Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Last Minute Easy Appetizer

Happy New Year's Eve, dear readers! Tonight's the big family New Year's Party. We start off the evening with a vast appetizer spread at my place, with parlor games (scattergories, guesstures, pictionary, etc.) for the young and old. After a couple of hours, when everyone starts to wilt or get wild, we have a change of venue and head to my mom's place for a taquito extravaganza. My favorite part of the night is a little game my mom started decades ago. Everyone writes down the three very best things of the past year on a 3 by 5 card. The cards are collected and read aloud by noisy me, and we all try to guess to whom it belongs. My mom saves all the cards so we can still read about the time that my best memory was an Adam Ant concert. It really was a great concert, I tell you. The toughest part of my mom's game is limiting the three best things to THREE best things. For this year, I'd have to include our recent trip to Europe, a family reunion this summer, the births of the newest babies to our evergrowing family, getting the Quiet Man one step closer to his doctorate, watching my daughter dance in the Nutcracker or with her nose in a novel, seeing my little boy overcome his fears and play his violin in public and also his current obsession with his villainous ability to raise one eyebrow, and just living everyday knowing that I have enough of everything that I need to be healthy and happy. And of course, starting this Prudence Pennywise blog, which has brought me truckloads of fiber, vitamins, minerals, calories and unabashed joy in 2008.

And here's a quick appetizer for your big parties tonight:
Spread out a sheet of saran wrap on a work surface and lightly coat it with cooking spray.
Take an 8 ounce block of cream cheese from the fridge.
Pat it onto the saran wrap into a 8 by 6 inch rectangle.
Spread about 3 tablespoons filling to within 1 inch of the edges. I've used raspberry chipotle jam here, but I love hot pepper jelly, fruit jam, cranberry sauce, barbecue sauce, chili sauce, red or green salsa, chutney, or even sweet and sour sauce.
Gently roll it up, using the saran wrap to roll it along. Store it in the fridge until serving time...or serve immediately with crackers, chips, or bread. Garnish with fresh herbs, chopped scallions, nuts, or spices. If you were able to get your cream cheese for $1 a block, then this appetizer won't cost you much more than that!
Have a very very Happy New Year. Here's looking forward to an economical but magically delicious 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Tall and Creamy Cheesecake

On Christmas Eve night, we ate this beautiful cheesecake, the 12 of us who were gathered for dinner at my house.

But we also ate miniature brownie hot fudge sundaes.
I must not also forget the Lemon Bundt Cake.
And this was after a satisfying dinner of bruschetta, green salad, lasagna, and fettucini alfredo.
Even for the champion eaters in my Italian family, this is a mountain of delicious food.
And this is why my tall and creamy cheesecake measures only 5 inches across. Knowing that something gigantically tremendous wouldn't be necessary, I scaled down Dorie Greenspan's recipe to fit into a 5 inch springform pan. (You can make cheesecake in just about anything-paperlined muffin cups, pie plates, ramekins, loaf pans, 9 by 13 baking dishes. ) The cheesecake was exactly as Dorie described it, "big, beautiful, lush and creamy." In fact, it's the most delicious cheesecake I've ever eaten, with just the perfect amount of sweetness and the smoothest texture. Dorie's advice to beat the batter "vigorously until satiny," is the key to meltingly smooth cheesecake. Here's my scaled-down version.
Money Saving Tips: This is the best time of year to buy cream cheese, with many stores offering 8 ounce blocks for $1 each. I look for late expiration dates on the packages and stock my fridge.
Tall and Creamy 5 inch Cheesecake
Scaled Down and Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Recipe
Estimated Cost: $4.50 if you can get a good deal on the cream cheese
Notes: Dorie recommends a waterbath, but I skipped that step out of sheer laziness.
For Crust:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
For Cheesecake:
1 8 ounce block cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
berries or fruit for serving
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. To make crust, combine crumbs, butter and sugar in a medium bowl. Press up the sides of a 5 inch springform pan, or into 3 or 4 little custard cups. Prebake crust for about 7 minutes. Cool completely and store in freezer. (Can be done weeks in advance.) In a mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add egg and beat for one minute. Scrape down mixer with spatula and check to make sure there are no lumps. Beat until completely smooth. With mixer on low, add sour cream, lemon juice and zest and vanilla. Pour into crust and bake for 30-45 minutes at 325 degrees. (I test the cheesecake for doneness by tapping the outside of the pan. When only the middle 2 inches jiggle, I'll remove it from the oven. OR if the cheesecake has a crack, I'll take it out right away. The crack will usually close back up as the cheesecake cools down.) Cool cheesecake completely and store in refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve with fruit.
Coming Tomorrow:
Easy Appetizer for New Year's

Monday, December 29, 2008

Taquito New Year's Party

When I was nineteen, Santa gave me some cash for Christmas, instead of the usual mall gift certificates he'd been accustomed to bringing in my teenage years. I got on the phone the next day and booked a flight to visit my friend Holly in San Francisco for New Year's. No way was that cash going to sit in my pocket! Holly was my gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer look alike friend with the sweetest laugh, like a bird and a Disney princess and a sunshiney birthday party, exactly the opposite of my goose-honking guffaws. Although we jetted around San Francisco all week long in our Cavaricci jeans, the thing I remember best about my New Year's visit was the taquitos. Taquitos. Oh, mama. Holly's family had the tradition of eating them on New Year's Eve. She told me how to make them and sent me on my way, and you better believe we've had them every New Year's since. (Holly's family -which now includes her five children and husband in NYC-even had them for Christmas Eve this year, too.) And the trend is spreading, I'll tell you. Once you've been to a New Year's taquito party, you just see if anything else will suffice for ringing in the New Year. (Pictured are baked (instead of fried) chicken taquitos with grapefruit salsa.)

First of all you'll need a filling. Begining in November, I make extra pot roasts, shreded chicken, etc knowing that these babies will be waiting in the freezer until the last night of the year. But don't worry if you didn't start in November, it's still not too late. I'm making some today too, since I make approximately 300 for my giant Italian family. My favorite fillings are green chili chicken, and a red chili beef, but I also do a vegetarian filling with black beans, mushrooms, jalapeno, etc. You'll need about 2 scant tablespoons of filling for each taquito. Heat corn tortillas on a dry hot griddle, or in the microwave between damp paper towels. Wrap the tortillas in a dish towel to keep them hot. Then place the filling inside the tortilla and roll it up and place it on a cookie sheet. Place the finished taquitos in the freezer. After a couple of hours, separate them and place them in zip top baggies back in the freezer, where they will patiently wait until needed. On New Year's night, you fry them in hot oil (or you can brush them with oil and bake them like the ones above) until golden brown and crispy and serve them with guacamole, salsa, and sour cream. And then you wake up on New Year's Day and repeat. And repeat. Indefinitely. And you'll think you're starting the New Year in paradise.
Trust me; you'll love them. Leave a comment with a taquito testimonial if you've had them before!
And as for Christmas...
Here's a mural that the two charges painted, just in case Santa lost his way in a snow storm....
And my little boy, fast asleep, dreaming about the zero gravity car that he was sure he was getting....
And walking over for Christmas breakfast at Grandma's house
And checking out the loot with their cousin A
And in costume for our annual sincere and scrappy Nativity.
Did I tell you what I got from the man in red? A Latin primer. Ergo, I'd better get started conjugating. I got the Quiet Man the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes. Elementary, my dear Watson. I can't wait to get my hands on that, too. Hope you all had a wonderful holiday and continue to enjoy it all week, month, and year long.
See you tomorrow with Mile High Cheesecake!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holly Berry Cupcakes

I was planning to post these chocolate buttermilk cupcakes with chocolate butter cream frosting and candy holly today.

But it does seem a little late. After all it is Christmas Eve, and chances are, you already know exactly what you're making for dinner. And breakfast. And for dinner tomorrow. Etc. But I still wanted to wish you a very Merry Christmas and tell all of my readers how much I've enjoyed sharing my recipes and random ramblings with you. I have so much more that I want to share in the coming year. (Even in the coming week, and if the Quiet Man doesn't hold me back, even tomorrow.) Thanks so much for being my friends, for trying my recipes and for being interested in my sweet and savory minutia. It's no fun to be thrifty alone; I need my fiesty gang of penny pinchers here at Prudence Pennywise.
In the meantime, a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday to all! And in the words of Tiny Tim, God bless us, every one!
PS Happy Birthday to my Irish twin sister Michelle, the Christmas Eve baby that came home in a giant stocking. I was always so jealous of that big giant stocking. I still am. A little.
Still Coming: Christmas in Italy

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Butterscotch Pudding

If you think you don't like Buttterscotch Pudding..... you might be dead wrong. At least I was. I was about as excited to make butterscotch pudding this week as I am for my monthly credit card bill. But I was dead wrong. (Not about the bill; oh, mama.) Leave it to Dorie Greenspan to make a butterscotchy believer out of me. This decadent pudding is warm and buttery, with brown sugar and caramel undertones and a luscious creamy texture. Take it from me and plan to serve this one in front of the fire place-warm, with a dollop of whipped cream and sugared pecans. Here's your link to silky-warm-you -to-your-toes goodness. It's so yummy it'll make you forget all about that credit card bill that I mentioned earlier. Forget I mentioned it. For my fellow penny-pinchers, the estimated cost is $2.00 for a half batch, if you make it my way, which is scotch-less. I also didn't use a food processor, like Dorie recommends. Lazy dishwasher me. The wire whisk works wonders. How's that alliteration for you?

And in the meantime, I've been baking loads of chocolate chip cookies and then popping those Nestle swirly chips on the top when they just come out of the oven. Colored M and Ms work well, too.They're the best for parties that include kids of all ages, from one to ninety-two. Speaking of ninety-two, that's about how many I almost ate. And I betcha Santa Claus might like his own little set of ninety-two tomorrow night.
This just in: Hey! Head over to Fine Blogs to see my guest post about a super easy (and cheap and yummy) Christmas Breakfast.
Up Next:
Best Case Scenario: Overnight Breakfast Strata (see above link!), Christmas Cupcakes, Christmas in Italy....in no particular order.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hanukkah and Latkes with Applesauce

Happy Hanukkah! I have to hand it to my mother again. Growing up, it was not unusual to have a lesson on Hanukkah and latke-making from some of our Jewish friends. We grew up celebrating Hanukkah in our Christian household, learning to appreciate the Festival of Lights and its beautiful origin. Later I gained a greater appreciation for the meaning of the holiday, while living in Jerusalem as a study-abroad student. I'm just kicking myself for not buying a dreidle when I was there! That's why I have to post these cartoon dreidles, and not my own lovely wooden dreidle.
Hanukah commemorates a battle for religious freedom that took place over two thousand years ago. The Macabees reclaimed a temple that had been usurped by the Greeks. The Macabees were able to rededicate the temple by lighting the Menorah with only a small amount of oil that miraculously burned for eight days. Jewish families still light the menorah during Hanukkah and give thanks to God for their blessings. After the Menorah is lit, games are played, including the spinning dreidle game. I'm so mad at myself for not getting a dreidle in Jerusalem, but that hasn't stopped us from playing the game. I made myself a ramshackle little paper dreidle and wrote the characters on the side. It's such a humble little squished-up construction paper dreidle, that just this moment, I've decided to buy a dreidle on line. Today. On with the game: To play, you'll need a bowl of pennies or little candies. Divide them evenly among the players. To start everyone should put a candy in the bowl. Whenever a player takes a turn, no matter the outcome, each player will add another candy to the bowl. If the a player lands on Shin.... he will put an extra candy in the bowl. If a player lands on Hay....he will take half of the candies in the bowl. If a player lands on Nun...he will do nothing. If a player lands on Gimel...then he takes the entire bowl. Remember to have each player add a candy to the bowl on every turn. The game is over-kind of like Monopoly-when there is nothing left or else everyone is bored of playing.
And the best part of Hanukkah, as everyone knows, is the crispy potato pancakes-"latkes," covered in warm apple sauce and sour cream. As an added bonus, they are about the most inexpensive holiday food that you could ever make. I like to add green onion and grated carrot to mine for color and texture. Be sure to hand grate your potatoes for a truly authentic latke. If you have time to make homemade applesauce, they'll be even better. Happy Hanukkah- starting tonight!
Hanukkah Latkes
Estimated Cost: $2.00 for 10 latkes
4 medium potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated
1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, coarsely grated (optional)
2 green onions, cut into matchstick pieces (optional)
1 egg
1 tablespoon flour or matzo
1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
about 1/3 cup vegetable or olive oil
In a large bowl, combine potatoes, onion, carrot, green onions, egg, flour, and salt and pepper. Mix well. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium high heat. Using hands shape mixture into 3 inch pancakes. Place in frying pan. Cook each patty about four minutes per side, or until golden brown. Repeat with all latkes. Serve with sour cream and apple sauce if desired.
Up Next:
Christmas Cupcakes, Butterscotch Pudding, Christmas In Italy...and not necessarily in that order.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Love Thy Neighbor...with Fudge

Here's the easiest way to express gratitude for those with whom you share a fence: in a word, fudge. And I've got the skinny on the easiest, silkiest, dreamiest fudge that you could ever whip up in five minutes. It's so easy, in fact, that my five year old made a batch for his Sunday school teachers. Other than pushing the buttons on the microwave, he was a lone, proud cowboy of candy making. Tomorrow we'll be back to Christmas Around the World. I think. In the meantime, I've been churning out cookies, candies, cakes, not to mention dinners galore, and I haven't really even shared them at all, thanks to this month's international Christmas crazy bonanza. But this one, dear readers, this one I just couldn't keep to myself. If you haven't made anything for your neighbors, your hairdresser, your spiritual advisor, your mailman, youre genealogist, your recently unemployed financial advisor....this is it. I'm off to rush around madly in circles with the rest of America. Just five more days till Christmas!

Easy Fudge
Estimated Cost: $5.00
Use your big bag of Costco chocolate chips and you'll save a fortune.
3 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup add ins-such as crushed peppermints, frozen marshmallows, chopped nuts, dried fruits, chopped cookies, etc...
Line a 8 by 8 inch square pan with foil. Place chips, milk and vanilla in microwaveable medium bowl. Zap for one minute. Stir. Repeat until chips and butter are melted. Stir with wooden spoon until shiny. Add vanilla and any optional add ins. Pour into prepared pan. Chill for at least two hours.
For White Oreo Fudge:
Follow above directions, using white chocolate chips and reducing butter to two tablespoons. Generously grease foil lined pan. Leave out vanilla and add 20 crushed oreos.
My Sailor-girl made chocolate fudge in mini loaf pans to give out to her music teachers. You can get 3-4 little fudge blocks. Wrapped in cellophane with a plastic knife, it doesn't get much cutie-patootier than that. Unless you want to put it in a polka dot ribbon-tied box. That's purdy too.
Up Next:
Hanukkah and hopefully latkes....

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas in Mexico and Tamales

Feliz Navidad!

Merry Christmas from Mexico, one of our stops-I've lost count-on the Christmas Around the World series here at Prudence Pennywise. The festivities in Mexico begin on December sixteenth with a nine day procession called "Las Posadas" Children representing Mary and Joseph roam from house to house looking for a room in the inn for Baby Jesus. After the last posada parade, families attend a special midnight mass and baby Jesus is placed in the manger scene, having at last found a resting place.
The iconic Christmas flower, the poinsettia comes from Mexico, and legend has it that the flower's pointed petals represent the Christmas star that led the shepherds and wise men to the baby Jesus.
The giving of gifts happens on Kings day, January sixth. Like many other countries, Mexican children put out their shoes and wait for the Three Wise Men to leave them little surprises.
And yet, having grown up in southern California, my favorite Mexican Christmas tradition is the giving of tamales. Mmmm!It didn't seem like the Christmas season was in full swing until our Mexican friends brought us a giant bag full of the delectable savory corn cakes filled with meats and chiles. They were so delicious that we had to learn to make them ourselves. I have to hand it to my mom for always taking the opportunity to learn from others. Although I balked a little at the time, on three separate occasions my mother invited Mexican friends to our home to teach our family to make tamales. I'm so grateful now that my mother realized how important it was to share traditions, ideas, and recipes from other cultures. Making tamales is a long and drawn-out process, albeit an enjoyable one, especially if you make them in a group. (Tamal making parties, or "tamaladas" are common in December in southern California.) I've been making tamales for the last decade, sometimes alone, sometimes with others. I've tweaked a couple of different recipes and I think this version, with a combination of fresh corn and dried corn flour, is the absolute tastiest. I filled some tamales with shredded chicken that has been simmered in tomatillo salsa, and some with cheese and green chilies, and some with all three. You can fill it with whatever your heart desires!
Money Saving Tips: If at all possible, visit a Mexican market for your ingredients. You'll end up with a large bag of masa mix. Next month I'll show you how to make tortillas with that masa so that it doesn't go to waste. You can easily double this recipe to make a larger batch, so that you won't waste any of the corn husks.
Fresh Corn Tamales adapted from Bon Appetit and other sources
Estimated Cost: $8.00 for 20 tamales
1/2 of 6 ounce package corn husks
2 and 3/4 cups masa mix (corn tortilla mix)
8 tablespoons softened butter
4 tablespoons sugar
2 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup vegetable broth
5 cups corn kernels, thawed if frozen
1 and 1/2 cup packed cheddar cheese
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
about 2 cups fillings-shredded cheese, cooked shredded meats, green chilies, etc

The night before you make tamales, soak corn husks in a large bowl of warm water. Weigh the husks down with a plate so that they stay submerged. Cut about 20 12 by 12 inch pieces of waxed paper. (Just roughly estimate with your eye-they don't need to be perfect.)
In a large bowl, using a pastry cutter or two knives, blend masa mix, butter, sugar, salt and pepper until crumbly. IN the bowl of the blender, combine broth, half of the corn kernels, cheese, and baking powder. Process until smooth. In the large bowl with the masa mix, add pureed corn kernels and remaining corn kernels. Mix well. This will be your dough. For each tamal, open one corn husk. Place a scant 1/2 cup tamal dough in center. (You'll get used to eyeballing it. You'll use more for bigger husks, less for smaller.) Press dough down into rectangle shape, leaving 1 inch borders all around.Put about 2 tablespoons filling in the center of dough. Wrap tamale dough over the top and around to form a cylinder of dough with filling completely enclosed. Fold up ends of corn husks around tamal dough. Fold waxed paper around tamal into a little bundle. (I don't bother tying the tamales, since wrapping in waxed paper works just as well, is faster, and it keeps them fresher afterwards.)Repeat process with all tamales.
When tamales are finished, place in steamer basket and steam for about 90 minutes. OR if you don't own a steamer-like me, fill the bottom of a large pot with crumpled foil. Pour in about 1 inch of boiling water. Place about 10 tamales in a pot. Cover the top with extra corn husks. Place the lid on tightly. Over low heat, steam tamales for about 90 minutes to two hours. Add more boiling water to bottom every thirty minutes. (I pour the water just down the side of the pot.) Tamales are cooked when they no longer stick to the husk. Store cooked tamales in refrigerator, in a plastic bag. Remove waxed paper and place husk-covered tamales in microwave for about 1 minute each. Remove husk before eating-you probably know that, but just in case...
Feliz Navidad and best of luck!
Next Up:
Hanukkah and Potato Latkes with Applesauce