December 16, 2015

Dear friends,

It’s mid-December, time to bake like a maniac or give up and buy your holiday goodies. Or you could do neither. You could sail through the late-baking panic with ridiculously simple recipes like this: Stir together a cup of Nutella, 2 eggs and 2/3 cup flour. Spoon into muffin pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

My friend Kathi Purvis of the Charlotte Observer has written a Christmas treats story for people like me.
It’s a genius compilation of recipes and tips for last-minute bits of heaven like the above Nutella Brownie Bites. The recipes are, as she puts it, “… the sweet spot between slice-and-bake Santas and full-on Martha creations.”
Even those organized sorts who start baking and freezing in October may find a cookie or candy they can’t resist among her selection. In addition to the recipe above, Kathi gives directions for making no-fuss Sea Salt Chocolate Wafers, Pretzel Peanut Butterscotch Bark, Microwave Pecan Brittle, Sweet and Salty Thin Mints, Tiger Butter and Peppermint Sandwich Cookies.

They all sound good, and got me thinking about the quick-fix Christmas treats I’ve come across or dreamed up over the years. I remember once creating eight cookie recipes from two kinds of purchased dough. A favorite was date bars made by kneading oats into sugar cookie dough for the crust and crumbled topping, and sandwiching with purchased date filling.

If you’re a laggard like me, you could probably use that recipe about now. I’m sharing it along with two of Kathi’s recipes. Her remaining recipes can be found at http://www.charlotteobserver.com/living/food-drink/article48458670.html#storylink=cpy. Now get baking.

NUTELLA BROWNIE BITES
•    1 cup Nutella
•    2 eggs
•    2/3 cup all-purpose flour

Line a mini-muffin pan with liners. Beat all the ingredients until smooth. Fill lined muffin pan and bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

Optional: Press a pecan half or a half of a maraschino cherry in each before baking.
Makes about 32.

The following recipe is from “Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbook,” by Kathleen Purvis. It has more ingredients but takes hardly any time to make. Kathi writes, “The bowl will get hot, so make sure you have oven mitts. Once you add the baking soda, you need to spread the brittle quickly. Make sure you have the pan prepared before you start.”

MICROWAVE PECAN BRITTLE
•    1/2 cup light corn syrup
•    1 cup sugar
•    1 1/2 cups pecan halves
•    1 tsp. unsalted butter
•    1 tsp. vanilla extract
•    1/4 tsp. salt
•    1 tsp. baking soda

Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Set aside.

Combine corn syrup and sugar in a 1 1/2-quart microwave-safe mixing bowl. Stir to blend.

Microwave on high for 4 minutes. Carefully remove from microwave and stir in the nuts. Return to microwave and cook for 4-6 minutes on high, until the sugar is light brown. (The time will depend on the wattage of your microwave. Keep an eye on it, and stop if the nuts start to smell burned.) Stir in the butter.

JANE’S QUICK DATE BARS
•    1 1/2 cups sugar cookie dough (refrigerated supermarket brand or homemade)
•    Hot water
•    1 cup quick-cooking oats
•    1/2 cup canned, commercial date filling
Place dough in a bowl. If dry, sprinkle with a few drops of hot water and knead until pliable. Knead in oats. Press half of dough into the bottom of a buttered, 9-inch-square baking pan. Spread date filling over dough. Crumble remaining dough over filling. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, until topping is golden brown.

If using commercial dough, use three-fourths of a 20-ounce log.

Raspberry-oatmeal bars: Make the same way as for date bars, but substitute one-half cup raspberry jam for the date filling. Sift powdered sugar over the top of the warm bars.

HELP U COOK

Onion juice can help prevent the grated potatoes in your latke batter from darkening. Because both are grated for latkes, an easy way to coat the potatoes is to alternate potatoes and onions on the same grater.

TIDBITS

I love those best-of-the-year lists, especially ones about cookbooks. (Snack lists: not so much. Cinnamon-maple chickpeas? Really?)

Anyway, the big question for consumers is not how to rate cookbooks but how to rate the raters. Who to trust? After years of reading cookbook reviews (and writing a few myself), I am partial to the best-of list from the Chicago Tribune.

Why? Because the reviewers in East and West Coast cities are likelier to get caught up in which author is hot and which publisher or agent or editor on the cocktail circuit shepherded through which book. In other words, too much inside baseball.

Besides, I think Midwestern writers are more cognizant of what the majority of Americans want in a cookbook. And most important, the writers and editors at the Chicago Tribune have a policy of testing at least three recipes from a book before reviewing it.

Prominent on the list – and every other cookbook list I’ve seen so far – is Kenji Lopez-Alt’s “The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science. I’ve heard a lot about this book and have even tried some of the recipes because my friend, Nancy, is smitten with Kenji and bought one of the first copies off the press. The 1000-page tome is filled not only with interesting recipes, but explanation of how ingredients and techniques work. Also on the list:

• “United States of Pizza” by Craig Priebe with Dianne Jacob;
• “Tacos: Recipes and Provocations” by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman;
• “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine” by Lidia Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali;
• “Asian-American: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from the Philippines to Brooklyn” by Dale Talde and J.J. Goode;
• “Mastering Sauces” by Susan Volland;
• “The Violet Bakery Cookbook” by Claire Ptak;
• “A Real Southern Cook in Her Savannah Kitchen” by Dora Charles;
• “Made in India” by Meera Sodha; and
• “Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix”

THE MAILBAG
Write to me or you will get coal in your stocking!

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