Friday, December 31, 2010

Goldilocks and the Three Cinnamon Roll Batches

Happy New Year. This is the final installment of my month-long postings of holiday recipes that are old traditions in my family. December 4 was my uncle’s penuche, December 11 was my mother’s fruit cocktail cake, December 18 was my sister-in-law’s boiled chocolate oatmeal cookies. To start the year off right, I’m ending with my mother-in-law’s cinnamon roll recipe.

My late mother-in-law was universally recognized as a world-class cook, and like most world-class cooks, she didn’t use recipes. She could tell by the look, feel, and smell of a dish if it was thrown together right. This quality makes for some good eatin’, but it makes it hard on family cooks of later generations to duplicate the dishes they so loved growing up. I got this updated version of the original from my sister-in-law Lorraine, who as you can see, also cooks on the fly. I’ll reproduce Lorraine’s instructions, then let you know what I discovered when I tried to make the rolls.


a loaf of Rhodes frozen bread

brown sugar



more butter



raisins (optional

Thaw the bread for two to three hours. Let it rise a bit. Roll the dough out into a 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick rectangle. Spread about 1/2 stick of butter over the dough. Spread brown sugar over the top of the dough. Shake cinnamon over the brown sugar. Broadcast a package of pecans (and raisins) over dough. Roll the dough up and pinch shut the edge along the side of the roll. In a sauce pan melt some butter and a handful of brown sugar along with some cinnamon and a little cream to make about 1/4 to 1/2 cup mixture. Pour the sauce pan of butter and sugar mixture into a cooking pan. Cut the long roll of dough into slices and place the slices onto the butter and brown sugar mixture in the cooking pan. Dribble cream on each cinnamon roll. Let the rolls rise in the pan for about 20 minutes. Cook at 375 degrees.

Here’s how it went:


I did okay up until I rolled up the dough. I let the butter soften for a couple of

hours which made it easier to spread over the dough. I covered the top of the dough with about brown sugar about 1/4 inch thick (I’m guessing around 2/3 cup), and sprinkled enough cinnamon to completely cover the sugar (@ 2 TBSP). I used 1/2 cup of pecan pieces, and about the same of golden raisins. Mistake no. 1: I rolled up the dough from the short end of the rectangle instead of the long end. This made eight thin rolls. Mistake no. 2: I used way too little brown sugar and way too much cream in the liquid mixture. The idea is to create a caramelly topping, and as you can see in the bottom of the pan, it should be much more caramel colored and a lot less cream colored. She said “a handful of brown sugar”. Use two good handfuls, 2 tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of cinnamon, and just enough cream to make the mixture the consistency of a runny caramel. Mistake no. 3: the pan I used is too large. The rolls should touch each other and the sides of the pan. The pan in the picture is 9”x13”. RESULT: You’ve no doubt noticed that the cooking instructions do not include time. I preheated the oven and baked the rolls for 25 minutes, which was just right. However, my too-thin topping mixture made the bottom of the rolls soggy and the too-large pan made the rolls loose and not very tall.


This time I had figured out how to roll the dough. The long thin roll, when cut into eight equal pieces, makes much thicker cinnamon rolls. I also melted the butter and brushed it over the dough in step one. This was a lot easier than trying to spread it. However, dotting lots of little chunks of butter around makes the rolls very rich. Mistake 1: I adjusted the liquid mixture for the bottom of the pan, but not enough. It was still too creamy. Mistake 2: This time the pan I used was too small - an 8”x8” glass baking pan. I crammed all eight rolls into the pan. They rose like a mushroom cloud over the top of the pan. RESULT: I ended up with something rather like monkey bread with a soggy bottom.


My problem was that I don’t own the right sized pan. So this I put six of the rolls in the 8”x8” baking pan and the two remaining rolls in a six-inch ramekin. I used a lot more sugar and a lot less cream in the liquid mixture. I also used dark brown sugar instead of light brown, as I had in the first attempts, which made for a richer brown caramel. RESULT: when I turned these rolls out onto the plate, they were well risen and covered with sweet, gooey brown sugar caramel. By the time I retrieved my camera to take the picture, two of the rolls were already gone.

Gingerbread houses

My daughter and I bought a pre-fab gingerbread house to make tomorrow. I'm not sure how it will turn out because we haven't ever done one before. I'm pretty sure, though, that ours won't look anything like these most recent winners of the Grove Park Inn (Asheville, NC) gingerbread competition. (The three photos shown here were taken by Wright Creative.)

The creation to the left was the Grand Prize Winner and was made by Heather Lewis of Austell, Georgia.

This is the First Place Winner in the Adult Category. It was made by Angel Adkins of Kodak, Tennessee.

And, finally, this one was the Adult Category 2nd place winner and was created by Barbara Evans of Edelstein, Illinois.

Happy New Year!!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Guess I Oughta Make a Resolution

With New Years Eve approaching, I feel like I ought to be making my resolution. To tell the truth, I am not big on making New Years resolutions.I think everyday is an opportunity for making my life the best it can be. Perfection will never be achieved, but as long as my family and I are thiving and happy; that is pretty good for me.
A resolution seems like too much pressure to achieve perfection in some area, which can lead to a sort of resolution rebellion that makes me want to break the resolution out of sheer resentment towards myself for making the resolution.
When I worked for the school system, our professional evaluations included "areas for growth". I have always liked that term.
So, here is a list of my "areas for growth" in the new year:
1) I must become a better editor. Almost everything I write has at least one error. (Yes, go ahead and read over this whole piece with a fine-toothed comb. There will be an error.)
2) I must work on my organizational skills. A specific thing I want to do it to buy some file boxes to steamline my office/dining room.
3) I need to live in the moment. My mind tends to jump to what I think I ought to do next. This cheats me and my loved ones of my undivided attention.
Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Making The Most Of A Butternut Squash

There are only the two of us, so I wanted a nice little butternut squash. Couldn't find one. In the land of Bigger is Better, even the squash has been super-sized. The one I found had a reasonable bulby bit, but the neck looked like a cross between a giraffe and a rhinoceros. And, of course, a squash.

I cut off the bulby bit, scooped out the seeds (which are sooo good roasted: pull off and discard the strings, toss the seeds with oil or butter and whatever seasonings you like and toast in skillet or hot oven for about 10 minutes). Then I buttered the interior of the bulb halves and baked them, buttered side down, at 350 for 45-60 minutes and stuffed them with couscous topped with feta cheese.

I peeled and cubed the neck part and simmered the cubes until they were tender. I took out half to store. The other half, I mashed, adding salt, butter, honey, nutmeg and toasted ground pecans. It made a very nice spread. I have some of it left over, and I'm considering beating an egg into it and frying it as a sort of pancake.

With the other half of the simmered neck bit, I plan to make a soup. The original recipe calls for sweet potato, apple butter and pumpkin, but I'm going to make it with squash, apple pie filling and pumpkin. You add diced carrots, veg broth, garlic and onion and, nasty as it sounds, it is stunningly delicious. The recipe also calls for heavy cream, but we liked what I made before just fine without it. Suit yourself.

In the spirit of the season, I don't have a murder method to offer this week. Unless you know someone who is allergic to squash, I suppose.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

When I was a girl, we always got a banana, an orange or tangerine, and a walnut in our stockings on Christmas morning. For all the years of my childhood, this was my traditional Christmas breakfast.

Later, after presents, there was a giant Christmas dinner with all the family, but that banana always got my through to early afternoon.

Next week, on New Year's day, I'll tell you how to make a New Year breakfast of cinnamon rolls, but until then, I expect you're all opening presents, so I'll leave you to it and go crack my walnut.

Merry Christmas to all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy birthday, Jesus!

Since today is Christmas Eve, I'm going to refer you to the blog I posted on Monday. It's the latest issue of Killer Cakes, and it's dedicated to birthday cakes for Jesus. Check it out at

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Santa's On His Way!

Since Christmas is almost here, what better way to prepare than by making some homemade cookies to put out for Santa tomorrow?

Yum! How about these White Chocolate Kissed Gingerbread Cookies?

See cookie recipe.

And this sounds fun.... track Santa's progress online tomorrow - See Track Santa.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Do It Yourself Christmas Fun

I love doing little food gifts for friends, neighbors, teachers, etc.
Here are a couple of simple projects that make a really cute presentation:
Candy Cane Vases:
You will need an empty can, candy canes. 2 rubber bands and ribbon.
1) Put 2 rubber bands around the center of the can. 2) Put candy canes all around the can, sticking them between the can and the rubber bands. It works best if the hook of the cane faces inward. 3) Tie ribbon around can to hide rubber bands.
Peppermint/Marshmallow Cocoa Stirs:
You will need peppermint disks, large marshmallows, and popsicle sticks.
1) Place unwrapped peppermints on baking sheet. 2) Tear large marshmallows in half and place marshmallow halves on top of peppermints. 3) Bake marshmallow topped peppermints in 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes, or until peppermints begin to soften and marshmallows begin to melt. 4) Carefully remove candies from sheet with a small spatula. 5) While still warm, insert sticks into marshmallows.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bourbon Balls

Last week, I promised to post my Bourbon ball recipe, so here it is:


For centers:

  • 6 cups (one 2lb bag) confectioner's sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/3 cup Bourbon
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • whole walnuts for topping--not a WHOLE walnut, obviously, just one unbroken piece of walnut meat

Cream butter and sugar. Add Bourbon, fold in nuts. Work together until thoroughly blended. Cover with wax paper. Refrigerate until well chilled. It will look crumbly, but you can press it into balls with your fingers.

Make into 1-inch balls or smaller, place on wax paper on cookie sheet and refrigerate again to make firm.

For coating:

  • 8 squares semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1 Tb paraffin wax (plain white wax, like you use to seal jelly)
  • 2 Tbs butter, more if needed to make the coating liquid enough

[Note: This is never enough. I recommend making two batches of coating.]

Melt in double boiler over hot water (Do not let chocolate boil). Dip one center at a time. Place on wax paper, put walnut on top. Refrigerate.

Makes around 100 at about 60 calories each.

Now, naturally, two batches of coating is just a little too much so, since my dear old gray-headed Mama taught me "waste not, want not", I dip pretzels in the leavings. If there's anything left after that, I dump nuts into the pot and make chocolate nut clusters.

Ohhhh, so good!

Marian Allen

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Boiled Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

This is the third week in my month-long postings of holiday recipes that are old traditions in my family. December 4 was my uncle’s penuche, December 11 was my mother’s fruit cocktail cake, and today I’m treating you to my late sister-in-law LaNell’s recipe for boiled chocolate oatmeal cookies. These are oh, so delicious, and very easy. I have this recipe in LaNell’s handwriting, and have lovingly pressed it into my personal cookbook. It would be a shame not to perk up your Christmas with these cookies, along with all the other fantastic holiday recipes my blogmates are also sharing this month.

1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
2/3 cup cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla
3 cups uncooked quick oats
1 cup chopped nuts

Combine first five ingredients in a saucepan and boil two minutes. Add 1 tsp vanilla. Remove from the fire and add 3 cups of uncooked one-minute oats. Add one cup of chopped nuts. Mix in well. Drop by teaspoons-full onto wax paper and let set. Yields about 40 cookies.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Idea to Boost Last Minute Christmas Sales

I did not schedule many book signings for this month. It just seemed like too much to balance with all of the other Christmas activities we have going on with our family.

While I have loved having more time at home to wrap presents and bake, I have missed that extra cash that can come from signings that target Christmas shoppers. Yesterday, I decided to get creative and offer my "Christmas Panic Book Deal".

I put it up as a message to Facebook fans. Anyone who orders by Sunday get a discount plus free delivery (within a 25 mile radius of my house). I have already gotten orders for several books. It is an easy and inexpensive marketing plan. There is still time to all of my author friends to try it!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Deadly Danes

These cookies have been called Snowballs, Russian Teacakes, Mexican Wedding Cookies, Czechoslovakian Cookies and, in my go-to recipe, Danish Cookies. My #3 daughter calls them Pecan Balls, which is probably the most appropriate descriptor. This is one of the cookies I ALWAYS make for Christmas. They have about 70 calories each, and I could just stand at the counter and inhale the whole batch. I have far too much self-discipline for that, of course. But I could.

  • 1 stick butter or margarine, soft but not melted
  • 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar plus some for rolling
  • 1 cup sifted flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
Mix and roll into 1" balls. Bake at 250 F for 1/2 hour. Cool slightly, then roll in more powdered sugar.

Here's another recipe I just found because I wanted to ... er ... liberate their picture. I think I like their recipe even better than mine: hotter oven and shorter baking time, and TOAST the nuts first--yeah, tha's what I'm talkin' about!

What makes them deadly? I mean, apart from the fact I could eat them until I pop? Well, I have a friend who's allergic to hazelnuts. Not any other kind of nuts, but hazelnuts. Now, suppose she were NOT my friend, but my deadly enemy. And suppose I slipped some hazelnuts into her pecan balls. It must have happened at the factory! The manufacturer should have put a warning label on the package! It's an outrage! What a tragic accident!

What's that? You say hazelnuts have such a distinctive taste, she would know at once that she had them in her mouth and would spit them out? Then maybe I'd better put them in the bourbon balls, for which I'll post the recipe next week.

Marian Allen

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Squash

I love squash. I love squash so much that I make this dish every year for both Thanksgiving and Christmas although no one else in my family will touch it. That means lots of left overs for me. So be warned, this recipe is for serious squash lovers only.

Vicki’s Christmas Squash Casserole

2 large butternut or other firm winter squash
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock (or as needed)
2 tbsp Maple syrup
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Fill large pot with salted water and bring to boil.

Peel, seed, and chop squash into rough hunks, and place in water (water should cover squash, if not, add more)

Reduce heat to soft boil and cook until squash is very soft – approx. 30 minutes

In food processor or blender puree squash. If too thick to puree, slowly add enough stock to soften

Add maple syrup, butter, nutmeg, and combine

Return squash to pot, stir in stock.

Reheat, adding salt and pepper as desired. Add more stock if required to make a smooth paste.

And that’s it! I’ve tried recipes that have you broil or bake the squash first, but found them unnecessarily harder. Some recipes call for baking the squash after it is pureed – why bother?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fruit Cocktail Cake for Christmas

Every week leading up to the new year, I’m posting a recipe that is a multi-generational tradition in my extended family. Last week was my uncle’s penuche. This week I’m sharing the recipe for my mother's fruit cocktail cake, just as she wrote it. This cake is easy-peasy, and while it’s delicious right out of the oven, the older it gets, the more luscious and succulent it becomes. In fact, just thinking of it...Excuse me while I delicately dab saliva off my chin.

1 1/2 cups sugar 1 15 oz can of fruit cocktail

2 cups flour 2 eggs

2 tsp soda 1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt you can substitute spices for the vanilla (like a spice cake)

Mix ingredients in order and pour into a 13x9 inch pan. Before baking sprinkle the top with 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup nuts, or after cake cools, frost with german chocolate cake icing. Bake for 45 minutes in a moderate oven.

MY OBSERVATIONS : I add the vanilla and the spices. I used 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp ground clove in the cake I gave you. I more or less put in whatever and however much spice I feel like, sometimes allspice, apple pie spice. My sister and I always put on twice as much topping as called for. You can use whatever nuts appeal to you, but I've always used pecans.

ALSO - In my oven, 45 minutes at 350 is too long. A toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean at about 35 minutes, so check for doneness early.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas food traditions

Here is a wonderful demonstration of how to make boiled custard. I remember going to my great-grandmother's house when I was a little girl, and boiled custard is something she always served. It was served as a drink and also as a sauce over cakes. Christmas at Mamaw Kiser's was the only time and place I ever had boiled custard growing up, and it still reminds me of her. What are some of your Christmas food traditions?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Something about Fruitcake!

Ok, I know, love it or hate it, but fruitcake is one of those things that go with Christmas.

Well, I happen to like it. Funny though that there seems to be a vendetta against it (and I haven't seen any in the store yet!)

So instead of trying one, why not experiment and try different kinds? You might find one you like!

* Various Fruitcake recipes

* Recipe for Free-Range Fruitcake

(And see, I'm not alone... here's another fruitcake lover!)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My New Favorite Cookbook

One of my main requests for birthday gifts was The Pioneer Woman Cooks. My husband came through in granting that request, and I have been obsessed with this book ever since.

In the past, I did a post on Ree Drummond, aka the Pioneer Woman. She is a former city girl/vegetarian who married a real cowboy/rancher.
Ree's move to the country threw her into a fascinating new lifestyle that inspired her to blog. The blog became such a sensation that she came out with her own cookbook, which soon reached #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

My one fear is that too much sampling from Ree's book will result in some thickness around my middle. This food is packing some major calories. Ree notes that ranch work creates a need for hearty meals. I do not think my almost-daily thirty minutes of walking/running results in the same amount of calorie-burning as breaking horses, fixing fence and all of the other tasks that Ree and her family do in working their ranch.
The photographs of their ranch that Ree puts in both her book and on her blog are stunning! She also includes photographs of the cooking process for her recipes, so you know how each step should look.
Here is my condensed version of one of Bree's breakfast recipes. My daughter liked it so much that she wanted it for breakfast and dinner in the same day.

Egg in the Hole

Cut a hole in the middle of a piece of bread, using a biscuit cutter or glass. Melt some butter in a skillet over medium heat. Put the bread in the butter for about a minute, letting it toast and soak in the butter. Break one egg into the center of the hole. Sprinkle with salt and pepper as it cooks. Let the egg set, flip it and let it set on the other side.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Toast with an Accent

French, of course.

See, this is what it was like in my back yard yesterday. All those little white speckles are big fat snowflakes. And, no, that is not my house. That's the playhouse my DH built for our youngest daughter. Cool, isn't it?

Anyway, a hot breakfast was called for. We have LOTS of eggs, thanks to the chickens of our second daughter (which sounds like a French translation exercise, in itself). We had an omelet for breakfast the day before and scrambled eggs for supper, so I really didn't want any more eggs-eggs. I said, "How about French toast?" and my DH said, "Sounds good!" (They can be trained.)

Here's the way I make them, with illustrations:

  • eggs
  • milk
  • vanilla (got that from Vitto Scotti on a Dick Van Dyke Show episode.
  • bread
  • butter
  • cinnamon
Break eggs into a bowl (1 egg per 2 pieces of bread). Add a couple of tablespoons of milk for each egg and a little splash of vanilla. Beat with a fork until blended.

Melt butter in a pan large enough to hold 2 pieces of bread. Dip bread into egg/milk to coat and put into hot pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Cook until browned, turn and cook on other side.

Serve with honey, maple syrup, white corn syrup, jam, preserves or powdered sugar. I think it's fairly obvious which option I chose.

A caveat (Latin for warning, and pay close attention, because this is what makes this melt-in-your-mouth treat hazardous): Be careful not to inhale when you have a forkful of this anywhere near your mouth. Imagine the laughs the black-humorous coroner would get out of your smothering in powdered sugar. I'm not saying I would laugh, but you know how those humorous coroners are.

Marian Allen

Saturday, December 4, 2010


It’s December, my friends, time to be making all those wonderful treats you grew up with for the holidays. Leading up to the new year, each week I’ll be posting a recipe that is a multi-generational tradition in my extended family. I’m sure every one of you has some family recipe gem that you make every year without fail, because it just wouldn’t be Christmas/Hanukkah/Eid...(this is why we now use the multi-purpose term ‘holidays’) without it.

Up first, penuche. My mother’s older brother George, a good old boy from Arkansas, believe it or not, started this tradition by making up a batch of penuche with his own callused hands and giving it to my mother. Penuche is one of my all time favorites. For the uninitiated, it is nothing more than fudge made with brown sugar instead of chocolate.

Try not to drool.

2/3 cup milk
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp of butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Butter a 9x5x3 loaf pan. Combine sugar, milk, corn syrup and salt in pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage*. Remove from heat and add the butter. Cool the mixture without stirring until the bottom of the pan is lukewarm. Add the vanilla and beat vigorously and continuously for 5 to 10 minutes with a wooden spoon until the candy is thick and no longer glossy, and holds it shape when dropped from the spoon. Stir in nuts and spread the mixture evenly in the buttered pan. Cool until firm and cut into squares. Makes about one pound of penuche.
*Soft ball stage. Drop a small amount of the hot mixture from a spoon into some cold water. If it forms a soft ball which flattens when you take it out of the water, it’s the right temperature. Or if you have a candy thermometer, you can skip the whole water-dropping business and cook the candy until it reaches 234 degrees.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sweet Savannah

We spent Thanksgiving week on Tybee Island (this is the Tybee Island Lighthouse) and in Savannah, Georgia. So, this week, I'm passing along some sweet Savannah recipes you might want to make for your holiday parties.

All of these recipes come from one of Savannah's most famous residents, Paula Deen.


Mama's Divinity

Old Time Chocolate Fudge

I tried in vain to find a recipe for the bear claws my husband enjoyed so much. They aren't the pastries but more like turtles (you know, the candy with chocolate and pecans). Tim's favorite was the white chocolate coated bear claws. Unable to find a recipe, I simply ordered him a box. If you'd like some, check out River Street Sweets. You can order anything you'd like from their online shop; but if you're in the area and actualy stop by Savannah's River Street store, tell Melanie the Trents say hi! :)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

M&M Cookies; A Long Lost Friend

Today, kicks off my holiday baking/candy making season. From now until Christmas, I will be fixing a treat every day or so, to go in my freezer. As we make our way through the holiday season, I'll be pulling out these treats for open houses, school functions and guests.

My first baking project is for an event at Calli's school. When I turned to Calli for suggestions, she named one of my favorites from when I was a kid. M&M cookies made their way to many celebrations of my childhood. Here is a simple recipe that makes lots of cookies:
Type in Robbi's M&M Cookies.