on a baking sheet to form a wreath. Brush the wreath with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the rosemary. 3. Bake until golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Cool the wreath on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then slide gently onto a serving plate. 4. Spoon the cheese spread into a decorative 1-cup crock or custard cup. Place in the center of wreath. Garnish with rosemary sprigs and cranberries. Tip: Make Ahead The wreath can be made up to three days before serving. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. To serve, unwrap and let come to room temperature. If you like, crisp the thawed wreath in a 400F oven for a few minutes. Holiday Cheese Ball Preparation Time: 10 minutes, plus chilling Cook Time: None Serves 12. Ingredients 1 (4-ounce) package cream cheese 1/4 cup milk 1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese 2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese 5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled 6 tablespoons chopped pecans 2 tablespoons chopped green onions (white part only) 1/2 (2-ounce) jar diced pimientos, drained 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 2 teaspoons poppy seeds 1. Beat the cream cheese and milk in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on low until well blended. Add the Cheddar, Monterey Jack and blue cheese. Beat at medium speed until well combined. Add half of the bacon, 3 tablespoons of the pecans, the green onions and pimientos to the cheese mixture. Blend on medium speed until well mixed. 2. Transfer the mixture to a large piece of plastic wrap and form into a ball. Wrap tightly. Refrigerate until well chilled, about 2 hours. 3. Combine the remaining bacon and remaining pecans with the parsley and poppy seeds in a pie plate or large dinner plate. Remove the plastic wrap from the ball. Roll in the bacon mixture until well coated. Wrap tightly again in plastic and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 24 hours. Tip: Double the Recipe Expecting a crowd? You can easily double this recipe and make two cheese balls. Minty Cranberry Relish Ingredients 1 medium apple 1 (12-ounce) package fresh or thawed frozen cranberries 1/2 cup packed fresh mint leaves 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar 1/3 cup orange marmalade 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 1/3 cup golden or dark raisins 1. Peel and core the apple; cut into 8 pieces. 2. Combine the apple, cranberries and mint in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a medium bowl. 3. Combine the brown sugar, marmalade, lemon juice, and mustard in a small bowl. Stir until well blended. Add to the cranberry mixture and stir until well blended. Gently stir in the raisins. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. Tip: Freezing Cranberries Since fresh cranberries are readily available for only four months, September through December, buy a few extra bags when they are available and put the extra in the freezer. Throughout the year, you’ll have cranberries just waiting to be used in quick breads and pies—and this relish. Tip: Gift from Your Kitchen Pack the relish into jars and tie with festive ribbon for thoughtful gifts for family and friends. (Just be sure to remind your recipients to refrigerate the relish promptly.) Festive Mincemeat Squares Preparation Time: 15 minutes Bake Time: 30 to 35 minutes Makes 2 dozen squares Ingredients 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar 1 1/3 cups (2 2/3 sticks) butter 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar 2 large eggs 1 1/2 cups rum-flavored mincemeat 1 cup shredded coconut 1/2 cup dried red cherries 1/3 cup chopped walnuts 13x9-inch baking pan. 2. Combine the flour and confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl and mix well. Cut in 1 cup of the butter with a pastry blender until crumbly. Pat the crumb mixture over the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. 3. Combine the remaining 1/3 cup butter and the brown sugar in a medium bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until blended. Stir in the mincemeat, coconut, cherries and walnuts. 4. Spread the mixture evenly over the baked layer. Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into squares and serve. Tip: Lemon Glaze A lemony glaze makes these good cookies even better: Sift 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar into a medium bowl and add 2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; stir until smooth. Drizzle over the squares while they are still warm. Stained Glass Star Cookies Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus chilling Bake Time: 8 to 10 minutes Makes 2 dozen cookies Ingredients 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 large egg yolk 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 4 rolls ring-shaped hard candies (such as Lifesavers), lightly crushed 1. Combine the butter, granulated sugar, confectioners' sugar and salt in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, egg yolk and vanilla; beat on medium speed until a smooth dough forms. Shape into a disk and wrap well in plastic wrap or waxed paper. Chill at least 1 hour or overnight. 2. Preheat the oven to 375F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil. 3. Roll one-third of the dough at a time on a lightly floured surface to an 1/8-inch thickness. Cut out cookies with a large star-shaped cookie cutter. Place on the prepared baking sheets. Cut out the centers of the cookies using a small star-shaped cookie cutter. 4. Place a single color crushed candy into each cutout in cookies to fill space completely. Bake until the cookies are light golden around the edges and the candy is melted, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool cookies completely on baking sheets on wire racks. Tip Crush candies by placing them in resealable plastic bags and then tapping lightly with a rolling pin until they're broken into small pieces. Don’t crush different colored candies at the same time; you want to keep the colors separate. Christmas Tree Cakes Preparation Time: 15 minutes, plus assembly Bake Time: 15 minutes Serves 4 Ingredients Cakes 1 1/2 cups egg whites (from 10 to 12 large eggs) 1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup granulated sugar Frosting and Decoration Confectioners’ sugar 1/4 cup prepared vanilla frosting or whipped cream Green or silver dragees 1. Preheat the oven to 350F. In a large bowl, let the egg whites stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, sift together the confectioners’ sugar and flour two times and set aside. 2. Add the cream of tartar and vanilla to the egg whites. With an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Add the granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. 3. Sift one-fourth of the flour mixture over the egg-white mixture, then gently fold in. Continue sifting and folding in the remaining flour mixture, one-fourth at a time. Spoon the batter into an ungreased 17x11-inch jelly-roll pan. 4. Bake the cake until the top springs back when pressed, about 15 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Assembling and Decorating the Cake 1. Cut out 4 stars from the cake with a 4-inch star-shaped cookie cutter. Repeat with 3 1/4-inch, 2 1/2-inch and 1 3/4-inch star cutters for a total of 16 cake stars. Transfer the stars to a wire rack. 2. With kitchen scissors, cut four 3/4-inch squares from the cake scraps left in the pan. Trim the corners to make rounds. Transfer the rounds to the rack. Using a fine mesh sieve, dust the cakes with confectioners’ sugar, then dust 4 serving plates. 3. Holding the cakes by the edges, make a stack of stars on each prepared plate, using 1 cake star of each size and stacking from largest to smallest. Top each cake stack with a cake round. 4. Spoon the frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip; pipe a dot at each point of each star. Immediately place a dragee on each dot of frosting. Variations To create pine trees, add green food coloring to the cake batter (the confectioners’ sugar will resemble freshly fallen snow). Or for a different flavor and striking color contrast, sift 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder into the flour. Instead of the dragees, use decorating gels in different colors to pipe Christmas balls, candy canes or holly berries and leaves onto your tree cakes. Tip: Easy Option If you like, you can use any prepared cake mix for the cakes. Yellow, white, dark chocolate and strawberry mixes all make lovely trees.