Xmas Crinkle Cookies

Eating My Way Through the Holidays. Festive Food Gifts: Xmas Crinkle Cookies! Shortcuts are the key to success for that next cookie-exchange the kids forgot to tell you about. “Oh yeah, Mom, sorry.” No worries. Head to the kitchen to clang some pans around, preheat the oven, and dust a little powdered sugar on your nose. They’ll be none the wiser. By the time the house begins to smell like a neighborhood bakery, you’ll have rows of cookies lined up ready to be boxed. And if you’re one of those organized parents, just so you know, these cookies freeze well. Arrange them in a freezer gallon bag, layered between squares of waxed paper. I have literally taken these crinkle cookies out of the freezer and handed them to a little girl to eat. Other than being slightly chilled, they retain a chewiness that makes them simply delicious. You deserve a pat on the back. You’re welcome.

XMAS CRINKLE COOKIES

Ingredients:

1/2 cup powdered sugar, for dusting

15.25-ounce box strawberry cake mix

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs, room temperature

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Place powdered sugar in a shallow dish. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine strawberry cake mix, vegetable oil, and eggs. Stir until a dough forms. Chill dough for 20 minutes. Shape dough into 1” balls. Roll in powdered sugar and place 2” apart on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 7-9 minutes, or until center is just set. Remove pan from oven; cool for 2 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack. Dust with more powdered sugar.

Zucchini-Orange-Walnut Loaf

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Food Whisperer: Zucchini-Orange-Walnut Loaf! Do you have zucchini coming out of your ears? Take care. This relative of the squash family has fewer calories than a baked potato and more potassium than a banana. Plus, its versatility is a bonus. Zucchini is probably the most bland vegetable you can find. But that works to its advantage. You can pair it with just about anything. I promise you this, if I hadn’t told you there was shredded zucchini in this luscious loaf of quick-bread, you’d never know it from the taste. Nutrition is your friend. The moist, delicious orange and walnut combination make it seem as though you’re eating cake.

ZUCCHINI-ORANGE-WALNUT LOAF

Instructions:

2 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup orange juice

1 cup zucchini, shredded

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon orange rind, zested

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

Glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon butter, softened

1-2 tablespoons orange juice

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour the bottom of a loaf pan. Set aside. In a food processor, beat eggs until thick and lemon-colored, about 3 minutes. Gradually beat in sugar. Add vegetable oil, orange juice, and shredded zucchini. Pulse to mix. Slowly add flour, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, orange rind, cinnamon, and cloves. Scrape down sides, as needed. Fold in chopped walnuts. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake 45-55 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. In a small bowl, blend powdered sugar, butter, and orange juice. Spread over warm loaf. Cool completely and slice.

Iceberg Lettuce Cranberry Pecan Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Food Whisperer: Iceberg Lettuce Cranberry Pecan Salad! Make today an easy day. Throw together a tossed salad that will satisfy hunger pangs with the crunch of lettuce, the natural sweetness of fruit, lean meat, the salty mix of pecans, protein-packed eggs, and heart-healthy bleu cheese. Bonus points include a natural source of fiber, weight control, plus super-convenience. Not only is salad a time-saver, it is also a money-saver. Most of all, you’re worth it.

ICEBERG LETTUCE CRANBERRY PECAN SALAD

Ingredients:

2 cups iceberg lettuce, shredded

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1 cup mandarin orange slices

1/3 cup sugared pecans

1 cup grilled chicken, cut-up

1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese

2 soft-boiled eggs, halved

Balsamic vinaigrette, to taste

Instructions:

Divide iceberg lettuce between salad bowls. Top with dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, sugared pecans, cut-up grilled chicken, and bleu cheese crumbles. Place soft boiled egg half on top. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette, to taste.

Urban Lemon Curd French Toast

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Urban Lemon Curd French Toast! Shortcuts, gotta love them. Just because you’re preparing food at home doesn’t mean everything has to be made from scratch. Betty Crocker, an American cultural icon, is proof of that. I used a store-bought lemon curd instead of making it from scratch. And if you want to take this recipe one step closer to simplifying your life, merely substitute the fresh berry compote with frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed of course. After all, the main attraction is the lemony rich oven-baked French toast sprinkled with vanilla bean and nutmeg. Everything is prepared the night before so all that’s needed is baking time the next morning. See? Simple isn’t so bad.

URBAN LEMON CURD FRENCH TOAST

Ingredients:

4 eggs

2 cups milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out and reserved

10-ounce jar lemon curd

1 loaf Hawaiian Sweet Bread, sliced

1/2 cup blueberries

1/2 cup cherries

1/2 cup mulberries

1/2 cup cranberries

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Powdered sugar, garnish

Instructions:

To make the French toast, butter an oval baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, heavy cream, and vanilla bean seeds. Fold in the lemon curd. Stir well. Arrange the Hawaiian Sweet Bread slices evenly in the prepared dish, slightly overlapping them. Pour egg mixture over bread. Spoon to coat all slices. Cover and refrigerate overnight. To make the fruit compote, in a saucepan over medium heat, combine blueberries, cherries, mulberries, cranberries, and sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fruit breaks down, about 15 minutes. As the juices are released, the fruit will thicken. Remove from heat, cover, and refrigerate. Warm in the microwave the next day before serving. The next day, to bake the French toast, preheat oven to 350°. Let the French toast stand at room temperature 15 minutes before placing in the oven. Remove lid. Bake 45-50 minutes. To make the whipped topping, chill the mixing bowl and beaters beforehand. Place the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract in the mixer bowl. Beat on medium speed until the cream begins to thicken, about 4-6 minutes. The whipped cream will double in volume and form soft peaks. Remove the French toast from the oven. Let it cool for 10 minutes. Top with warm berry compote, whipped cream, and dusting of powdered sugar. Serve warm.

Strawberry Shortcake

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Strawberry Shortcake! Nix the store-bought angel food dessert cups for a sweet lighter-than-air shortcake made in your own kitchen. It’s quick. It’s simple. And it makes everyone smile. Bake in a square cake pan or muffin tin. I like the option of using ramekins for pillowy results. Simply invert them upside down before drizzling with juicy sliced strawberries that practically melt in your mouth. How’s that for an all-American favorite dessert? I find it Strawberrylicious!

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 pint strawberries, sliced

Whipped cream

Fresh mint leaves for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease 6 ramekins. Set aside. Cream butter and sugar until mixture is light and fluffy. Add buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla extract. Stir well. Sift together flour, sea salt, and baking powder. Gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Mix to combine until batter is smooth and no lumps remain. Pour into prepared ramekins. Transfer to oven on a baking sheet. Bake 25-30 minutes until cake springs back and cake tester comes out clean. Invert ramekins on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Wash, hull, and slice strawberries. Arrange berries on each shortcake. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and mint leaf garnish.

Niçoise Salad

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Niçoise Salad! Repeat after me, “nee-SWAHZ”. One more time, “nee-SWAHZ”. Spoken like a true Parisian. Now what does it mean, you wonder. In layman’s terms, niçoise refers to the style of cooking in the south of France. It usually includes deep brown olives, vine-ripened tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, tiny new potatoes, thin green beans, and anchovies or tuna. The dressing almost always includes Dijon mustard, minced shallots, herbs, and olive oil. If it sounds like a lot of fresh ingredients, think of it this way: it’s a gourmet salad, a meal in itself. Besides, it is absolutely show-stopping on the plate. Take your time. Enjoy every bite. Because when you’re all finished, you may discover you’re ready to have it again next week.

NIÇOISE SALAD

Ingredients:

1/2 pound petite fingerling potatoes

6 ounces thin green beans, ends trimmed

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon garlic wine vinegar

1 shallot, minced

1/8 teaspoon marjoram

1/8 teaspoon thyme

1/8 teaspoon oregano

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1 head butter lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

6 ounces grape tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup niçoise olives

4 eggs, hard-boiled and halved

2 ahi tuna steaks

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons furikake seasoning

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Wasabi mustard

Instructions:

In a 2-quart pan over medium heat, bring to a boil fingerling potatoes, with skin on, in salted water. Cook 15 minutes. Add green beans for 1 minute or until bright green. Remove from heat. Drain; set aside. When potatoes are cool, cut in half or quarters. For salad dressing, whisk together Dijon mustard, garlic wine vinegar, minced shallot, marjoram, thyme, and oregano. Whisking continuously, slowly add olive oil until fully blended. Add kosher salt to taste. Set aside. Divide butter lettuce into serving dishes. Arrange fingerling potatoes, green beans, grape tomatoes, niçoise olives, and hard-boiled eggs. Serve with seared ahi steaks.

Instructions for ahi steaks:

Combine olive oil, vegetable oil, and sesame oil in a shallow dish. Sprinkle with furikake seasoning and white sesame seeds. Marinate ahi tuna steaks ten minutes per side to coat evenly. Remove from marinade and set aside. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil mixture. Cook steaks 2-3 minutes per side. The outer skin will appear seared while the center will remain rare. Remove from heat. Transfer ahi steaks to a cutting board and tent with foil for 10 minutes. Cut into 1/4″ thick slices. Drizzle wasabi mustard on a platter. Arrange sliced ahi, overlapping the slices.

Icing Glazed French Toast

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Icing Glazed French Toast! This is one of those days where little effort produces extraordinary results. I recently purchased a loaf of homemade raisin bread at the Amish Market, the kind smothered in gooey white icing. Later on, I plumped some raisins to add to the glaze, beat a couple eggs, and Voilà. Within minutes, it was transformed into a bakery-fresh gourmet breakfast. The best part, in my opinion, is being able to slice and eat as the craving hits. You can thank me later.

ICING GLAZED FRENCH TOAST

Ingredients:

1/4 cup raisins

Boiling water

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1-2 tablespoons boiling water

2 large eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon milk

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 slices raisin bread, cut into quarter triangles

Instructions:

Place raisins in a heatproof dish. Boil water. Pour just enough water over raisins to cover. Stir. Let raisins sit 10 minutes to absorb liquid. Drain, if necessary. Meanwhile, sift powdered sugar into a bowl. Gradually add enough boiling water, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and appears like thick cream. It should coat the back of the spoon. Fold the raisins into the icing glaze. Set aside. In a shallow dish, whisk beaten eggs, milk, and cinnamon. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm vegetable oil. Dip each portion of raisin bread into the egg batter. Flip to soak bread completely; coat both sides evenly. Transfer to skillet; cook 3-4 minutes per side until golden brown. Drizzle with raisin icing glaze. Serve immediately.

Huevos Rancheros

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Clean Plate Club: Huevos Rancheros! The nice thing about a breakfast like this is it’s basically made from leftovers. Beef roast. Check. Baked potatoes. Check, check. If you need ingredients on short notice, no worries. Substitute cooked chicken instead. Potatoes with the skin on cook very quickly in the microwave before being transformed into tasty hash browns. Just remember to pierce them first. Then cook on High for 5 minutes each. For this morning’s heuvos rancheros, I skipped the tortillas and substituted a couple of corn chips for crunch. It’s all good.

HUEVOS RANCHEROS

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups beef, cooked and shredded

10 ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies, mild

1/3 cup onion, chopped

3/4 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

2 potatoes, baked and cut into cubes

1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt

1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

2 tablespoons butter

4 eggs

Fresh cilantro

4 tortillas or corn chips

Fresh cilantro

Instructions:

Combine shredded beef, diced tomatoes with green chilies, chopped onion, cumin, oregano, and sea salt in a large saucepan. Simmer 5 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. This makes the beef moist and tender. Set aside. In a skillet over medium heat, drizzle olive oil. Add cubed potatoes. Sprinkle with seasoned salt. Cook 5 minutes or until golden brown. Do not stir. Turn potatoes for a crispy finish; cook 5 minutes longer. Drizzle in more olive oil, if needed to avoid burning. Remove potatoes from heat when desired texture is reached. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. In another skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Crack 4 eggs into the skillet. Fry eggs sunny side up in butter, 3-4 minutes for runny yolks. To assemble huevos rancheros, layer corn chips or a tortilla on the plate. Next, add spicy meat mixture, then crispy hash brown potatoes. Top with fried egg. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

Xiangjiao Banana Bread

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Color of Food: Xiangjiao Banana Bread! How’s this for a fancy word? For those who haven’t a clue, “xiangjiao” is actually Chinese for banana. And who doesn’t love bananas? A few years ago my grandson came to my house for a sleepover. I had been to the grocery store to get some of his favorite foods, in addition to a couple of new choices. Imagine my surprise when I presented him with a half-peeled yellow banana. He got a puzzled look on his face as he eagerly grabbed it and said, “Nana. Ba-Nana?” I smiled and gave him a giant hug before the air exploded into peals of laughter. There’s nothing sweeter than a toddler’s giggle.

XIANGJIAO BANANA BREAD

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 ripe bananas, peeled and crushed

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup pecans, chopped

Topping: (optional)

1 ripe banana, sliced lengthwise

1 tablespoon chopped pecans

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a loaf pan with a nonstick oil containing flour. Set aside. Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, Greek yogurt, vanilla extract, and crushed bananas. Mix well. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt. Add to the creamed mixture. Stir just until batter is combined. Do not over mix. Fold in chopped pecans. Pour into prepared pan. For topping, place the two halves of a ripe banana on top of the batter. Sprinkle with remaining chopped pecans. Bake one hour or until tester comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes and then remove banana bread from loaf pan. Cool longer on a wire rack.