Tuesday, December 14, 2010

If it’s Christmas — it’s time get baking!

12/15/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Well, here we are, deep into the month of December. In fact, it is just 10 days before Christmas and I am already nearly hysterical because there’s so much to do and so little time to do it. On the plus side, the house is decorated and relatively clean; most of the gifts have been purchased and are either wrapped or in the process of being wrapped. On the minus side, there’s a whole lotta baking to be done.

I am the queen of procrastinators when it comes to holiday baking. Every year it’s the same story. I efficiently plan my cookie and party menus; shop for the ingredients; and then find dozens of reasons why I can’t spend an entire day or two in the kitchen. Something (like writing this column) always distracts me.

But soon, company will be here expecting holiday goodies. So it’s time to get serious and get baking. As usual, I’ll make a big pan of fudge that I can serve to guests and freeze the leftovers. That way I can bring out a few pieces at a time during the winter whenever a chocolate urge hits. I’ll make a batch of Mexican Sno-Balls for my husband and probably some lemon bars for me.

This year I’m also adding some different recipes from an old favorite cookbook “Gifts from the Christmas Kitchen.” These recipes are super easy and delicious. The Buttery Almond Cutouts are rich and tender; disguised and decorated in holiday shapes everyone will love them. The Thumbprint cookies are a variation on the ones rolled in nuts (or the really old recipe that we rolled them in corn flakes).

Finally, if you need a few hostess gifts, mix up a batch of the Caramel Spice Cakes and bake in small loaf pans instead of the regular large size. Just cut down on your baking time and watch them carefully. As an added bonus, the recipe’s base is a cake mix! Now how easy is that? Christmas will soon be over but the memory of home-baked goodies will linger on. Enjoy!


1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
3 teaspoons almond extract, divided
1 teaspoon flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
Food Color

Beat sugar and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add sour cream, eggs, 2 teaspoons almond extract and vanilla; beat until smooth. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; beat just until well blended.

Divide dough into 4 pieces; flatten each piece into a disk. Wrap each disk tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 3 hours or up to 3 days.

When read to bake, preheat oven to 375° F.

Working with 1 disk of dough at a time, roll dough out onto floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut dough into desired shapes using 2-1/2 inch cookie cutters. Place about 2-inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake 7-8 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are brown. Remove from baking sheets to wire rack to cool.

To frost: Combine powdered sugar, milk, corn syrup and remaining 1 teaspoon almond extract in small bowl; stir until smooth.

Divide icing among 3 or 4 small bowls; tint with desired food color. Frost cookies. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Note: This frosting recipe is a great basic recipe to have in your baking box of tricks. Use it to frost cookies, drizzle over coffee cakes or wherever you need a touch of sweetness.


1 package yellow cake min
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/4 cup water
3 cups crisp rice cereal, crushed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Raspberry or strawberry preserves

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Combine cake mix, oil, egg and water. Beat at medium speed until well blended. Add cereal and walnuts; mix until well blended.

Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls about 2-inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Use thumb to make indentation is each cookie. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon preserves into center of each cookie.

Bake 9-11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool cookies one minute on baking sheet; remove from baking sheet to wire rack to cool completely.


1 package Spice Cake Mix (Duncan Hines preferred)
1 package vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix (4 servings)
4 eggs
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups pecan pieces, toasted, finely chopped

Caramel Glaze:
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pecan halves
Maraschino cherry halves

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour two loaf pans.

To prepare cake: Combine cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, water and oil in large bowl. Beat at medium speed with electric mixer 2 min. Stir in toasted pecans. Pour batter into pans. Bake at 350° F. 55-60 min. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 15 min. Loosen loaves from pans. Invert onto cooling rack; turn right side up. Cool completely.

To prepare glaze: Combine butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and whipping cream in small heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil on medium heat; boil one min. Remove from heat; cool 20 min. Add powder sugar and vanilla extract; blend with wooden spoon until smooth and thick. Spread evenly on cooled loaves. Garnish with pecan and maraschino cherry halves before glaze sets. Makes 2-4 loaves.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! 
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

A Christmas to remember

12/8/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Last year, with Christmas just around the corner and the recession still lingering, it seemed a good time to shake up our family’s gifting traditions. So I called a family conference. The result was we shortened our family gift list; added some needy individuals in our respective communities; didn’t spend any extra money and had a great time gifting.

First, as the family matriarch, I explained to our grandsons how Christmas gifting had changed over the years. They have never known a time when underwear was a gift; or an orange and a candy cane in a stocking were to be treasured. They have only known times of plenty not want.

So I told them that when I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s — birthdays and Christmas were a really big deal. Gifts were not given at any other time of the year. As kids we did not have any spendable cash. Our wants and wishes were limited by practicality and availability: clothing, dolls, toy soldiers, bicycles, roller skates, etc. There were no televisions, iPods or computers on our radar.

Things are different today. Even during this recession there is more spendable cash at all age levels. Gift selections are endless. If any of us (young or old) wants something, we somehow save up our money and buy it ourselves. We no longer wait for a special occasion. Buying is often frenetic and meaningless.

The result of this dialog opened the door to a new way of sharing our Christmas bounty. Family councils were held. Ideas were brainstormed. Tradition was thrown out the window.

We challenged each other to think outside of the traditional gift box and become better stewards of our money. Everyone (from the youngest to the oldest) got to choose where he or she would be a blessing and they were in charge of delivering the goods.

Christmas day was exciting. Until then, everyone had kept his or her personal donation a secret. There were big smiles everywhere. Finally, they could share how they had helped make Christmas special for someone — somewhere. The recipients of their gifts varied from close to home to thousands of miles away.

The revelations started with seven-year old Joshua. In Sunday school, he had learned about a missionary family in Cambodia. Rice is a staple of the Cambodians diet and Josh’s money was going to help teach locals to plant rice paddies. “It made me happy,” Josh said. “I wasn’t getting. I was giving.”

Robert, 12, was also concerned about helping others eat. He donated his share to Samaritan’s Purse to plant fruit trees and to stock fish in ponds. “This way, people don’t have to choose between making a living or eating healthy,” he said. “They can do both.”

J.D., 15, was practical. He contributed to a program to build sustainable villages that will put a roof over villager’s heads in Uganda through a partnership with Africa Renewal.

Matthew, also15, had read in the newspaper about a severely abused and rescued dog. The pup’s previous owner had beaten it and broken both of its front legs. The dog was in the process of being adopted but would need expensive on-going care. Later, Matt said, “As I walked into the veterinarian’s office to deliver my donation, I was surprised at their big response. They were really grateful.”

In Ventura, Project Understanding’s mission is similar to our local Community Sharing. In addition to helping with emergency housing they also serve 2900 families from their Emergency Food Pantry.
The day that Paul, 19, and his dad Tim walked in with their donation, their supplies were low and the manager told them that they were down to only $20 to tide them over until holiday giving began. Tim said, “We were God directed.”

Another article in a newspaper touched our daughter Kathy’s heart. An organization was holding a drive to collect suitcases for children in foster homes. Transient foster children often move from place to place with their things in paper bags. Kathy supplied four suitcases. “I felt like I was an answer to prayer,” she said.

Our eldest son Jeff’s contribution went to PETA because of the Dalai Lama who said to “Teach little children to love animals.”

Empty wrapped boxes tugged on our daughter-in-law Betsy’s heart. As a pastor’s wife she sees lots of needy people. But these boxes were in the home of a single mother with no resources to purchase gifts for her kids. Betsy and others filled the boxes from their abundance. “It was amazing to meet someone’s needs,” she said.

Our son John is the pastor of a church who struggles with the same question that most of us have: “So much need! What can one person do?” But he knows from experience what the Salvation Army can do and every year he’s a bell ringer for them at the local post office. “Most folks put in coins,” he said. “Two or three out of 10 people put in paper money. It all adds up so it was a joy to make my donation to an organization that I know works.”

Although Chuck and I chose to give locally, a good friend of mine contributes to a hospital in Germany where wounded soldiers are taken. Sometimes the soldiers come off the battlefield with only their torn, bloody clothing. She routinely sends sweatshirts and pants, socks, hard candy, sample size soaps, lotions, baby powder, mouthwash, books, etc. All are appreciated and acknowledged. Contact me for the address.

Mother Teresa said it best: “If you can’t feed a hundred people then just feed one.” Christmas is a wonderful time to shake things up and find that one special person whom we can feed or help. Why not start now? It will be a Christmas that you’ll never forget.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Busy cook's plan ahead for December meals

12/1/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

December is a hectic month for the chief cook and bottle washers in most households. Planning meals in the chaos of everyday life is difficult enough without factoring in holiday activities. My advice? Right now — before craziness escalates to the point of madness — is the time to plan everyday meals for the rest of the month.

Planning is mandatory. Otherwise, fast food madness takes over and soon everyone is grouchy and sluggish because they’re on carbohydrate, salt and fat overload. A flexible weekly menu will work for an entire month. Here’s a sample:

Monday: Meatloaf, roast beef, chicken or pork
Tuesday: Soup or stew
Wednesday: Pasta (macaroni and cheese)
Thursday: Simple supper (breakfast; hot dogs ‘n beans)
Friday: Stir fry; Fish (salmon patties)
Saturday: Mexican (tacos, enchiladas, casserole)
Sunday: Leftovers

I like to start out the week with a meat entrée that can be used in other meals. Leftover meatloaf makes great hot or cold sandwiches. Leftover roast beef, chicken or pork can be used in soups, stews and Mexican dishes. Always make enough soups, stews or casseroles for two meals; and be sure and use your crock pot!

Once you decide on an entrée the rest of the meal is ‘a piece of cake.’ Mash or bake potatoes for meat entrees. Be sure that vegetables and fruit somehow find their way into dinners. Add a green salad to go with soups and casseroles. Change up the taste by tossing in some mandarin oranges and nuts. No lettuce? Put together a platter of carrots and celery with some ranch dressing and a few scattered olives to entice the kids. Enjoy!

Breakfast Frittata for Dinner

4 medium potatoes, cooked and grated
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup onion, diced
3/4 cup green and red bell pepper, diced
1 cup cooked ham, diced
8 eggs, beaten with 3 tablespoons milk
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, grated and divided
3/4 cup cheddar cheese, grated and divided
Sour cream

In a large (oven-proof) skillet, heat oil and butter. Sauté potatoes until light brown. Add more oil if needed and add onion, peppers and ham. Cook until vegetables are translucent. Stir in eggs and 1/4 cup of each of the cheeses; cook until firm on the bottom about 5 min. Top frittata with remainder of cheese and place in oven until cheese is melted and eggs are set; about 10 min. Garnish as desired. Serves 4 generously.

Chicken and Broccoli Stir-Fry

8 ounces angel hair pasta, uncooked
2 cups broccoli florets
1 pound skinless chicken breasts cut into thin strips
1/2 cup toasted Asian sesame dressing
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon each ginger, garlic powder, crushed red pepper
1/3 cup chopped dry roasted peanuts

Cook pasta as directed on package, adding broccoli to the boiling water for the last 3 minutes of cooking time.

Meanwhile, spray large nonstick skillet with cooking spray; heat on medium high heat. Add chicken; cook 6-8 min. or until cooked through, stirring occasionally. Stir in dressing, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and crushed red pepper; cook and stir 1 min.

Drain pasta mixture; place in large bowl. Add chicken mixture and mix lightly. Spoon evenly into 4 serving bowls; sprinkle with peanuts. (Makes 2-cup servings.)

Pasta Fagioli

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped small
1 carrot, chopped small
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
2 cups reserved water from cooking pasta
2 16 oz. cans cannellini beans, drained
½ pound small farfalle pasta
½ cup fresh, flat leaf Italian parsley, roughly chopped
¼ cup basil leaves, torn roughly (optional)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Pour pasta in and stir. Boil for 5 minutes and drain reserving 2 cups of the pasta water. Pasta will be very firm but will continue to cook when combined with other ingredients. Rinse and set aside.

In a heavy soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add onion and carrot and sauté on medium heat until vegetables are soft but not brown, (about 5 minutes). Add garlic, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper and sauté 1 minute more. Add canned tomatoes, tomato sauce and cannellini beans. Stir in parsley, reserved pasta water and pasta and bring to a simmer for 3-5 minutes.

Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle generously with cheese. Top with basil leaves and serve with bread and a simple green salad with vinaigrette dressing. Serves 6-8.

Taco Bake

1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 envelope (1 1/4 ounces) taco seasoning mix
1 can (16 ounces) tomato sauce
1 can (16 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
2 cups shredded Cheddar or process American cheese (8 ounces)
2 cups Original Bisquick®
1 cup milk
2 eggs
Sour cream, chopped tomato and shredded lettuce, if desired

1. Pre-heat oven to 325° F. Grease 13x9x2 inches baking pan.

2. Cook ground beef and onion in 10-inch skillet, stirring frequently, until beef is brown; drain. Stir in dry seasoning mix, tomato sauce and corn. Spoon into pan; sprinkle with cheese. In mixing bowl, combine Bisquick, milk and eggs until smooth. Pour over beef mixture.

3. Bake about 35 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before cutting.

Top with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and sour cream. To make it extra-special, add sliced ripe olives, guacamole and something spicy like chopped jalapeno chilies or chunky salsa.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal!
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes 
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.