Easy Cheese & Fruit Tarts

These are perfect for brunches, cocktails parties and, especially, picnics. You could also substitute dried cranberries for the holidays. They are another one from my fabulous friend Jennifer.

Easy Cheese & Fruit Tarts

Frozen (defrosted) small pastry shells
1 (15 oz.) can sliced Bartlett pears in syrup, drained
8 oz. wedge Brie cheese
Dried cherries

Follow package directions on shells re: defrosting. Preheat oven to 400F. Chop pears and place in center of pastry shells. Trim away outer edge of Brie and cut cheese into small pieces; place over pears. Top each with 3-4 dried cherries. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Excellent served warm or at room temperature.

Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts

This recipes is good, quick and easy. I keep bacon in my freezer and water chestnuts handy for this sure hit. Stole this recipe from Kim….had to.  Husbands love this one!

Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts

1 package bacon
1 1/2 cans water chestnuts (whole)-cut in half
½ cup catsup
1/3 cup brown sugar

Slice all bacon in half lengthwise. Wrap 1/2 slice bacon around water chestnut. Secure with toothpick half way through water chestnut. If
the 1/2 chestnut is small , sometimes a 1/3 slice of bacon can be used. It needs to be long enough to wrap once and secure with a toothpick.

Bake at 250 for 1 hour in roasting pan.

Mix catsup and brown sugar. Dip all bacon in sauce. Clean up grease and then put foil down and put them onto foil.

Bake at 250 for 30 minutes more. Turn off oven and leave in oven till ready to serve (up to a couple hours).

Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

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Baked Chevre with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Basil

This almost isn’t a recipe, but I served this to my book club, and it was easy and yummy!

Baked Chevre with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Basil

8 oz. chevre (substitute some cream cheese if too strong)
4 oz. sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained
1/2-1 t. garlic
1/2 cup fresh basil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pam a small ovenproof serving dish. Place chevre (and cream cheese, if desired) in dish and bake until melted, 15-20 minutes. Pulse sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and basil in food processor till minced.

Spoon tomato mixture over cheese, and serve with crackers and/or fresh vegetables.

Raspberry Cheese Spread

Don’t be afraid to try something different. This is a great appetizer or party dish.   It is always a hit. The recipe came from a friend in Houston, BJ. Her mom is the ultimate in throwing parties.

Raspberry Cheese Spread

6 1/2 inch springform pan
1 1/2 lbs. grated cheddar (1/2 sharp and 1/2 medium)
1 1/2 c. of mayonnaise
3 green onions, diced
dash of Tabasco
3/4 cup of pecans, chopped
1 jar of Smuckers raspberry preserves

Let cheese sit out for 30 minutes at room temperature. Combine all ingredients except the preserves, and pack into a springform pan. Cover pan with foil, and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, remove cheese mold from the pan and place on a plate. Cover with the preserves. Serve with Ritz or other favorite crackers.

 

Oreo Cookie Balls

These technically aren’t a cookie.  Nonetheless, you can’t have just one.  Simple and yummy!

Oreo Cookie Balls

1 package of Oreo cookies (crushed up very fine)
1 block of cream cheese (melted in the microwave)
1 package of white chocolate bark (melted)
Sprinkles to decorate

Place the Oreos in a plastic bag and crush them very fine with a rolling pin.

Soften the cream cheese in the microwave. Mix the crushed cookies into the cream cheese. Form them into 1″ balls and refrigerate for one hour.

Melt the white chocolate bark and dip the cookie balls into the white chocolate. Decorate with sprinkles.

The Best Sugar Cookies

I had these cookies at a party, and they were life changing. I had to track down the baker, and he graciously sent me this recipe. Now Jon and I will be friends forever.

He served them with pink frosting, all lined up on a red platter, and they were stunning.  Tracy agrees, these are the best sugar cookies! If they are a little crisp, just seal them in an airtight container, and they’ll be perfect the next day.

The Best Sugar Cookies

Sugar Cookie Base:

4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 sticks butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine flour, salt and baking powder in bowl and set aside.

Place butter in bowl of electric mixer and beat on medium until smooth. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until well combined and fluffy (whatever that means).

Add each egg one at a time and beat until combined. Add almond and vanilla extracts.

With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour mixture until just combined. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a ball and place in the middle of a sheet of plastic wrap. Press into a rough 8 inch circle. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for two hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Roll out each dough piece to approximately 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutter (yield with a round 2 inch cutter is approximately 60 cookies). Place cut-outs on baking sheets 1 inch apart. Refrigerate sheets with cut-outs for 15 minutes (this helps the cookies spread less during baking and retain their shape).

Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes, rotating front-to-back and top-to-bottom (if using two sheets) halfway through. Let cookies cool completely before frosting.
Tip: If they aren’t soft and moist, you can add a couple of apple slices in an airtight container and they will soften.

Pink frosting:

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 oz. butter (3/4 stick), softened
1 tsp. vanilla
A few drops red food coloring
2 1/2 to 3 cups powdered sugar

Beat butter and cream cheese together on medium speed until smooth. Add vanilla and red food coloring and mix until combined.

Gradually add powdered sugar at low speed until fully combined. (Over-mixing will result in a lighter, aerated frosting–not my favorite with these cookies). More powdered sugar results in a stiffer frosting that develops a satisfying outer “crust” once dry (my preference), less results in a creamier texture that remains satiny.

Unbelievably Moist Chocolate Cake

 It sounds so weird, but it is unbelievably moist and yummy. I know if you make this, you’ll wonder if I am SURE I gave the directions right. But trust me on this one.

Unbelievably Moist Chocolate Cake

1 chocolate cake mix
1 container chocolate coconut pecan frosting mix
glaze

Mix together the cake mix, the frosting (yes, the frosting), and the rest of the ingredients called for on the cake mix box.
 
Bake in a bundt pan per directions. When cool, remove from pan and drizzle with any glaze (powdered sugar and water is fine).

 

Magnolia Bakery Banana Pudding

I love this banana pudding.  It comes from the famous Magnolia Bakery in NYC. Beware – it’s rich, but worth it!

Magnolia Bakery Banana Pudding

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups ice cold water
1 (3.4-ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix (preferably Jell-O brand)
3 cups heavy cream
1 (12-ounce) box Nabisco Nilla Wafers (no substitutions!)
4 cups sliced ripe bananas

In a small bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat together the sweetened condensed milk and water until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the pudding mix and beat well, about 2 minutes more.

Cover and refrigerate for 3-4 hours or overnight, before continuing. It is very important to allow the proper amount of time for the pudding mixture to set.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the pudding mixture into the whipped cream until well blended and no streaks of pudding remain.

To assemble the dessert, select a large, wide bowl (preferably glass) with a 4-5-quart capacity. Arrange one-third of the wafers to cover the bottom of the bowl, overlapping if necessary, then one-third of the bananas and one-third of the pudding. Repeat the layering twice more, garnishing with additional wafers or wafer crumbs on the top layer of the pudding.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours – or up to 8 hours, but no longer! – before serving.

I love this banana pudding. Please make it soon!