Nonpareil Thumbprint Cookies

Experience the Holidays: Nonpareil Thumbprint Cookies! Ask my husband what his favorite candy is and without hesitation, he’ll respond “Nonpareils”. Think about it… dark chocolate buttons sprinkled with tiny beads of white candy. And they’re French! With today’s recipe, the nonpareil takes center stage crowned over a dark chocolate thumbprint cookie as rich as a brownie. Dusted in powdered sugar, it’s just the right size for nibbling.

NONPAREIL THUMBPRINT COOKIES

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

1 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon coarse salt

1 cup butter, softened

1 1/3 cups sugar

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons heavy cream

2 teaspoons vanilla

3/4 cup powdered sugar for rolling

40 nonpareils

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Sift flour, cocoa powder, and salt into a small bowl. Using a mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Reduce speed to medium, add yolks, cream, and vanilla. Beat in flour mixture just until combined. Roll balls using 1/2 tablespoon sized scoops of dough. Roll each ball in powdered sugar. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Press gently in the center to form an indentation. Bake 10 minutes or until set. Remove from oven. While cookies are warm, place one nonpareil in the middle of each cookie. Let cool before transferring to wire rack.

Traditional English Toffee

Experience the Holidays: Traditional English Toffee! So often we have those cherished childhood memories of homemade candy and cookies that accompanied holiday celebrations. They stick with us for life. I can remember being in eighth grade and determined to replicate a batch of my mother’s English Toffee. I waited for her to go into town and then pulled out her secret recipe. You know, the ones scratched on a 3.5”x5” card. More often than not, they showed a list of ingredients with instructions that simply said, “Bake at 350° for 30 minutes”. Let’s face it, that’s pretty vague compared to what we explain nowadays. As you can imagine, I melted the butter along with the brown sugar and stirred. And stirred. And stirred. So how come it wasn’t turning into this crisp crunchy texture of rich golden butter that fueled my addiction? What could I possibly be doing wrong? There was nothing written on the card to correct this runny, gooey mess. Alas, I scraped it all into the trash, washed the pan, and plopped myself at the kitchen table with my Algebra book. She walked in, smiled, and never said a word.

TRADITIONAL ENGLISH TOFFEE

Ingredients:

1 cup pecans, chopped

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions:

Butter a baking sheet. Spread pecans in a single layer in the center. Heat butter and brown sugar to boiling in a heavy saucepan, stirring constantly. Boil over Medium heat, stirring constantly, for 7 minutes. Immediately spread mixture over pecans on baking sheet. Sprinkle chocolate chips over hot mixture. Place a cookie sheet over pan until chocolate chips are melted. Spread melted chocolate over candy. Refrigerate until firm. Break toffee into pieces.

Zucchini ‘Nana Bread

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Zucchini ‘Nana Bread! This isn’t your usual old-fashioned banana bread. And if you’ve been hesitant to try zucchini bread, well…just because, then I implore you to give it one more chance. You honestly cannot taste the zucchini. What you will notice, though, is that the bread is incredibly moist, not gummy. And the cinnamon streusel topping is a winning combination worth shouting about. Remember to only stir the batter until it is mixed. The more you stir, the more gluten comes into play. While gluten is crucial in bread-baking, it is not your friend in quick breads. The results could be dense and rubbery. After all, the purpose of baking is to share with others. Slather on the butter or cream cheese…and Enjoy!

ZUCCHINI ‘NANA BREAD

Ingredients:

1 medium zucchini, shredded

1 ripe banana, mashed

2 eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients for Cinnamon Topping:

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper. Set aside. Peel zucchini. If there are seeds, remove them with a spoon; discard. Shred zucchini and set aside. Mash banana and set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and vegetable oil until combined. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, sea salt, and vanilla extract. Stir only until incorporated. Fold in shredded zucchini and mashed bananas. Stir slightly until blended. Pour into prepared loaf pan. Whisk together sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the batter. Bake 45-55 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow bread to cool 10 minutes before removing from pan. Cool Zucchini ‘Nana Bread on a wire rack before slicing.

White Chocolate Lavender Berry Scones

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: White Chocolate Lavender Berry Scones! Butter and Buttermilk, two main ingredients that lasso the moon. This is not your ordinary pastry. It’s not a doughnut. It’s not a muffin. It is a flavorful raised vessel for smearing on more butter. Granted, the American version may be filled with fresh fruit and chocolate chips, but hey, it’s all good. And since I was doing it my way, I went one step further and added a lavender glaze on top. There’s no way I’m going to be accused of making a dry-as-dust scone. I’m living with a man who conjures up that image whenever he hears the word “scone”. I believe for now, I’m okay with him thinking that way. More for me!

WHITE CHOCOLATE LAVENDER BERRY SCONES

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

4 tablespoons cold butter, grated

1 egg, room temperature

3 ounces buttermilk, plus more for brushing

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup fresh blackberries

1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Ingredients for Lavender Glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons dried lavender buds

Fresh mint, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and sea salt. Add the grated butter; toss with flour mixture. Add the egg, buttermilk, and vanilla extract. Stir just until combined. Do not over mix. Fold in blackberries and white chocolate chips. Turn the dough onto a floured surface; then pat into squares. Cut into equal triangles. Place formed dough 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Brush tops with buttermilk. Bake until golden brown, 15-18 minutes. Rotate baking sheets halfway through. Allow the scones to cool slightly. To make the glaze, combine powdered sugar, lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon dried lavender. Stir until smooth. Drizzle scones with lavender glaze. Garnish with remaining lavender buds and fresh mint leaves. Serve warm with butter.

School Cafeteria Peanut Butter Bars

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: School Cafeteria Peanut Butter Bars! Remember the good old days when the grade school menu would come out and we’d peruse it like the Sears and Roebuck Christmas Catalog? We’d jump for joy when we saw Fish Sticks, Baked Meatloaf, Apple Crisp, Chocolate Cake, and Pizza Squares. On the other hand, Creamed Spinach made us wince and turn up our noses. Back then you had two options, buy a hot lunch ticket or bring a sack lunch from home. No in-betweens. As a general rule, the good canceled out the bad, especially in the category of scrumptious desserts. The “Lunchroom Ladies” really knew their business when it came down to sweets. Nobody could layer on the frosting like they could. And it was always homemade right there. I wonder who got to lick the spoon.

SCHOOL CAFETERIA PEANUT BUTTER BARS

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup peanut butter, creamy

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup flour

Ingredients for Icing:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, melted

2 tablespoons hot water

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9”x9” square baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside. Melt butter and peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl on 50% for 30 seconds. Stir and repeat, if necessary. Set aside to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, sift together sugar, brown sugar, and kosher salt. Whisk in one egg at a time until combined. Add vanilla extract. Whisk in peanut butter mixture until combined. Sift in flour; mix until flour disappears. Do not over mix. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until cake tester comes out with tiny moist crumbs. Cool pan on a wire rack. Once the pan has cooled, remove the cake from pan and transfer on the parchment paper to a rimmed baking sheet. Combine powdered sugar, creamy peanut butter, and hot water. Stir until frosting has a smooth consistency. Drizzle over dessert. Allow icing to set up before cutting into individual bars.

Raw Honey Peanut Butter Cookies

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Raw Honey Peanut Butter Cookies! No baking required. Wait, whaaat? These bite-size morsels are not only healthy as an energy snack, they can be made in a matter of minutes with ingredients you probably already have on hand in your pantry. So, what exactly is raw honey, you wonder. Most beekeepers will tell you it simply means the honey is strained right before it is bottled. That translates to nature’s sweetness with all its beneficial nutrients and antioxidants. By eliminating the intense processing stage of heat filtration, what you get instead is honey that comes from the bee hive to your home. No extra sugar is added either. To make sure you are getting raw honey, always check the label.

RAW HONEY PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

Ingredients:

1/3 cup raw honey

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter, creamy

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups whole grain oats

Sprinkles, for garnish

Instructions:

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Pour sprinkles into a dish. Set aside. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine raw honey, creamy peanut butter, and vegetable oil. Microwave on High for 30 seconds. Stir. Repeat. Add vanilla extract. Mix well. Add whole grain oats. Stir to incorporate until cookie dough forms a large ball. Using a cookie scoop, press dough to make bite-size uniform cookies. Dip into sprinkles. Place on prepared baking sheet. Cookies will “set up” on their own. Transfer to a covered container for storage.

Quesadilla Chile Relleno

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Quesadilla Chile Relleno! Before you shake your head and walk away, hear me out. Green poblano peppers are a pretty mild distant cousin to the jalapeño and habanero. You could almost say they’re from the “other side of the tracks”, so to speak. Personally, I think they’re underrated. If you look up their classification, they might even be referred to as sweet. Now, I don’t know about that. What I do know is they smell somewhat earthy, tend to hold their shape, and are absolutely scrumptious when bathed in Mexican cheeses. In my opinion, they definitely deserve a second chance. What have you got to lose?

QUESADILLA CHILE RELLENO

Ingredients:

2 large flour tortillas

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup Mexican-style four cheeses, shredded

2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, and sliced in strips

1/4 cup yellow onion, chopped

1/4 cup ranch dressing, prepared

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon sriracha sauce

Instructions:

Butter one side of each flour tortilla. Set aside. Warm an iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium heat. Place one tortilla in the skillet, butter side down. Add half the Mexican cheeses. Arrange the poblano peppers in a single layer over cheese. Scatter chopped onion over all. Add remaining Mexican cheese blend. Place the remaining tortilla on top, butter side up. Press down lightly. Cover the pan with a lid. Cook 3-4 minutes until tortilla is lightly browned and cheese is melted. Using a spatula, flip over the quesadilla. Cover with lid. Cook 2-3 minutes longer until golden brown. Do not burn. Transfer quesadilla to a cutting board. Let rest for 2 minutes to avoid a flood of gooey cheese. In a small bowl, combine prepared ranch dressing, cayenne pepper, and sriracha sauce. Mix well. Cut the quesadilla into 6 triangles. Serve with sriracha ranch dipping sauce.

Pan-Seared Tilapia

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Pan-Seared Tilapia! I don’t often “fry” foods, but once in awhile nothing else will do. The secret to pan-searing fish involves five key steps. First, make sure the skillet is nonstick or a trustworthy cast iron skillet. Secondly, choose a neutral-flavored oil which has a higher smoke point. You won’t need much, so it’s crucial to make sure the oil is not going to turn black from high heat. The third point, and this is just as important, make sure moisture is removed from the fish. If not, there is guaranteed to be steam-created soggy fish or dangerous grease splatters. Step Four: When the fish is placed in the pan, do not overcrowd it. The pieces should not touch each other at all. Finally, allow the fish to sear without moving it. This is how you get that beautiful crispy surface. Use a timer. Once the fillets are carefully flipped over, you’re almost done. By this time everyone in the house will be heading to the kitchen to discover what smells so incredibly good. Well Done, Grasshopper.

PAN-SEARED TILAPIA

Ingredients:

2 frozen tilapia fillets, thawed

1/2 tablespoon brown sugar

1/2 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 lime, juice and zest

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 pat butter, divided

Fresh dill, for garnish

Instructions:

Defrost fish fillets overnight in the refrigerator. Remove from package, pat dry with paper towels. Set aside. In a shallow dish, combine brown sugar, chili powder, kosher salt, garlic powder, and lime zest. Mix well. Warm vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Rub both sides of each fillet with the spice mixture. Cook tilapia fillets for 4 minutes. Carefully flip them over. Squeeze lime juice over fish in pan. Divide a pat of butter over the top of each fillet. Cook 3 minutes longer, or until opaque and flaky. Transfer pan-seared tilapia fillets to a platter. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with fresh dill. Serve immediately.

Original Pistachio Party Ball

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Original Pistachio Party Ball! Nothing says par-tay like a holiday cheese ball. Instead of picking one up at the grocery store this year, why not surprise the family and make something a little different. Pistachios tend to be shoved aside in favor of walnuts and pecans, mostly due to their cost. But I guarantee you, people will sit up and take notice of them embedded in this party cheese ball. A little goes a long way, especially when rolled on the outside of the cheese ball. For those who enjoy the experience of cracking the shell to pluck out the pistachio, you not only get to nibble as you crack, you also justify the savings involved over the cost of pistachios without shells. Now there’s a thought worth considering.

ORIGINAL PISTACHIO PARTY BALL

Ingredients:

8 ounces Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon zesty Italian salad dressing dry mix

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1 cup pistachios, roughly chopped

Instructions:

In a bowl, cream together Neufchâtel cheese and unsalted butter until smooth. Sprinkle in zesty Italian dry mix. Mix well. Add Worcestershire sauce and red pepper flakes. Fold in sharp cheddar cheese. Stir until well combined. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter. Layer with chopped pistachio nuts. Transfer cheese mixture onto the nuts. Wearing disposable gloves, form the cheese mixture into a ball, turning to cover each side with chopped nuts. When completely covered, wrap the pistachio cheese ball in a clean piece of plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least one hour to intensify flavors. Serve with assorted crackers.