Spicy Pecans

Add some zip to your holiday appetizers this year with these spicy pecans. My first batch is already gone, but there's still time for round 2. These are easy to make, and your guests will love them.

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1 pound whole pecan halves (about 4 cups)
6 cups water
1/2 cup superfine sugar (or use regular sugar and whirl a few times in the food processor)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a large saucepan, bring water and pecans to a strong boil, then continue to boil for 1 minute. Drain well. In a large bowl, stir together sugar, melted butter, corn syrup, and vanilla. Toss hot pecans with the sugar mixture, mixing well. Cover and let sit for at least 12 hours, or up to 24 hours.

1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread the pecans on prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Add more time in 5 minute increments, if necessary, until pecans are browned and crisp-looking. In a bowl, combine salt, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and pepper. As soon as the pecans are removed from oven, toss until well-coated with the combined spices. Return the pecans to the baking sheet and spread in a single layer to cool. After cooling, pecans may be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.



Christmas Baking and Taking

Whether you need a treat to contribute to an office party or something to take to a family celebration, I've got you covered. At this time of year, time is the most precious commodity, so I've assembled some quick and easy treats for your baking and taking dilemmas.

1. Holiday bars

2. No-bake cookie balls

3. Chocolate cherry cookies

4. Christmas brownies

5. Fruit cookies

6. Peppermint snowballs

7. Christmas crack

8. Candy cane blossoms

9. Gingerbread truffles

10. Super duper chocolate kisses



Reader Package Giveaway

There's a giveaway going on over on my writer blog. I'll be giving away a Reader Package, including a signed copy of The Legend of Sassafras House, a Sassafras house survivor t-shirt, a bookmark, and a key chain. Enter at http://www.anitastafford.com/2018/11/giveaway-legend-of-sassafras-house.html



Chocolate Cage Cake

A cake enclosed with a chocolate cage makes an impressive presentation. When I read about making a chocolate cage for a cake, it sounded easy. The fact is, chocolate cages are not for scaredy-cat wimps. I suspect practice makes a lot of difference, but the first time you make one, expect to have some nervous perspiration.

This chocolate cage was made from a combination of white chocolate, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate. I know candy melts are used for cages sometimes, but I wouldn't recommend them because the candy dries too hard and would be more prone to cracking. Stick to real chocolate.

This cake was baked using the white sour cream cake recipe and is four eight-inch layers. The texture of this cake makes multiple layers stack well. It is frosted with classic vanilla buttercream.

There are many tutorials on pinterest for making a chocolate cage. I recommend reading several of these to get all the information you can before making your first attempt. Start by measuring the circumference and height of the cake. Cut of piece of parchment paper the size of the measurements, plus a couple of inches. By adding to the height, the cage will extend higher than the cake. The circumference can be tricky, though. If the parchment is cut exactly to the measurement of the circumference, the finished cage will not reach around the cake. Because of the thickness of the chocolate on the paper, the parchment needs to be longer by an inch or two. How do I know? Trial and error.

Spread the parchment out on a flat surface. Melt the different chocolates and fill decorating bags. Snip the ends off the bags. Start with the dark chocolate, as it takes a bit longer to dry. Make random designs on the parchment paper, filling the paper. Follow with the milk chocolate, then the white chocolate, overlapping the design. Let the chocolate dry until it firms up. It will begin to lose its sheen when it is dry. This takes around 30 minutes. When the chocolate is dry and firm to the touch, apply the chocolate sheet to the side of the cake with the parchment paper on the outside. Press it gently into the frosting, so that it adheres. Refrigerate the cake for about 5 minutes, then carefully peel the parchment paper away. The cake is now enclosed in a chocolate cage.

The strawberries on top of this cake were washed, dried, and drizzled with the same melted chocolate that was used to make the cage. When the chocolate is firm on the strawberries, place on top of the cake. Use a small dollop of buttercream underneath the strawberries to add height and to adhere them to the cake.



Flamingo Themed Baby Shower

I love to be involved with showers of any kind. I think it's important to acknowledge the important life events such as weddings and new babies. Just recently I helped my sister prepare food for a flamingo-themed baby shower. I didn't get pictures of everything, but I'm sharing some of the fun flamingo things we did.

These vanilla almond sugar cookies with royal icing in flamingo shapes were popular.


This masterpiece cake was made by my sister.


These strawberry cupcakes feature flamingos with fondant heads and wings.


What's a party without flamingo-colored punch?


The kids loved these dipped Oreos featuring flamingo faces.




Most people, including me, call madeleines a cookie, but they're actually tiny French cakes. They bake up light and delicate with a rounded middle. They can be served as dessert, or they make a great combo with coffee or tea. Some bakers say these should be served immediately, but I like them best on the second day.

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2 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 pinch salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
Additional butter and flour to grease pans
Melted chocolate or powdered sugar, if desired

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a small bowl, melt enough butter to grease pans. Stir in a small amount of flour, then brush madeleine pans with the mixture, set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar until blended. Beat in vanilla extract, lemon zest, and salt. Add flour, beating just until blended. Gradually add the melted butter, pouring down the side of the bowl in a steady stream, beating until blended. Spoon 1 tablespoon batter into indentations in prepared pan. Bake until puffed and brown, about 10 - 15 minutes. Remove from oven and invert pan to remove cookies to a wire rack. Allow to cool, then dip one end of each cookie in melted chocolate or dust with powdered sugar, if desired. Makes about 20 cookies.



Book Trailer-The Legend of Sassafras House

I'm sharing this book trailer to announce my forthcoming children's book. If you have kids who enjoy reading, this book is written for children approximately 8- to 12-years old. It will soon be available for order on Amazon.


Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I'm resigned to the knowledge that not everyone likes raisins, but I have to believe those people haven't tried oatmeal raisin cookies. This recipe has been a favorite in my family for many years. For the people who have trust issues because of oatmeal raisin cookies, just leave the raisins out. The cookies are great either way. These are perfect for lunch boxes, bake sales, snacks, or welcoming a neighbor.

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Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup shortening
1 egg
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, optional
3 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix sugars, shortenings, egg, water, and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl combine flour, salt, cinnamon, soda, cloves, and oats. Add dry ingredients to first mixture, stir until blended. Stir in raisins and walnuts. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls about 1 inch apart onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes. Remove cookies from baking sheet to cool on a wire rack. Store in airtight container. Makes about 4 dozen.



White and Gold Pretzel Rods

With a salty crunch and a smooth sweet coating, dipped pretzel rods offer the best of both worlds for serious snackers. These can be made in a rainbow of colors and decorated with sugar or any kind of candy sprinkles. Candy-coated pretzel rods are a popular treat with both kids and adults.

Items needed:
1 package bright white candy melts
1 package large pretzel rods
Gold sanding sugar
Wax paper

Melt the candy in a microwave safe bowl according to package directions. If needed, candy can be thinned with a small amount of paramount crystals or vegetable shortening. Working with one pretzel rod at a time, dip pretzels in the candy. Gently shake off excess. Sprinkle with sanding sugar and place on wax paper to dry. Store in a sealed container.



Sugar Cookies Painted with Shimmer Dust

Sugar cookies are not only an all-occasion treat, they can be cut into any shape and decorated in hundreds, if not thousands, of ways. The vanilla almond sugar cookie recipe is well loved at my house, and I decorate cut out shapes with thinned royal icing. One thing I like about baking and decorating sugar cookies is that I can personalize them in any way I choose. A tray of cookies is good for most any occasion. Whether it's a birthday or graduation party, a bridal or baby shower, or another celebration, don't forget the sugar cookies.

These cookies were baked for an anniversary party. They were first outlined and filled in with royal icing, then painted with gold shimmer dust. To use shimmer dust for painting, pour a small amount into a bowl, then add a few drops of lemon extract or vodka to make a paintable consistency.

Shimmer dust is available in various colors and can be used by brushing on dry to add a sparkle to the icing or by painting wet to add color or design, as I did for these cookies.



Cake Pop Roses

The first time I made cake pops, the result was disappointing. But, I don't like defeat. After my initial fiasco, I have learned a few tricks. Use a food processor to make fine cake crumbs to start. This will ensure that you can make a perfectly round cake pop. If you want your cake pops to be a uniform size, weigh the little balls as you make them. Refrigerate the balls before you insert the stick, but leave at room temperature before dipping. I discovered this prevents cracking. Cake pops can be made in any flavor and are a fun treat at a party.

A variation on cake pops is to make them into roses by adding modeling chocolate. These were made as an edible centerpiece for a recent party. I learned to make them from my sister, and she and I made these. There are many instructional videos on sites such as YouTube and Craftsy that give detailed steps on making these.

They are made the same as regular cake pops, except the cake is rolled into an egg shape instead of a round ball. The roses are formed by cutting petals out of modeling chocolate and arranging around the cake pop after it has been dipped in candy melts and has dried. The roses can be make as unopened buds, like mine, or more petals can be added to make an open rose. The stem has been wrapped with floral tape. The finishing touch is ribbon tied into a bow.

The modeling chocolate can be tinted any color, so the possibilities are endless. I used a cake pop stand to display these, but they are also pretty in vases. Your guests may be hesitant to eat them because they look real, but once the first bite is taken, they'll soon disappear.



Dipped Oreo Cookies

Kids of all ages love Oreo cookies, but are they welcome at a grown-up party? Sure, if the Oreos are dressed to the nines. Oreos can be made classy by dipping in candy melts and by adding some sugar and pearls. These are easy to make and are an irresistible addition to the dessert table.

1 package Oreo cookies
Bright white candy melts
Gold sanding sugar
Sugar pearls

Melt candy wafers in microwave according to package directions. Dip each cookie half way in the melted candy coating. Shake off excess and lay cookie on parchment or wax paper to dry. When cookies are dry, pipe a line of royal icing (using either a pastry bag or a squeeze bottle) across the upper edge of the candy coating. Sprinkle with sanding sugar, then place sugar pearls along the same line. Allow to dry before serving.



Meltaway Cookies

These cookies live up to their name. They melt away right in your mouth. In looks they could be a sugar cookie's twin, but in taste they are much lighter. The secret is the cornstarch and powdered sugar in the short ingredient list.

This was my first run at using a cookie stamp, so there was a learning curve. My stamping is not quite professional, but it doesn't affect the taste. These are yummy cookies.

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Meltaway Cookies

1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup butter, softened

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Prepare a cookie sheet by lining with parchment paper. Sift cornstarch, powdered sugar, and flour together in a large bowl. Stir in butter to form a soft dough. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Roll cookie dough in one-inch balls, then roll balls in sugar. Place on prepared cookie sheet. Press with a cookie stamp. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Makes 2 dozen.



Garlic Mashed Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a vegetable that doesn't get its fair share of the spotlight. I think of cauliflower as a wallflower, or the vegetable on the sidelines, seldom being asked to dance. Given a chance, though, cauliflower will step up and be the Cinderella of the ball.

If you happen to be counting carbs, you already know cauliflower is your friend. This recipe for garlic mashed cauliflower is a delicious stand-in for mashed potatoes. If your family is larger, you can double the recipe.

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Garlic Mashed Cauliflower

1/2 head cauliflower, separated into florets
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 ounce cream cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Place a steamer basket in a saucepan. Fill with water to just below the bottom of the steamer. Bring water to a boil. Add cauliflower and cover. Steam until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Allow cauliflower to remain in steamer basket, uncovered, so that any moisture can drain. In a small skillet, melt the butter, add garlic and cook until softened. Transfer cauliflower to a large bowl. Add garlic and butter, cream cheese and parmesan cheese. Combine all by mashing together with a potato masher. Add salt and pepper to taste.

All ingredients can also be combined in a food processor if you prefer a smoother mixture, but I like a few lumps in mine.