Holiday Goodies

pumpkinbarsHow to take pumpkin bars to the next level...add caramel frosting and bacon. This sure beats the regular cream cheese frosting we normally use with pumpkin desserts. The bacon adds a smoky, salty and crunchy complement, while the bacon drippings in the pumpkin layer add another subtle smoky taste.

I have come to love bacon in my dessert. Itgives it that sweet-savory flavor I love. The caramel frosting is a take on Italian buttercream, however, themethod is actually easier and the results are "perfection".

Overall this is a great fall dessert. It would also go nicely as part of a Thanksgiving Day holiday dessert table.

Thank goodness these need to stay in the fridge, otherwise I would be grabbing one off the counter everytime I passed by.

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stuffedsquash2.jpgIt's already in full swing. Thanksgiving turkey mania. You know what I'm talking about. The endless, frenzied debate over how to cook the perfect turkey. With all the food magazines, cooking shows and turkey hotlines available, I know you'll find more information than you ever wanted on the bird. 

That's why I'm posting about Thanksgiving side dishes: They're much less controversial. You can't brine sweet potatoes or deep fry cranberry sauce. At least, I don't think you can.

Last year I shared four Thanksgiving side dishes with a twist: Perennial favorites like sweet potatoes and string beans got a makeover. They looked fabulous. But we can't make the same veggies this year. Well, except for the String Beans with Prosciutto, Pine Nuts, and Lemon. I have to make those again. Don't worry though. I've got a few new ones for you that won't disappoint.

Let's start with Festive Stuffed Acorn Squash. A robustly sweet and tangy filling of shallots, cranberries, prunes and pecans is nestled inside of a hot roasted acorn squash half.

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cranberries.jpgPudgy, glossy and scarlet red. There they were, bright and fresh, in plastic bags piled one on top of the other in the produce department of the grocery store, reminding me the holiday season is quickly approaching.

Images of Thanksgivings of the past appeared in my mind. I pictured our family gathered around the dinner table, nearly finished with a big turkey meal, when suddenly my mom yelled out, “The cranberries!” The roll of jellied cranberries pushed from a can (I know, I can hardly believe it, either) into a long, narrow crystal bowl had been forgotten in the refrigerator.

Those who don’t care for cranberry sauce may be familiar with only the canned varieties. Nothing beats the flavor of firm, fresh, deep red cranberries that have been cooked with water and sugar until they pop, pop, pop.

These little red jewels are so lovable. They are easy to store, they’re versatile and they’re so good for you. Refrigerated in their original packaging, they can last as long as two months. Put the original bag inside of a freezer bag, and you can store them frozen for about nine months. This is good news for all cranberry lovers, since the season is short.

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fudge.jpgStill looking for the perfect Christmas gift that is easy, inexpensive, and loved by all?

Your problem is solved: give the gift of fudge! That's right. Mix up a few batches, pop them in some festive foil baking cups, and nestle them in decorative tissue paper and tins. Then kick back with a hot chocolate and enjoy your favorite Christmas movies while everybody else kills themselves looking for a parking space at the mall.

No baking is required. None. Zip. It can be made ahead and refrigerated, so it saves you time. Plus, each batch costs only a few dollars and can be made in less than 10 minutes.

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praline_butter_cookies.jpgButter season. It's here. The inside of the door on my freezer holds several pounds of Land O Lakes butter. Many more of the 1-pound boxes are stacked on the shelves in my refrigerator. My holiday baking has begun.

Baking Christmas cookies is one of my favorite things in the whole world. There's nothing that puts me at peace during this crazy busy time of year like getting into the kitchen to do some baking while Christmas music plays in the background. Maybe it's because I think of the many years my mom and I baked holiday cookies together. When I make the thumbprint cookies, a family favorite for generations, I can almost hear my mom tell me to roll the little balls of cookie dough no larger than a walnut. Now I use my small portion scooper and each cookie is the exact same size. She would have loved that little tool.  We would stay up until all hours of the darkness to bake hundreds of special cookies that had become a tradition through the years.

I stll make many of the same cookies my mom and I created each holiday season. But, each year I find new ones to try. I have a stack of clipped cookie recipes that I flip through each November, pulling out a couple that will become newbies on the cookie tray. Some of those become keepers and are tucked into the "Keep Forever" file. Others are half-heartedly consumed and are never found on our holiday Christmas cookie platter again.

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