Mini Desserts #4 – Single Serving Tiramisu

One of the most decadent desserts I enjoy is tiramisu.  Along with being decadent, it is also quite expensive.  The mascarpone cheese costs about $5 per 8 oz. container and a typical 13×9 dish of tiramisu contains two of these.  I have even found it necessary to use three, when having a larger dinner party.  Not cheap by any means.

Making tiramisu in mini glasses is a great way to serve a decadent dessert to guests without going broke.  I cut my original recipe in half and made 10 mini desserts.  This was perfect when you take into consideration I had several other mini desserts to choose from.

Single Serving Mini Tiramisu

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  • 3 Large Egg Yolks
  • 4 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 1/3 Cup Milk
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 8 oz. Mascarpone Cheese
  • 10 Lady Fingers
  • 1/2 Cup Very Strong Coffee
  • 2 Tbsp. Kahlua

In saucepan, whisk the eggs and sugar until smooth.  Add milk and vanilla.  Turn on heat and cook until thick, stirring constantly. Let cool.

When cool whisk cheese into custard.  Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

To assemble, combine coffee and kahlua.  Dip each lady finger into coffee mixture and place in dessert cup.

Fill pastry bag with custard filling.  Pipe into dessert cups around and on top of lady finger.  Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with coco.

As much as I enjoy making one special dessert, I enjoy making a variety of desserts for my guests to enjoy even more, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

O Christmas Tree

The very last decoration in our home to go up every year for the holidays is the Christmas tree.  We have a 10 footer that I bought 20 years ago and it is still as beautiful today as it was the day I bought it.  What I like about this tree and don’t like at the same time is that I can put as many lights as I want to on it.  It is not prelit, so this means a lot more effort in putting this up every year, but I doubt I’d be happy with a prelit one.  Typically I have between 2800 and 3400 lights on our tree.  Yep, I like to light it up.  The reason for this is that our family tree is the only decoration that is lit every day during December.  The rest of the decorations are not lit unless someone is over.  This being the case, I really like to make the most of this one decoration.

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Assembling the tree takes me about 8 hours, four tree cords, three power strips, two extension cords, and a partridge in a pear tree!

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I use a combination of white and colored lights and have the tree wired so that both the colored and white lights are wrapped around each and every branch.  The white lights are plugged into two of the tree cords and one of the power strips and the colored lights into the other two tree cords and the other power strip.  This way, I am able to light only the white, only the colored, or both — depending on my mood.  Also, being that it can be costly to run all 2800 lights every night, I like to have the option of only running half the lights and still having the entire tree lit.

I figured out that it costs $0.15 per hour to run the entire tree and only $0.075 to run half.  This is quite a difference for the whole month.  I realize that it would cost only $0.004 to run all 2800 lights if I used LED’s, but the conversion cost from the lights I currently have to LED’s would be more than it costs to run my tree for several seasons.  Not an investment we’re ready to make at this point.

Decorating the tree takes about three days.  The first day Hubby and the kids help.  They are good for about 30 minutes and then they lose interest and I continue working while they sit and watch.  Not hard to understand when you consider that we have over 400 different ornaments that are put on the tree.

Day two I work alone, while they are all out of the house.  My first task at this point is to move many of the ornaments that Hubby and the kids placed on the tree.  The reason for this is that there are some ornaments that are designated for the best spots.  These include ornaments from my great-grandmother, both my grandmothers, my parents, the kids, and Hubby.  Day three is for putting on all the moving and light-up ornaments, putting on the tinsel, and the popcorn strings.

The tree is the first thing people see when they come into our home and by far the most popular.  Every ornament has a story and I am more than willing to share it.  I actually have a written history or all our ornaments going back to 1981 when I received my very first ornament from my parents for my hope chest.

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Our family tree holds more memories than all the decorations in the entire house combined.  Every ornament holds a special place in my heart, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Cookie #6 – Soft & Chewy Molasses

So many cookies that are made during the holidays tend to be heavy and sweet.  This particular recipe is neither of those and because of that are one Hubby’s go-to cookies after a day of feasting on holiday treats.

Molasses Cookies

Molasses

  • 3/4 Cup Melted Butter
  • 1 Cup White Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/3 Cup Molasses
  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 2 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground Ginger
  • 1/2 Cup White Sugar for rolling

In mixing bowl combine melted butter, 1 cup sugar, and egg.  Beat until smooth

Stir in molasses.

Combine dry ingredients and spices and blend into molasses mixture.

Cover and chill dough for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375.  Roll dough into walnut size balls and roll in sugar.  Place cookies 2″ apart on parchment lined baking sheets.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes.  Cool on wire racks.

This recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies.  I like to bake a dozen at a time, and freeze the remaining balls for later in the season.

The deep flavor of molasses makes these cookies an excellent topper to a heavy meal — not too sweet, soft and chewy.

Half-way done with my goal of 12 different cookies for the holidays, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Cookie #5 – This is what Christmas smells like – Mincemeat Cookies

Most of the cookies I bake during the holidays, I also make throughout the year.  The one I do not make at any other time of year is mincemeat.  For me, mincemeat is a Christmas tradition, one started long ago when my family still lived in England.

Sometime in the early 1900’s my great-grandmother from my mother’s mother’s side immigrated to New York from England.  With her she brought only a few belongings, among them her recipes and traditions for Christmas.  These included recipes for mincemeat, mince pies, mince cookies, and a very old recipe and bowl set for plum pudding. These traditions and recipes were handed down to my grandmother and then to me.

Yes, there is an obvious skip in generations there.  My mother, although she loves the traditions, had no interest in doing the work.  I on the other hand had no intention of allowing these traditions to be lost.  At the age of 18, when I moved out on my own, I began playing with these recipes, the heart of what epitomizes Christmas for me.

It is rather ironic that I would want to make any of these recipes, because growing up I hated mincemeat and plum pudding.  (Okay, if I used ironic incorrectly here, feel free to correct me.  I never seem to get it right.) Even knowing that eating one bite of plum pudding would guarantee me good luck throughout the coming year, I wouldn’t touch it. Not until after I began making my own mincemeat and plum puddings, did I come to appreciate the wonderfully, deep flavors that take years to develop.

Both mincemeat and plum pudding are recipes that need to be made well in advance of the holidays, we’re talking years here.  The longer these things age, the better they get.  In fact, I would not suggest eating or using either of these things until they are at least a year old.

Of the recipes I use mincemeat for, mincemeat cookies is the only one that I will make days or weeks before Christmas.  Mince pies and plum pudding are saved exclusively for Christmas eve and Christmas day.  I will admit that for many, mincemeat is an acquired taste, along the lines of fruitcake.  Once you get a taste for it, however, it is a taste you will crave all year-long.

Mincemeat Cookies

Mincemeat

  • 10 Tbsp. Butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 Cups Sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 Cups Aged Mincemeat
  • 3 Cups Flour
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 3/4 tsp. Salt
  • 1 Cup Walnuts (optional)

Cream shortening and sugar till creamy.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions.  Add mincemeat. Stir in dry ingredients.

Bake on greased cookie sheet at 350 for 15 minutes.

I do warn you these cookies are best if eaten within three days, as they do tend to become dry after that point.

Cracking open a jar of homemade, aged mincemeat every December is one thing that screams CHRISTMAS for me. The smell is something that stirs memories of Christmas’s past, family get-togethers, and traditions holding fast through the generations, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Mini Desserts #3 – Nutella Cheesecake Trifles

One of Grace’s and Hubby’s favorite spreads for bread is Nutella.  Pairing this with brownies and cheesecake made this mini dessert their favorite of all the ones I’ve made so far.

Nutella Cheesecake Trifle

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  • 1 – 2 Cups Crumbled Brownie
  • 8 oz. Cream Cheese
  • 2/3 Cup Nutella
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 8 oz. Tub Cool Whip Topping
  • Chocolate Sprinkles

Combine cream cheese and Nutella in mixing bowl and beat until smooth.

Add vanilla and mix to combine.

With a wooden spoon, fold Cool Whip into mixture until no white streaks remain.

Divide Nutella mixture in half.  Add brownie crumbs to one half of mixture and stir to combine.

Fill half of dessert glass with brownie/Nutella mixture and top with plain Nutella mixture.  Add chocolate sprinkles.

This mini dessert is on the light side because of the addition of Cool Whip and is the perfect finish after a heavy meal, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Mini Desserts #2 – Peanut Butter Pie Shooters

I am not the biggest fan of cheesecake, but this particular recipe is one I can’t even resist.  Very rich, super creamy, and no bake — does it get much better than that?

Peanut Butter Pie Shooters

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  • 1 Cup Cream Peanut Butter
  • 8 oz. Cream Cheese
  • 14 oz. Can Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Cup Powdered Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Whipping Cream
  • 16 Oreo Cookies
  • 5 Tbsp. Melted Butter

Beat cream cheese and peanut butter until smooth.

Add milk and vanilla and beat until creamy.

Add powdered sugar and beat until mixture thickens.

Add liquid heavy whipping cream and continue to beat until the mixture fluffs.

Stir melted butter in crushed Oreos and press 1 – 2 Tbsp. into bottom of each dessert cup.  Pipe peanut butter mixture into cup and sprinkle top with additional cookie crumb mixture.

Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

I’ve made this recipe using in an 8″ pie plate in the past, but using these mini dessert cups just makes this so much fun and the perfect size serving.

Peanut butter cup in a glass, does it get any better, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Mini Desserts #1 – Layered Jello

This year I decided to jump on the band wagon and buy myself a set of mini dessert glasses.  For the past two weeks I have been experimenting with a bunch of different recipes using these glasses.  I really like serving desserts in this fashion because I can make five or more different desserts and being that the servings are so small, my guests can experiment with several of them without risk of over-eating.

Today I decided that I just didn’t have enough on my plate to do, so having a good 8 to 10 hours to kill, between making dinner, baking cookies, making candy, going on a day trip with Hubby and the kids, and doing a few loads of laundry, I made these wonderfully time-consuming layered jello desserts.

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It’s really not that difficult to make, just terribly time-consuming.  So if you’ve got time to kill, or just really want to serve something that looks really pretty, give this recipe a shot.

Layered Jello

  • Five different flavors 3 oz. pkgs. Jello
  • 2 Cups Boiling Milk
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 2 Envelopes Knox Gelatin
  • 2 Cups Sour Cream
  • 2 tsp. Vanilla

Begin by dissolving first flavor of Jello in 1 cup boiling water.  Add 1/4 cup cold water.  Pour first layer into glass.  I marked one of the glasses with a marker to give me a guide.  The glass was 3″ and I had 10 layers that I planned on making.

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After I filled the amount of glasses I wanted to make, I poured the remaining jello in a rectangle corning ware dish. The original recipe called for only four different flavors of Jello and a 9 x 13 pan was used.

Put the glasses in the refrigerator to set.  The small glasses take about 30 minutes, whereas the corning ware dishes take 45 minutes to an hour.

Add sugar to boiling milk and mix till dissolved.

Dissolve Knox gelatin in 1/2 Cup cold water.  Let set 5 minutes.

Add gelatin mixture to milk and sugar.  Add sour cream and vanilla and mix until blended.  Let cool.  DO NOT REFRIGERATE CREAM MIXTURE AT ALL UNTIL YOU LAYER IT GLASSES.

When first layer of Jello is set, pour a layer of cream mixture on top and return to fridge.  Let this layer set for 20 to 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, prepare the next two flavors of Jello in the same manner as before and let stand OUT OF THE REFRIGERATOR TO COOL.

When cream layer is set, pour next flavor of Jello on top to make next layer and refrigerate.  After each layer of cream has been added from here on, immediately prepare another Jello flavor and let it stand OUT OF THE REFRIGERATOR TO COOL.  You do not want it to gel at all, but it must be cool.

I cannot wait to serve these to our guests tomorrow.  Even if they don’t like Jello, I think they’ll find them irresistible.

These little desserts took a long time to make, but they were well worth the effort.  Remember, there’s always room for Jello, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Candy #1 – Old-Fashioned Butter Mints

One of my favorite candies as a child were those wonderful melt-in-your-mouth mints that I got when my parents took us out to dinner.  I can’t remember anything about the restaurants they took us to, the names or types, but I do remember that it seemed every restaurant we went to had a big bowl of these tiny mints on a podium near the entrance.  The pastel-colored mints were light and sugary, and melted in my mouth.  I could hardly wait till we left so I could take a spoonful and slip them into my pocket to enjoy all the way home.

A few months ago I was researching different candies to make this holiday season and came across several recipes for butter mints.  I just had to try them.  Zeb absolutely loves mint, it’s his favorite.  So tonight, we set to work on this simple, and quick recipe and were thrilled with the results.

Old-Fashioned Butter Mints

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  • 1/4 Cup Softened Butter
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • 3 1/4 Cups Powdered Sugar
  • 1/3 Cup Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1/2 to 3/4 tsp. Peppermint Extract
  • Green Food Coloring

Mix butter and salt in mixer till blended.  Add milk, food coloring and 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract and mix until well combined.

Begin adding powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.  After all the sugar has been added, taste the dough. If you want more flavor, add an additional 1/4 tsp. of extract.

Divide dough into 8 to 10 balls and roll into logs.  Slice and store in air tight container in fridge.

These mints turned out perfect.  They melted in my mouth just like the ones I remember from my childhood.

Memories are great, but making these mints with Zeb and making a new memory is even better, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Ox Tail Soup

The way to a man’s heart is through his…

Back a few years ago, Hubby and I took the kids to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for a vacation.  It was beautiful there and full of European cuisine.  Hubby especially enjoyed the food, as many of the meals used ingredients that most American’s aren’t accustomed to eating but being that he was born in Serbia, he truly appreciated.

Of all the meals that we enjoyed, one that Hubby raved about for months after returning home was ox tail soup. It wasn’t something I wanted to try, but Hubby absolutely loved it.

A few years later I happened to come across a package of ox tails at our local grocer’s.  I couldn’t believe it.  Never had I seen them at the specialty markets, let alone at our regular grocery store.  Needless to say, I snatched them up and began researching recipes.

A few days later, Hubby came home and I served him my version of ox tail soup and hoped it would be somewhat close to what he’d enjoyed so much in Punta Cana.  I put the bowl of soup in front of him, without telling him what it was and stood there waiting.  He took his first bite and then another.  Not a word.  I could tell he was trying to place the taste, but all he kept saying was, “This is really, no REALLY good.”  When I told him what it was, he told me it was actually better than what he remembered.

Success!

Ox Tail Soup

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  • 2 -3 lbs. Ox Tails
  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 2 Tbsps. Lard or Bacon Fat
  • 1 Large Onion, minced
  • 2 Quarts Water
  • 1 Heaping Tbsp. Beef Bouillon
  • 1 6 oz. Can Tomato Paste
  • 2 tsp. Salt
  • 1/4 tsp. Pepper
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. Thyme
  • 2 Tbsp. Parsley Flakes
  • 2 Medium Carrots, minced/diced
  • 1 Stalk celery, minced
  • 1/4 Cup Orzo Noodles
  1. Dredge ox tails in flour and brown in lard or bacon fat.  Add onions and cook 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add water, bouillon, tomato paste, salt, bay leaf, thyme, and parsley flakes.  Bring to boil.
  3. Add carrots and celery and return to boil.
  4. Turn heat down to simmer and cook for 2 -3 hours more.
  5. 30 minutes before serving add 1/4 cup orzo noodles and bring to boil.  Cook until noodles are tender.
  6. Serve with fresh bread.

Tonight I made him this soup again.  It is certainly not a regular on my menu, as finding ox tails is truly a hit or miss in our area.  Hubby loves it though and as he rolled himself over to the couch after dinner he said, “Wow!  That was so good.  Probably the best soup you’ve ever made. I really shouldn’t have had that third bowl!”

I love making food that the family likes, but it is especially rewarding when Hubby really likes something.  Ox tail soup is one of those special meals I like to make for Hubby just to show him how much he means to me, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Cookie #4 – Quick & Easy Biscotti

A few years ago a girlfriend surprised me with a gift of homemade biscotti when she came over to visit.  I had never eaten this type of cookie before and was pleasantly surprised with both the texture and flavor.  My friend sent me the recipe, but reading the list of ingredients and the laborious instructions, I was somewhat turned off from attempting these on my own.

Sometime later while thumbing through a cookbook at the bookstore, I came across a recipe for lemon biscotti using a cake mix.  I just had to try it.  It turned out perfect!  Of course, lemon was good, but the family wanted chocolate, so I experimented a bit and came up with this.

Triple Chocolate Biscotti

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  • 1 Box Chocolate Cake Mix
  • 1 Cup Flour
  • 1/2 C. Melted Butter
  • 1/3 Cup Chocolate Syrup
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • Mini Chocolate Chips

Mix cake mix, flour, butter, chocolate syrup, eggs and vanilla in large bowl.  Fold in half a bag of mini chocolate chips.

Divide batter in half and shape into log.  Place halves on parchment lined baking sheet and cover with more mini chips.

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Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool 15 minutes.

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Cut into 1/2″ slices and bake an additional 15 minutes, turning once.

I love the versatility of using a cake mix and having the option of so many different flavors.  Today I made our favorite triple chocolate and then used a Funfetti cake mix.

Funfetti Biscotti

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  • 1 Box Funfetti Cake Mix
  • 1 Stick Butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Cup Flour
  • Sprinkles

Follow above directions, using sprinkles on top of formed logs prior to baking.

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Today I worked on five different cookies, so with each I froze at least half the batter.  With these I froze one log of each for another day.

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A day of baking and a home filled with freshly baked cookies for the holidays, for this I am — Simply Grateful.