Friday, December 30, 2011

Southern Style EggNog Caramel Nut Bars

Rich and decadent, these bars are well worth the extra time it takes to make them and the luscious caramel eggnog sauce really adds a kick of flavor to the season.

Traditionally made with pecans, this year I substituted hazelnuts mostly for the sake of money - I picked up chopped hazelnuts for $1.99 lb. versus the $9.99 lb. pecans. Feel free to use either of those or walnuts or even almonds slivers.

This was a twist on a recipe my mother-in-law found in a magazine, but when she didn't have any heavy cream on hand for the caramel sauce and was running low on honey and pecans, I came up with some quick variations to make this holiday classic and this new version has become one of the most requested holidays of the season.

3 C. toasted pecans or hazelnuts ($1.25)
2 C. all purpose flour ($.15)
2/3 C. powdered sugar ($.15)
3/4 C. cold butter, cubed ($.35)
3/4 C. packed brown sugar ($.10)
1/4 C. honey ($.35)
5 T. cold butter, cubed ($.25)
4 T. eggnog ($.10)

Combine flour, 3/4 C.. cold butter, and powdered sugar until mixture resembled coarse meal. Press mixture into the bottom of a aluminum foil lined and lightly greased 13x9" baking dish.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until edges are lightly golden brown. Cool completely - about 15 minutes.

Bring brown sugar and next 3 ingredients to a boil in a small sauce pan over medium high heat.

Sprinkle toasted nuts evenly over crust and drizzle with caramel sauce. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until sauce is golden and bubbly. Cool completely before removing bars from pan by lifting aluminum foil and cutting into small bars.

Yields: 36 small bars
Cost: $2.70
Cost per bar: $.08

EggNog Caramel Sauce

3/4 C. brown sugar ($.10)
1/4 C. honey ($.25)
5 T. butter ($.20)
1/8 C. eggnog ($.15)
pinch of nutmeg, optional

Combine all ingredients in a 2.5 quart pot and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered (and without stirring) for 3-4 minutes.

Use as a drizzle over brownies, bars, cookies, or hot over ice cream or pie for a wonderful holiday treat.

This holiday treat comes together in minutes!
Cost: $.70

EggNog Frosting

2-3 T. eggnog ($.10)
1 C. powdered sugar ($.20)
pinch of nutmeg ($.05)

Combine all ingredients by whisking together. For a thicker frosting, add more powdered sugar, for a drizzle over cookies or bars, use an additional 1-2 T. eggnog, adding it slowly to reach desired consistency.

Yields: 1 C. frosting or drizzle
Cost: $.35 per batch

Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookies with AppleBerry Jam

1 1/3 C. chopped hazelnuts ($.40)
2/3 C. sugar ($.10)
3/4 C. cold butter or margarine, cubed (1 1/2 sticks) ($.40)
1 tsp. butter extract ($.15)
2 C. flour ($.20)
2/3 C. appleberry jam ($.20)

Preheat oven to 350.

Toast hazelnuts in a pan over medium heat on the stove. Hazelnuts take about 5-8 minutes to toast, watch nuts carefully and stir every minute or two. Once nuts are fragrant, nuts are fully toasted. Remove pan from hot burner to prevent burning.
Crush hazelnuts either in a food processor or in a plastic bag by rolling over them with a rolling pin.
In a large mixing bowl, combine hazelnuts and sugar, add butter and extract and mix well. Add flour and mix to combine well. Press dough together with hands.

Shape dough into 1" balls and using a 1/2 teaspoon measurement, make indentation in the center of each dough ball. Fill each indentation with 1/4 tsp. of jam.

Bake 17-20 minutes, until edges of cookie are lightly golden. Remove from cookie sheet and cool completely on a wire rack.

Yields: 40-48 cookies
Cost: $1.45
Cost per cookie: $.04

Pear Berry Jam

I love the natural sweetness of pears and when simmered with berries like raspberries, blackberries, and cranberries - the natural tartness of the berries along with the pears soft, sweet flavor - this makes a bold blend for jam, and it's certain to be a crowd favorite.

12 large Bartlett pears ($3.25)
1 1/2 C. cranberries ($.40)
1 pint blackberries (blueberries would work fine too) ($.50)
1 C. strawberries or raspberries ($.25)
2 T. lemon juice ($.05)
1 C. water (free)
1/2 tsp. ground ginger ($.05)
1 2/3 C. sugar ($.15)

Peel and core pears, roughly chop into smaller pieces.

Rinse berries and hull and quarter the strawberries.

Add fruit, water, lemon juice, and ginger to a pot and cook over medium heat to a simmer. Let simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, mash fruit lightly and stir occasionally. Stir in sugar by 1/3 C. until it reaches your desired sweetness.

Cool completely and transfer to airtight containers and refrigerate.
Follow canning method for applesauce if canning is desired.

Yields - 6-7 pints
Cost: $4.65
Cost per pint: $.75

Apple Butter

8 lbs. apples ($3.25)
2 lbs. pears ($1.75)
2 C. water (free)
2 T. lemon juice ($.05)
2 T. cinnamon ($.25)
1/2 T. nutmeg ($.15)
2 C. brown sugar ($.25)

Peel and core apples and pears. Chop fruit into small pieces. Add fruit, lemon juice, and water to a large pot and bring to a simmer. Add spices. Let fruit simmer over medium-low heat for 30-45 minutes, add sugar and simmer for another 15-20 minutes. Fruit mixture should be reduced by nearly half. Cool and store in airtight containers in the fridge or can using the same method as applesauce canning.

Yields = 5-7 pints
Cost: $4.70
Cost per pint: $.78

Creamy Chicken and Potato Casserole

4 lbs. potatoes ($1.00)
2 C. cooked chicken, chopped ($.75)
1 can cream of chicken soup ($.50)
1 C. sour cream ($.30)
3 T. milk ($.05)
salt and pepper to taste ($.05)
2/3 C. shredded cheese, any variety ($.50)
1/2 C. parmesan (or you favorite cheese) ($.25)
1 T. parsley ($.05)

Boil unpeeled potatoes until fork tender. Cool for 15-20 minutes to overnight.

Peel potatoes and shred. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except parmesan and parsley. Spread evenly in a well greased baking dish and top with parmesan and parsley. Bake at 400F for about 20-30 minutes or until cheese is melted through and the mixture is slightly bubbly.

Serve with salad and veggies.

Yields = 6-10 servings
Cost: $3.45
Cost per serving: $.35 to $.57 per serving

This dish works well as an entree for a casual weeknight dinner but is fancy enough to come out for the holidays as a side dish. Either way, this is a kid-friendly menu option for even the pickiest of eaters.

Serves well with breakfast as an alternative to hashbrowns.

Leftover Makeover:
Use leftover roasted or grilled chicken.
Leftover baked potatoes work well in this dish. A leftover baked potato would be handled just like a boiled potato - shredded and added into the casserole.
Use up random odds and ends of cheese in here to create new flavors. My favorite blend was munster and cheddar, though pepperjack is a good choice too.

Apple Berry Jam

I've been on a jam making kick and although my jam is a combination of sauce and a true jam, it works well served cold on toast or hot served over ice cream or drizzled over ham or pork roast or pork tenderloin. This is bold enough to stand up to a beef dish and sweet enough to use in thumbprint cookies.

4-5 lbs. apples, any varieties - I used golden delicious, Rome, Fuji, and Macintosh ($1.25)
2 Bartlett pears ($.50)
2 C. water (free)
1 pint black berries ($.50)
1 1/4 C. cranberries ($.50)
1 C. raspberries ($.75)
1 to 2 T. cinnamon ($.15)
1 tsp. nutmeg ($.05)
1 1/2 C. sugar ($.10)
1/2 C. brown sugar ($.10)

Peel and roughly chop the apples and pears. Slightly over-ripe fruit works best, it's sweeter and softer. This is a great way to use up apples that have gotten too soft for snacking.

Rinse berries and remove any stems, if necessary.

Add all ingredients except sugars to the pot and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Once apples are soft, add in sugars and stir. Use a potato masher to break up larger chunks of fruit (I actually picked up a bean masher at a Hispanic store for a few dollars and it works great for this purpose). Taste to check levels of sugar and spices.

Simmer for up to 1 hour, or until sauce reaches desired consistency.

Yields - 5-6 pints
Cost: $3.40
Cost per pint: $.57

Friday, December 9, 2011

Creamy Potatoes with Cheese and Ham

2 lbs. potatoes ($.60)
8 oz. can cream of chicken soup ($.50)
1 C. light sour cream ($.35)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder ($.05)
salt and pepper ($.05)
1 1/4 C. shredded cheese blend (I used havarti, cheddar, and swiss) ($.50)
1 C. cubed ham ($.50)
1 T. parsley ($.05)

Boil potatoes skin on. Cool potatoes for 30 minutes, then peel and shred.

Grease a baking dish - either an 8x8" pan or a pie plate.

In a large mixing bowl, combine soup and sour cream well, add garlic powder, salt, and pepper, combine well. Fold in shredded potatoes and 1 C. shredded cheese and cubed ham.

Spread evenly in prepared baking dish. Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and the sides of the dish are bubbling.

Yields = 8 servings
Cost: $.27
Cost per serving: $2.10

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Angel Hair in a Parmesan and Red Pepper Cream Sauce

I was amazed that this dinner came together in about 15 minutes. I was in a hurry and wanted to make a light dinner and I always have pasta on hand - partly because it's free and because it one of the things I know how to cook best. I really like the delicate texture of angel hair and was looking to make a sauce that was lighter than an alfredo or a carbonara with as much flavor. I just grabbed a few ingredients out of my fridge and this time I came out with a winner.

My husband isn't really a fan of angel hair but this meal was so good, there were no leftovers and he actually raved about it. Very affordable to make and perfect when you've forgotten to thaw something for I did. If you're looking to make this a little lighter, you can swap out the bacon for ham - you're mostly looking for the depth of flavor from the smoky meat. And a little goes a very long way in this dish.

Next time you're thinking of going out to dinner - stay home and toss together this recipe. For the cost of less than $2-$3 to feed 2-4 people, you can have a restaurant quality meal and not be weighed down by a heavy dinner.

8 oz. angel hair pasta (free)
2-3 slices of bacon ($.20)
1/2 medium red bell pepper ($.15)
1 clove garlic, minced ($.05)
1 T. olive oil ($.10)
1/2 C. heavy cream ($.40)
2 T. sour cream ($.10)
1/8 C. grated parmesan ($.35)
salt and pepper ($.05)
1 T. parsley ($.05)

Prepare pasta according package directions. Cook pasta al dente.

Chop bacon and finely chop the red bell pepper. Add bacon to a nonstick skillet and cook over medium heat - once some of the fat has rendered from the bacon, add red bell pepper pieces and cook until bacon is cooked through and slightly crispy. Drain off excess fat and add garlic, reduce heat to low and saute for 1-2 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic.

Add sour cream, let melt and add heavy cream. Whisk in the parmesan, and cook oer medium low heat until sauce has thickened and is glossy. Season with salt and pepper, add half of the parsley. Add 1 ladle full of pasta water and add all the pasta, toss together over low heat and cook for 1-2 minutes. Top with additional parmesan and remaining parsley.

Serve with salad and bread.

Yields = 2 main dish servings or 4-5 side dish servings
Cost: $1.45
Cost per serving: $.73 for an entree or $.29 for a side dish