The Eleventh Day of Christmas

On the eleventh day of Christmas, poppy seeds were on my mind

So a recipe for bread I had to find.

When I was 18, I moved out of the comfort of my parents home and into my first apartment. I had no roommate, no boyfriend, no one to share the bills or the chores. Every responsibility rested solely on my shoulders, including the cooking.

Growing up my mother made dinner nearly every night, but my time in the kitchen was quite limited. There were no cooking lessons from mom or afternoons spent learning the basics of cooking from either of my parents. Any cooking lessons I received came from my home economics teacher, Ms. Mazzola, when I was in seventh grade. I remember learning to make zucchini bread, blueberry muffins, and learning the basics of how to use a measuring cup, oven, and reading a recipe. Beyond that, I was self-taught.

Moving out on my own I thought I knew everything, but learned very quickly, I truly knew nothing at all. Beyond budgeting money, keeping my apartment clean, and laundry, there was also the new responsibility of being solely responsible for feeding myself. Money was tight, very tight, with more than half my yearly income going to rent, utilities, and insurance, so eating out was not an option. That first year I ate a lot of toast, eggs, and jelly sandwiches.

By my first anniversary of being on my own, I had changed jobs, increasing my salary substantially, moved into a new apartment where more utilities were included in the rent, and began teaching myself how to cook. During the first year I did learn how to cook a roast, can applesauce, and make cheesecake, but still my cooking skills were in great need of improvement. So, with a little more money to play with, I began collecting cook books.

Four years later I had more than 100 cookbooks, had learned how to cook many exotic dishes along with tons of home-style meals, and had taught myself how to can. It was an exciting and enlightening journey, one I reflect on warmly.

It’s been 28+ years since I moved out on my own and started cooking and a good portion of the cookbooks are gone (I copied the recipes I liked from most) and now I utilize the tried and true books I love and kept. I still have a soft spot for cookbooks, in fact, I think I truly like them better than researching recipes on the internet. Although there are some awesome recipes on the internet, it is terribly frustrating when I try a recipe that has obviously not been tested.  I ran into this when I first started playing around with mixes-in-jars and tried filling mason jars only to find that unless I had a jar that held 6+ cups of dry ingredients, it wasn’t going to work. News Flash! A quart jar only holds 4 cups packed dry ingredients.

There are definitely those recipe sites where all the recipes are tested, but sometimes I like to go rogue and try something that maybe can’t be find on one of those. This is when I really need to be careful and often need to rely on the experience and lessons I’ve learned throughout my years of cooking. I am certainly no expert and have had my share of failures — more than my share probably — but with failure comes a lesson and with a lesson comes knowledge and that knowledge can be far more beneficial than when everything turns out as written.

During the holidays Hubby’s mother used to make an Eastern European rolled poppy-seed bread that Hubby really enjoyed. Now that she is older and not able to really make these types of things anymore I decided to see if I could make something similar for him that he would enjoy just as much. None of my cookbooks had anything like this, so to the internet I went. I found several recipes, all basically the same and set to work.

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After I’d mixed the dough for the bread portion, I found I had something just slightly thicker than soup — nothing like the dough that was described. Rather than throw it out and start from scratch, I increased the amount of flour and after 3+ more cups of flour, had a dough that was ready for proofing. From that point everything went good and in the end, I had a poppy-seed bread that Hubby said was perfect. If you’d like the recipe, check it out on Simply Grateful Cooking, Poppy Seed Bread.

Honestly, having the recipe not work out worked out for the best in the end. Seeing as I had a ton of dough to work with, I decided to try making some fruit, cinnamon, and poppy-seed sticky buns with it. These were even better than the bread and something I could call my own. At first I thought I would cut the recipe in half so I wouldn’t end up with so much dough, but now that I have more than one thing I can use this dough for, I think I’ll keep it as is.

Whether it’s preparer error or creator error, some recipes are just not going to turn out no matter what you do. Being able to salvage a recipe and even expand on it is one of my favorite aspects of cooking, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

The Fifth Day of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas I made for the first time…

Gingerbread Men!

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Can you believe it? I had never made gingerbread cookies before yesterday! Have I deprived my family or what?

Honestly, the reason I never tackled this cookie was because I found them to be completely intimidating. The rolling, the cutting, the baking, the decorating — it all added up to “I don’t have that kind of time — not during the holidays!”

Well, with the 12 days of Christmas carrying on beyond Christmas day, I decided this was the year to give this traditional Christmas cookie a shot. I did cheat just a bit, as I didn’t make my own Royal icing but rather opted to buy cookie decorating frosting. In my defense though, I wasn’t sure the family would even like these cookies, so why spend the time making the icing. Cookie icing could be put on next year’s to do list.

The cookie dough came together very quickly in my food processor and set up faster than I thought it would in the freezer, making this project far less time-consuming than I planned. In less than an hour I was decorating and the family was taste-testing homemade gingerbread men. You can check out the recipe and step-by-step instructions at Simply Grateful Cooking Homemade Gingerbread Men Cookies.

Hubby loved the cookies, but without any frosting; Zeb loved the cookies with tons of frosting; and Grace, well she said they tasted similar to molasses cookies and being that they are not her favorite or even close, she probably won’t be eating too many of these. Decorating the cookies though was definitely fun everyone.

I am so glad I finally bit the bullet and made gingerbread men. Next year I am looking forward to doing this again and possibly experimenting with other cookie cutter shapes and even using some of these as ornaments on the Christmas tree. How Christmasy will that look? And dare I say, try my hand at a homemade gingerbread house!

The house is filled with the spicy scent of gingerbread, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

The First Day Of Christmas

Most people believe that the twelve days of Christmas begins on December 12th or 13th and ends on Christmas day December 25th, when in fact the first day of Christmas is December 25th and ends January 5th.

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In the spirit of this tradition, I have decided to take these twelve days and make the most of them. The twelve months before Christmas didn’t seem to allow for enough time to get all I wanted from the season or do what I wanted do, so these twelve days are my way to make up for what I missed.

Yesterday, the first day of Christmas (December 25th), I made the most of the day by enjoying every moment with my family. It actually began on Christmas Eve afternoon by sharing some time with my parents and lasted through Christmas Day. Hubby, the kids, and myself spent as much time as we could together, leaving cell phones and computers turned off, concentrating instead on being together.

There were presents, but that isn’t what we focused on. We ate all our meals together, watched holiday movies, listened to Christmas carols, and spent time remembering holidays past. It was wonderful and exactly what the holidays are supposed to be. We each gave of ourselves, making time for each other, and making moments to hold on to for the rest of our lives.

On the first day of Christmas, my family gave to me — Christmas day together merrily.

Making Krofna – A Serbian Tradition Carried On

As Hubby and I get older, our priorities, what we deem important, and our desires are changing.  Perhaps it’s the fear of our own mortality, but even more so at this point, the mortality of our parents.  For Hubby, the mortality of his parents is hinged closely to the fading of his heritage.

He came to the US when he was a young boy and quickly assimilated into American ways and customs.  His parents however clung to their heritage and never quite assimilated.  They picked and chose the American customs and traditions they liked, and dismissed all others as not as good as the “Serbian” way. This selective assimilation has been a hindrance in many ways, but most prominently in preventing them from forming any type of bond with Zeb, Grace, or myself.  We tried for years to include them in the American traditions that Hubby and I carried on from my background once we were married, but they made it clear they were not interested in participating in anything “American” unless they could somehow try to out-do it in a “Serbian” way.

The best example of this would be in birthday celebrations.  According to Hubby, his parents never had a birthday party for him.  There was one small party when he was very little and still living in Serbia, but since coming to the US, they hadn’t had a party, bought him gifts, or even made him a cake.

The first year we dated, when Hubby’s birthday came around, I made a huge deal about it.  I made a romantic dinner for the two or us, made him his favorite cake, had presents for him, and even got us tickets to a sporting event to attend on his birthday.  Every year since we met, I have made sure that his birthday has had a celebration.

After we got married, it was only natural I invite my parents, my brother’s family as well as Hubby’s parents over to share in the celebration. This is how my family celebrated birthdays — with family.  From the first time his parents came over for their son’s birthday though, it caused problems.  My mother-in-law is tremendously competitive and after coming to our home to celebrate her son’s birthday, she immediately had to invite us over to her house to have a birthday celebration for her son “the Serbian way.”  Those were her exact words, “the Serbian way.”

Well, this didn’t sit well with Hubby, because to him “the Serbian way” meant no celebration at all.  Suddenly after 25 years of never so much as a Happy Birthday, it was imperative his parents somehow prove to everyone what great parents they were by having a “Serbian” birthday party.  And don’t think that they didn’t understand about birthday parties, gifts, and cakes because many of their friends in the Serbian community they were a part of had parties and celebrations every year.  In fact, his parents had even thrown surprise parties for some of their friends, but never for their son.

This instance is only one example of many that pushed Hubby to the opposite end of the spectrum when it came to carrying on “Serbian” traditions.  Although we did participate in Serbian traditions that his parents continued to carry on year after year, he made it clear to me that most, if not all, of these would die with his parents.

As my in-laws got older, Hubby mellowed and began bringing up some of the traditions he really did enjoy that his parents were getting too old to carry on.  I offered to carry these traditions on, in fact researched many of them in-depth on the internet, but his parents were resistant. Hubby was open to the idea of me taking over the traditions and “Serbian” ways, but understood how hard it was for his parents to let go of running things.  So when they were no longer able to host holidays or parties alone, we ‘lent a hand’ as much as we could.

For a few years this worked out, but when it became clear that all the work would have to be done by us and his parents were only “hosts” in name, they decided it was better to let the traditions die rather than allow us to take them over.  They were less than supportive of any efforts we made to carry on the traditions that were part of their heritage.  We invited them for Serbian Easter, Serbian Christmas, and Krsna Slava (our family Holy day) but they refused to come. They shut the door on all of it.

Hubby insists he’s fine with it, but I have my doubts.  He puts up a good front, but with his parents in their 80’s and with the limited time he has left with them, I know he realizes that the traditions of his heritage will die with them if they haven’t already.  This presents a challenge to me.  How can I somehow, even if only in small ways, help Hubby hold onto his heritage which when you think about it is actually holding onto the memory of his parents?  We are defined by what people remember about us when we are gone, be it the traditions we pass on, the memories we instill, the love we’ve shared that causes hearts to break when we die, or even something so small as food we made that became a reflection of home.

For the past couple of years I have been trying to duplicate some of the foods that were part of Hubby’s heritage, not everything, just those that he really loves and will miss when his parent’s are no longer here to share with him. Some are traditional Serbian dishes that are only served on certain holidays or occasions, but others are foods that his mother just made because she knew her son liked them.

This morning after I made my first batch of yeast doughnuts I began thinking about a doughnut-type bread that Hubby’s mother has been making for many years — krofna.  This is a bread traditionally served before Lent begins, but Hubby’s mother makes it several times throughout the year.  The traditional recipe is more of a sweet roll, but my mother-in-law prepares it less sweet and stuffs it with cheese.  When I tasted the dough of the yeast doughnuts this morning, I was surprised how similar the texture and taste was to my mother-in-laws.  So, you know what I did this afternoon?  Yep, I tweaked my recipe for yeast doughnuts and made Hubby a batch of krofna.

Krofna – Cheese Stuffed Doughnuts

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3/4 Cups Milk

2 Tbsp. Sugar

2 tsp. Salt

2 1/4 tsp. Active Dry Yeast

1/4 Cup Warm Water

4 Cups Flour

1/3 Cup Melted Butter

2 Eggs

Shredded Cheese – mozzarella, cheddar, or whatever you like

Oil for Deep Frying

  • Heat milk to near boiling.  Combine hot milk, sugar, and salt in medium Set aside for 5 minutes.
  • Add 2 cups flour to milk mixture and beat until blended.
  • In small bowl dissolve yeast in warm water.  Add to milk mixture along with eggs and melted butter.
  • Mix in the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until dough forms.  Knead with dough hooks in mixer for 3-4 minutes.
  • Place dough in oiled bowl and allowed to double in size (about 40 minutes).
  • Separate dough into 8 to 12 sections.  Roll each section into a ball and then flatten with a rolling-pin on lightly floured surface.  Place approximately 1/4 to 1/3 cup shredded cheese in the center of dough.  Pull sides up and seal the cheese inside, forming a circle.  Let rest 15 – 20 minutes.
  • Heat 1 inch of oil to 375 in frying pan.  Fry krofna until golden brown on both sizes.  Drain on paper towel.

The minute the first krofna came out of the frying pan, Hubby was there with a fork and knife to cut into it.  It was perfect.

Family politics are tricky no matter what, but throw ethnic traditions and customs into the mix and things quickly complicate beyond reason.  I would never claim to be a good daughter-in-law or even come close to it, but I am a good wife.  This recipe for krofna will ensure that at least while I’m alive, Hubby will be able to enjoy this bread that has been something he has loved for many years from his mother.  I am not trying to replace her, just provide Hubby with a tangible reminder of the good memories they shared.

I probably won’t make these again for quite some time, as Hubby’s mother does still make these on occasion for him. The recipe will be in my cookbook for when I need it which is good enough for now, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Crackling Biscuits – Using Lard Byproducts

One of the goals I have set for myself is to not throw anything out that might possibly have a use, and yet not keep things around that are unnecessary.  This might sound contradictory and in some ways it is, but when it comes to food, it serves me very well.

Not wanting to waste any part of the foods we buy or grow, I have been able to come up with new recipes and uses for many things that would have otherwise been thrown out.  It gives me a great sense of comfort knowing that I am making the most of what we have.

The other day, while I was making lard, I knew that once all the lard had been melted out of the pork fat there would be crispy pork fat left over.  For years I have been making cracklings from pork that has a fairly high fat content but still enough meat to make them tasty and enjoyed the lard by-product I was left with once the cracklings were done. When faced, however, with a pork fat byproduct after rendering lard I wasn’t sure what could be done with it.  This by-product was practically all fat.  What could I possibly do with crispy fat?

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Marrying someone with a different ethnic background than myself has opened many doors when it comes to culinary experiences.  I am basically a mutt of ethnic lines — English/Irish, German, Russian-Polish, French, and there is even a rumor there could be some American Indian in the mix.  Hubby, however, is Serbian through and through, born there and not coming here until he was a young boy.  Albeit he is American at heart and to see or talk to him you’d never know he wasn’t born here, he still enjoys many of the customs and tastes of his homeland.

When Hubby learned that I was struggling to find a use for the crispy pork fat leftover from the lard rendering, he immediately suggested I make some crackling biscuits.  He told me that his mother made these whenever she made cracklings and had some that were all or practically all fat.  Intrigued I told him I’d give it a try.

Not sure exactly what an Internet search would produce, I spent over an hour going through page after page of recipes for crackling biscuits. It’s amazing how many are out there.  Some of the recipes were from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, and yes, Serbia.  I printed off five recipes that were all very similar, from different areas, and spent time comparing them.  Finally, after discussing the ingredients with Hubby, I decided to combine several of the recipes into one quick and easy one.  Starting off easy and then working my way up to something more difficult, if need be, seemed like the thing to do.

It was interesting that Hubby didn’t want me to go with the Serbian recipe I had found.  When I told him that the Serbian one included wine though he laughed.  He told me that there was no way his mother would have had wine to put in the biscuits when she learned how to do it.  They didn’t have anything, let alone wine for cooking.  Flour, salt, and cracklings were hard enough to scrape together.

The biscuits came together very quickly and seeing as Hubby didn’t want me to use yeast, as it would have made them light and fluffy, something you’d never accuse his mother’s biscuits of being, they were in the oven in less than 30 minutes.  I set the timer for 25 minutes and we waited.  The moment they came out of the oven, Hubby was standing at the counter.  He took one off the tray, burned his fingers, but still continued to break it in half.  His first comment was that it wasn’t cooked inside.  I told him that he needed to let them cool on the cookie sheet. Reluctantly he put it back.  A minute later he picked it up again and popped half of the biscuit into his mouth.  You see, patience isn’t one of Hubby’s virtues.

I watched as he swished the biscuit from one side of his mouth to the other, prolonging my torture.  Finally, after just a moment longer he smiled and said, “Perfect.”  He proceeded to eat four more biscuits and with each one told me something else he liked about it:  The texture, the amount of cracklings, the heaviness, the taste.  Then, as he was eating his sixth he confessed that he never liked his mother’s biscuits warm.  He always waited until they were cold and then would eat them sparingly.  Not so with mine.  By the time they were cool, nearly half the biscuits were gone. That spoke volumes.

Crackling Biscuits

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  • 2 1/2 Cups Flour
  • 1 Tbsp. Salt
  • 1/2 Cup. Milk
  • 1 1/2 Cup Pork Fat Cracklings (shredded)
  • 1 Egg
  • 2 Tbsp. Pork Fat Lard

Combine the flour, salt, and shredded cracklings in a large bowl with a pastry blender until crumbly.  Make a well in the center of the crackling mixture and add remaining ingredients.  Stir until well combined.  Knead lightly with hands until mixture forms a dough.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and pat to 1/2″ to 1″ thickness.  With biscuit cutter, cut biscuits and place on parchment lined cookie sheet.

Bake biscuits at 400 for 25 minutes.  Cool completely on cookie sheet.  Store in sealed container.

Nothing is better than pleasing Hubby’s pallet, except of course topping one of my mother-in-law’s recipes, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Starting The New Year Right – Fruit Filled Pastries

I lost my Little Grandma (my father’s mother) when I was seven years old.  I still remember her vividly though and have many wonderful memories of her.  During the holidays especially I am reminded of her and many of the wonderful recipes that she handed down.  Many of them have become a family tradition and recipes that I hope to pass down to my children and grandchildren.

One recipe that is requested by family and friends alike are the fruit filled cream cheese pastries that were a specialty of my grandmother’s.  They are a bit labor-intensive, but well worth the effort.  The trick is to make sure the dough remains chilled, as it gets sticky if it isn’t.

Cream Cheese Fruit Filled Pastries

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  • 4 Cups Flour
  • 1 Pound Butter
  • 2-8 oz. Cream Cheese
  • 1-4 oz. Cream Cheese
  • Fruit Filling or Preserves

Blend flour, butter and cream cheese by hand until well blended.  Set in refrigerator overnight.

Next Day:

Cut off a portion of dough about the size of a fist.  Roll this dough out as thin as possible on powdered sugar.  Cut into wedges, as in a pie.

Put 1/2 tsp. of filling on wide end of wedge.  Roll wedge from wide end.

Place pastry on parchment lined cookie sheet with edge of roll under pastry.  Bake on 2nd from the top rack for 15 to 17 minutes at 375.

I went through five 8 oz. jars of home canned preserves with this recipe.  I made peach-pineapple, plum, and tart cherry pastries.  I have used store-bought poppy-seed filling in the past, and they were excellent as well.  Any thick filling will work.  Definitely expect some of the filling to ooze out the sides, but enough remains to make these pastries a wonderful addition to any dessert tray.

Knowing that a part of my grandmother lives on in spirit in the traditions and recipes that we enjoy every year during the holidays and throughout the year is important to me.  This recipe especially makes me feel close to her, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Cookie #9 – Cookie Candy Cups

Although Christmas is over, I am still playing catch-up when it comes to updating my blog with the Christmas cookies I managed to make this year.  My goal was 12.  I’ve got a few more to post, but I’m not sure I quite made it to 12.  Still, I made lots of other desserts this year, so certainly no regrets.

This recipe starts with my all-time favorite cookie base – Nestle Toll House Cookies.  As much as I love chocolate chip cookies, I love the Nestle Toll House cookie batter baked without morsels as much as I love it with, sometimes even more.  Because of this, I decided to use it as the base for these very versatile cookies.  Versatile in that you can add practically any chocolate-type candy you like.  I used Rolo’s, Peanut Butter Cups, and Hershey Kisses, but you could easily use miniature Snicker’s, Milky Ways, Nestle’s Crunch, or any other’s you can come up with.

Cookie Candy Cups

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Original Toll House Cookie Dough:

  • 2 1/4 Cups Flour
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 3/4 Cup Butter, softened
  • 3/4 Cup Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 2 Eggs

Candy:

  • Rolo
  • Peanut Butter Cups
  • Hershey Kisses

Preheat oven to 375.  In large bowl combine butter, sugars, and vanilla, beat until creamy.  Beat in eggs.  Gradually add dry ingredients.

Roll teaspoons full of dough into balls and place in mini muffin tin lined with paper liners.  Bake 12 minutes.

Remove from oven and immediately press unwrapped chocolates into center of each muffin cup.

These were a big hit with the kids as well as the adults that visited our home this holiday season. Definitely a cookie I’ll be making again throughout the year, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Candy #5 – Creamy Peanut Butter Fudge

Back when I was a young girl, every couple of years my family would head up north to a family reunion on my father’s side.  We’d spend a weekend on the farm of one of our cousins hiking, talking, playing horseshoes, riding motorcycles, picking apples, and tubing down the Ausable River.  Most of all, though, we ate.  Everyone brought food, everyone made food, and everyone ate food.  There was absolutely no chance of anyone going hungry, because there was always something cooking.  From 5 in the morning until well after midnight, everyone fought over who was going to get the kitchen next.

When my children came along, the family reunion had all but stopped.  Thankfully, one of my cousins took it upon herself to organize one last hoorah.  I took the opportunity to spend the weekend taking pictures of the old farm, hiking along the trails for one last time with my children, and gathering recipes from my cousins.

One recipe that I am thankful I got was from my cousin Linda.  She was famous for making her peanut butter fudge every time there was a family reunion.  It was popular with the kids, of course, but the adults loved it just as much. That last time we gathered at the farm, Linda taught me how to make her fudge.  I’m not sure I would have been able to make it had she just given me the recipe.  Not being familiar with making fudge, I was terribly intimidated by it. After watching her do it however, I realized that fudge wasn’t something to be afraid of.

Linda’s Creamy Peanut Butter Fudge

I really should have gotten a bigger bowl to store this in.  I guess we'll just have to eat until we can fit the lid on.

I really should have gotten a bigger bowl to store this in. I guess we’ll just have to eat until we can fit the lid on.

  • 1 lb. Light Brown Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Cream or Milk
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. Butter
  • 1 Cup Cream Peanut Butter

Bring sugar and milk to boil over medium heat.  Heat to soft-ball stage — 235 degrees.  Linda never used a thermometer.  She used a bowl of ice water and dropped some of the sugar and milk mixture into it after it had been boiling for a while.  I use both.  I wait until it reaches 235 and then start testing for the soft-ball stage.  It isn’t an instantaneous thing that once it reaches 235 it’s done, so be sure to test.

Once the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage, add the butter and stir until melted.

Remove from heat and add creamy peanut butter.  Pour immediately into buttered or foil lined 9×9 baking pan. Refrigerate until set.  I prefer to put my fudge in a foil lined pan because it makes it much easier to remove from the pan.

Not even a year after the reunion we lost Linda very unexpectedly.  It was a terrible shock to the entire family.  After her funeral the family gathered together and reminisced.  I brought up her peanut butter fudge and everyone agreed it was the best they’d ever tasted. Many in the family commented that they wished they had learned how to make it.

I’m not sure that mine lives up to Linda’s, but it is one of my families favorites and a recipe I hope to pass down for many generations.  It has become a Christmas tradition in our family.   I am sorry Linda is no longer with us but she will forever live on in the memories and recipes she left behind, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Mini Desserts #5 – Creamy Frozen Mini Fruit Cups

Serving frozen desserts to a crowd can be cumbersome and inconvenient.  When I found a set of square mini dessert/appetizer bowls, I knew these would definitely make serving these creamy frozen fruit cups easy.

Creamy Frozen Mini Fruit Cups

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  • 1 pkg. 8 oz. Cream Cheese, softened
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 10 oz. Maraschino Cherries
  • 11 oz. Can Mandarin Oranges, drained
  • 1 Pint Jar Crushed Pineapple, drained
  • 1 8 oz. Tub Frozen Whipped Topping, thawed

Combine cream cheese and sugar in mixer and beat until fluffy.  Chop maraschino cherries.  Add cherries and pineapple to cream cheese mixture.  Fold in mandarin oranges and whipped topping.

Spoon fruit mixture into cups and freeze until firm.  Remove from freezer 10 minutes before serving.

I love this recipe, especially because it was one I was able to use my home-canned Maraschino Cherries and crushed pineapple in.  Whenever I can use something from the pantry that I made during the past year, I find the dessert even more tasty, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Candy #2 – 4 – Peanut Clusters, Coconut Clusters, & Chocolate Pretzels

I used to think that making candy was a long and involved task, but then realized that many candies are just ingredients covered in chocolate.  What could be better?  Chocolate on top of almost anything makes it better, so covering fruit, nuts and other salty snacks with chocolate makes the perfect candy.

This afternoon Zeb and I spent an hour and a half working on three different chocolate covered concoctions and now have enough candy for Grace to give as gifts to all her coworkers, to send to a friend in Florida, and to give to our neighbors.  Time well spent!

There are several ways to attain just that right blend of chocolate for covering various ingredients.  One is to buy the prepared chocolate dip in the baking section at the grocery store, another is to use a combination of milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and semi-sweet chocolate baking chips, and my favorite — buying chocolate from a candy making specialty shop.

My favorite chocolate to use when covering fruit or nuts is Nestles.  At the specialty shop in our area I buy both milk and dark chocolate and then use a combination of the two to attain a not too sweet chocolate, perfect for dipping.  Using baking chips, however, works just as well in a pinch, as does the prepared chocolate dips.  I just like having an excuse to go to the specialty chocolate shop.  There’s always so many fun things to see.

Once you have your chocolate melted, either in a double boiler or the microwave, all you need to do is add the nuts, coconut or fruit.  Today I added peanuts to make peanut clusters and coconut to make coconut clusters.

Peanut Clusters

Peanut Clusters

Coconut Clusters

Coconut Clusters

Once those two were setting in the garage (as it’s fairly cold out so I didn’t need to put them in the freezer) we set to work on melting more chocolate and dipping mini pretzels.  Then while they were still wet we sprinkled them with nonpareils.  Quite festive, don’t you think.

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There are so many other things you can dip or cover in chocolate:  Raisins, cherries, cranberries, pineapple, almonds, and even potato chips.  Now I’ve got a list of things to work on tomorrow.  There’s no such thing as too much candy or too much chocolate, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.