Baked Cranberry Pudding

(photo to come later on–I know, I know.)

Jake, one of my blonde nephews, married Katie, a lovely dark-haired young woman, and she had a double reception with her sister?  Her cousin?  I can’t remember, but I do remember that it was in a huge house, with a balcony overlooking the main entry hall, lots of small cozy rooms off of the main living room area and many, many guests.  The bride’s mother had enlisted the help of her friends in staging this reception, and besides the usual wedding treats, they passed trays filled with cups of this warm, soggily-delicious pear-cranberry cake.  It took me a while, but I finally tracked down the recipe.  I think of Jake and Katie every time I make this.  Serve with Elizabeth’s Lemon Butter Sauce.

Baked Cranberry Pudding

2 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 and 1/2 cans (about 14 oz size) pears, juice and all
2  cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups fresh cranberries, washed and sorted
2 Tablespoons REAL butter

In a stand mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until well-blended, about 3 minutes.  Add pears, then dry ingredients mixed together.  Stir in cranberries.  It will be slightly sloshy.

Melt butter in 9 by 13-inch pan.  Pour batter into pan.

Bake 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  (It will be slightly moist in center.)

Note: If there appears to be more juice than pears in your canned pears, hold back about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pear juice until you see if it’s the right consistency.  Yes, I know.  You may have to guess a little the first time, but like any good recipe, this one become familiar the more you make it.

Elizabeth’s Lemon Butter Sauce

This is the kind of cake sauce that people will attempt to drink right out of the pan, it’s that good.  For many years I taught a monthly lesson in our Women’s Church Auxiliary and invariably, every December, my lesson would fall on the Sunday before Christmas.  That first time, I organized a program of stories, songs, and singing, and then brought out Gingerbread Cake with Lemon-Butter Sauce for the finale.  All of us women would sit around for the last few minutes of our meeting, eating the delicious treat and just visiting.  I would play Christmas music on a tape recorder (those were the days) while the women who had spent the better part of the last month shopping, planning, cleaning, wrapping, feeling frenzied and overwhelmed, could just sit.  Sit and enjoy each other’s company, the carols of Christmas and some warm gingerbread.  It was always one of my favorite moments of the season.

1/2 cup REAL butter

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup light cream

4 teaspoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon rum extract

a shake of ground nutmeg

Blend together and stir constantly while heating so it doesn’t scorch.  Cook until slightly thick.  Add the freshly-squeezed lemon juice, the rum and vanilla extracts.  Add a dash of nutmeg.  Serve warm over cake.  Try not to lick the spoon.

Note: I also serve this with the Old-fashioned Gingerbread Cake, Gingerbread Cake, Baked Cranberry Pudding, and the Apple Cake.

Apple Pudding

Who knows where I got this recipe, but it’s been a favorite of mine to serve at Christmas for just about forever.  For Thanksgiving it was always pumpkin and mincemeat pie, and for Christmas, it’s Gingerbread Cake and this.  It’s a moist cake with strands of fresh apple, crunchy walnuts and an old-fashioned English-cake-pudding texture.  It’s best served with Elizabeth’s Lemon Butter Sauce.

(Double the quantity for 9 x 13 pan)

1 cup sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
3 large apples, peeled, cored and grated
1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped nuts

Sift together flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda and nutmeg in one bowl.  In another bowl, whip together thoroughly: butter, sugar and egg until light and fluffy.

Add the grated apples to the egg mixture then blend in flour mixture.  Lastly add nuts and stir until blended.  Bake in greased 9 x 9 pan at 400 degrees F for 20-30 minutes.  Do Not Overbake!

Gingerbread Cake

(Photo here, later, but imagine a square of dark gingerbread cake)

I lived in Texas for four very warm years, as I was always surprised at how long into November I wanted to have the air conditioning running.  It made it hard to get into the “holiday spirit” when trying to bake pumpkin pies when it was 85 degrees outside.  A few of us got together one Christmas and decided to recreate An Olde English Repast for our ladies church program, figuring by going back to the Dickensian source would alleviate our homesickness for some frosty weather.  We made roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, corn pudding, a moist apple cake and of course, a Gingerbread Cake. I found the recipe in an old Sunset recipes book, which is so old, it’s falling apart.  We served it with Elizabeth’s Lemon Butter Sauce.

1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 cup salad oil
1 cup molasses (I use the green label kind)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup boiling water
2 1/2 cups white flour
2 eggs, well-beaten

In a bowl, combine the sugar, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Stir in the salad oil, then the molasses, mixing well.  Mix the soda into the boiling water and immediately stir into the mixture.  Gradually blend in the lfou, to prevent lumping.  Then mix in the eggs.

Turn into a greased 9×13 pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 40-45 minutes (Use 325 degrees for glass pans).  Makes 12 generous servings.

Bratten’s (New England-style) Clam Chowder

Bratten’s was the name of a seafood restaurant that began in Salt Lake City, but also had a satellite restaurant in Ogden Utah, where my parents used to go.

My father and mother lived for a time in Boston, New England as it was known and fell in love with their clam chowder; Bratten’s came close to what they remembered.

So, somehow I got the recipe (this was before the internet, so maybe from my mother?) and have made it and loved it for many years as it makes a thick chunky soup.  A niece, Lisa, asked if I had a good recipe, for she wanted to serve it on Christmas Eve.  So that’s what prompted this post.  When I get an original picture, I’ll post it, but for now, this one will have to do.

New England clam chowders are white, creamy soups.  If you want the red, tomato-based soup, that’s known as Manhattan-style clam chowder.

Bratten’s New England-style Clam Chowder

2 (6 1/2 ounce cans ) clams, or 1 pound minced clams with juice
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely diced celery
2 cups diced raw potatoes
1 quart milk
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2-3 teaspoons red wine vinegar

Drain juice from clams and pour over vegetables (sometimes I have to add another can of clam juice to cover, or just use a little chicken broth or water).  Cook until tender, about 20 minutes.  Make a white sauce with the butter, flour and milk.*  Add undrained vegetables, clams (chopped, if desired) and vinegar and heat thoroughly.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook’s Note: Don’t let it stand half warm on the stove.  After serving (immediately), stir it often to let it cool down and refrigerate.

*”Make a white sauce?”  Can you tell this is an old recipe?

To make a white sauce, melt the butter in a heavy pan, and add the flour all at once.  Cook, stirring, until this mixture–a roux–seems to become well-blended and cooked.  Add  the milk*, a little at a time, until it’s a creamy mix, then add the rest of the milk.  If the milk is cold, it will stop the cooking–that’s why I like to do it a little at a time.  Besides the Joy of Cooking Cookbook says to do it that way as well.

I always like soups better the next day.  This one is no exception.

When we were in Italy, their traditional Christmas Eve meal is a feast of many different kinds of fish.  This soup would be perfect to add that kind of celebration.  One more tidbit: we always serve this with Oyster Crackers, small round crackers found in the grocery store.  Trader Joe’s has the best ones.

*Note: Now we make our “white sauce” with chicken broth, and add a little cream at the end.

Butternut Crunch Toffee

I found this in our local newspaper, back in the day when newspapers had full-fledged cooking sections.  In the olden days, back when newspapers were read every day around the breakfast/dinner table, there were many pages devoted to Christmas cookies, delectable sweets, ways to manage the Big Day’s meal, and lots of other columns imported from other news services.  I cut it out and tried it.  My husband, whose favorite candy at the time was Almond Roca, declared this recipe A Hit.  I’ve made it just about every Christmas since.  According to the article, it came from Ann Hodgman’s Beat This! Cookbook, published in 1993.  Now you know really how old this clipping is.  I’ve made some changes: the recipe as listed below includes these changes.

1 cup (2 sticks) lightly salted butter
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup, dissolved in 2 tablespoons warm water
1 cup whole almonds
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Scatter the whole almonds over a cookie sheet and place under the broiler until lightly toasted–don’t burn!  Let cool, then chop them up in a food processor.  Scatter half of the almonds over a cookie sheet; reserve the rest for later.  [Note: I’ve always used a cookie sheet, but the recipe calls for a 9 x 13 inch pan.  Pick your poison.]

In a medium heavy saucepan, over medium to medium-low heat, melt the butter.  With a spatula kind of scoot some up on the sides so as to “butter the pan.”  As soon as the butter is melted, stir in the sugar. Continue to stir constantly until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture comes to a rolling boil (a boil that can not be stirred away).  Add the corn-syrup-water mixture and stir well; the mixture will hiss for a few seconds, but that’s all right.

With the pan still on the heat, cover the saucepan and leave it covered for 3 minutes (use a timer).  Then uncover it and stick in a candy thermometer.  Keeping the heat at medium-low, and stirring once in a while, heat the mixture to 300 degrees.  (My sister Christine also uses the paper bag test: she holds up a brown paper sack and when the toffee is that color, it’s time to yank it. *Note: for higher altitudes, for every 1000 feet above sea level, subtract 2 degrees.*)

When the candy finally reaches 300 degrees (it seems to get stuck at 220 and stays there for a long time), remove the candy from the heat immediately and pour it onto the chopped nuts, tilting the pan back and forth to cover it evenly.  The recipe says not to scrape the pan or the candy might crystallize, but I’ve been known to help down the last little ribbon of toffee mixture from the side with my spatula.  Other than that, I obey, and generally don’t scrape the pan.

Let it cool for a few minutes, then scatter chocolate chips over the surface (another trick from my sister).  The heat from the cooling toffee will melt the chips.

When they are melted, take a spatula and smooth out the chocolate.

Then scatter the remaining chopped almonds over the surface.

Let it really cool down.  A lot.  When the chocolate is set (about 2 hours or so), break up the toffee into pieces by “stabbing” straight down into the toffee with a paring knife until you hear it break. More stabs equals smaller pieces.  I put it into a dish, then pour the extra bits of nuts and toffee over that.  Makes about 1 pound of candy.


I knew I wanted to serve crostini (basically toasted baguette slices) with the Torta, but after cooking solidly for a week, my brain went blank.  So I opened the new Gourmet cookbook (with green titles and cover–lovely, lovely–a sad end to a fine enterprise) and looked up Ruth Reichl’s how-to’s.  Saved.

Dave cut the La Brea bread baguette on an angle to get the nice shape on the slices.  I set them out on a rack, brushed both sides with good-quality olive oil, then salt and peppered them (lightly).  I toasted them lightly under the broiler, keeping an eye on them.

They were magnificent right out of the oven, and I ate them for my lunch.  They were a little less magnificent that night, even a little soggy, after being kept (in a bowl, under plastic wrap) all day.  I think it was the constant rain we had, because the next day Dave and I popped them into the toaster for just a minute, and they were back to magnificent–especially when slathered with the leftover Sun-dried Tomato and Pesto Torta.

To arrange in a bowl, first cover the bottom of the bowl with a single layer of crostini.  Then, layer the slices in a circle around the edges, building up as you go, leaving the middle hollow. It looks very cool, although I have no photos to show  you.


Sun-dried Tomato and Pesto Torta

I made this for the first time last December, and fought with it the whole time.  Part of the problem was that I tried a shortcut, and used pesto from Trader Joe’s.  Mistake.  If you decide to make this, consider it like investing in a plane trip abroad: once you board, there’s no getting off until the plane’s landed.  Stay with it and you’ll be rewarded with lots of compliments.

For the presentation, I garnished the top with pine nuts, set it out on my husband’s nutcracker Christmas plate up on a cake pedestal, and served it with crostini. The recipe is originally from Bon Appetit magazine, published in December 1999, and the only modification I made was to cut down on the garlic to two cloves (from the original recipe’s four cloves).  I think it was a good call as it was much better this year.

You can make this up to three days ahead; be sure to start at least one day in advance.

2 garlic cloves
1 1/2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 2/3 cups cream cheese, room temperature (about 21 ounces)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/3 cups drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes (confession: I forgot to drain the oil; it was fine).  I used an 8 oz jar of julienned tomatoes from (where else?) Trader Joe’s.
1/3 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Fresh basil sprigs
Toasted pine nuts

Finely chop garlic in processor. Add basil, 1/4 cup pine nuts, oil and lemon juice. Process until well blended. Add 1/3 cup cream cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Using on/off turns, process just until blended. Transfer pesto to medium bowl.

Coarsely chop tomatoes in processor. Add tomato paste and process until mixture is almost smooth. Add 1/3 cup cream cheese and blend well.

Using electric mixer, beat 2 cups cream cheese and butter in large bowl until fluffy. Season with salt and pepper.

Spray 6-cup soufflé dish with nonstick spray. Line with plastic wrap, extending plastic over sides. Spread 3/4 cup cream cheese-butter mixture evenly over bottom of prepared dish. Top with half of tomato mixture, then 1/2 cup cream cheese-butter mixture, then half of pesto mixture. Repeat layering with 1/2 cup cream cheese-butter mixture, remaining tomato mixture, 1/2 cup cream cheese-butter mixture and remaining pesto. Top with remaining cream cheese-butter mixture. Cover and chill overnight. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

Invert torta onto platter. Peel off plastic. Garnish with basil sprigs and toasted pine nuts. Serve with crostini.

Makes 20 servings.

Caramelized Onion & Apple Tart

This was perhaps my favorite new recipe of the night, found online somewhere.  Purchase pre-made puff pastry (Pepperidge Farms is the one in our grocery store), top with crème fraîche, the onion/apple mixture and bake.  I slid them over onto a rack to cool for a minute, then sliced it up into squares.  I plan to make this one often; it’s easy and it went really quickly–both in the making of and into people’s mouths.


2 tablespoons olive oil
2  and 1/2  medium onions, sliced
2 red apples (such as Braeburn or Gala), cut into very small dice
salt and pepper
2 sheets frozen puff pastry (from a 17.3-ounce package), thawed
1/2 cup crème fraîche (you can substitute sour cream, but check Trader Joe’s for the crème fraîche before you do)

Heat oven to 400º F. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in the apples, some salt, a shake of pepper and cook until just tender, 2 minutes.

Place each sheet of pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet and prick all over with a fork. Spread with the crème fraîche, leaving a one-quarter inch border. Top with the onion mixture and bake until the pastry is crisp and browned, approximately 30 minutes. Cut into pieces before serving.