Saturday, December 24, 2011

1970's Retrospective - Olive Cheese Nuggets

I think this is one of the most lasting recipes to ever come out of the 70's.  All three of us boys make them, and we never seem to make enough to satiate the holiday crowd.  For these have become my family's New Year celebratory icon.

I have always found it somewhat amusing that when someone is exposed to them for the first time, they always express incredulity that these tiny nuggets of heaven could be good. Then, with something that could only be construed as fear, or panic, they pop one into their mouth, and then another, and then another...

Before you know it, they are hiding in the corner with the plate in their lap, shoveling these little savory bits of cheesy goodness into their mouths and screaming for more...   LOL 

This makes a lot if you are using the small Manzanilla olives, not quite as many if you use the Queen olives. While the Queens are significantly larger, they come stuffed with Garlic or Almonds or Jalapenos or even Anchovies. So take your pick, it's up to you, get creative... Find your favorite combination.

I particularly liked the Onion/Vermouth soaked olives; but was terribly UNimpressed by the Feta stuffed as well as the Blue Cheese stuffed... They conflicted too much with the Cheddar Cheese.

Olive Cheddar Nuggets

4 oz (113g) (1 cup) shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese, room temperature
2 oz (56g) (1/4 cup) Unsalted Butter (Softened)
3.5 oz (100g) (3/4 cup) AP Flour
1/8 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Smoked Paprika
A pinch of Cayenne pepper
34-ish Pimento stuffed Manzanilla Olives or 18-20 Queen Olives (stuffed as you like)

With an electric mixer, blend softened Butter with shredded Cheese until fluffy.

In a separate bowl, whisk Flour with Salt, Paprika and Cayenne.

Slowly add the Flour mixture to the Butter/Cheese mixture......

Stirring until a soft dough is formed.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour

OK, this is the hard part.....
Preheat the oven to 400 F (205 C) degrees.
Dry your olives well, or you will have a hard time doing this; the dough will not stick to the olive at all.  They will soak up the excess brine and become gooey.

Take a small amount of dough (about a 1 1/2 tsp) and wrap it around the olive, to completely encase it.

Set the nuggets on a parchment lines baking sheet.

At this point, they may be covered in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, however, they must be brought to room temperature before baking (1 hour on the counter)

Bake for 12 - 15 minutes. (usually 12 minutes with Manzanilla Olives and 15 minutes for Queens)

Serve to your incredulous guests, but watch carefully to make sure no one snitches your serving tray.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Snowball Fight!!! - Marshmallow Popcorn Balls

One year, when I was but a young pup, we discovered that our Christmas Tree Balls were broken while being stored in the shed (undoubtedly due to the wind storm that took half the roof off).  I think the Wind Storm was the year after the 8 ft snow fall, which would put it 2 years after the Ice Storm of '77.  So, yeah, the Wind Storm of '79.

Hey, I lived in the Columbia Gorge...  We have ourselves some extreme weather, and every Corbett-onian will tell you that 70 mile an hour winds at Crown Point are not an uncommon event during the winter months.

Anyway, my original point was that East wind busted our balls.  (no snickering, please)  So, mom got her "create on".  I think that was the first year that we made the cinnamon ornaments that I mentioned a couple posts back.  But while the cinnamon dough makes great "gingerbread men" it doesn't really make good balls. Her final answer to this spherical dilemma....?

Grandma's Marshmallow Popcorn balls.

For once they are wrapped in cellophane and tied with string, they made perfect Christmas Tree balls.  I suppose we could have dyed them different colors, but then again, mom was against that kind of "chemical poisoning" when we were growing up.  A wise woman indeed.  Besides, when they remain white, it just looks like the gingerbread men are having a snowball fight on your tree.  :)

If you are really chaffing for color though, and have an aversion to artificial colorants, you can attempt to find Reynolds colored plastic wrap (usually in red and green), or use cellophane wrapping from a craft store.

These are the same idea as Rice Krispie treats.  Marshmallows, Salt and Butter all melted into a syrupy goo that is then dumped over copious amounts of popped Popcorn.  The only real difference is all the extra butter you will need to keep your hands well lubricated to form the balls. (yes, I realize how that sounds)

ANYWAY....  ;)

Grandma's Marshmallow Popcorn Balls

4 quarts (4 oz) (113g) Popped Corn
6 cups (11 oz) (312 g) Mini-Marshmallows
1/3 cup (2.6 oz) (77g) Unsalted Butter, plus extra for buttering the bowl and your hands
1 tsp Kosher Salt

Line 2 baking sheets with Waxed Paper... (You may only need 1 sheet, it really depends on how big you make your balls and how big your baking sheets are)

Butter a large bowl.

Add popped Popcorn.

Melt Butter and Salt in a saucepan.

Add 1/2 of the Marshmallows and stir until they melt.

Add the remaining Marshmallows and stir until they melt to become a rich marshmallow creme.

Drizzle the marshmallow creme mixture over the popcorn.

Stir with a buttered wooden spoon or a silicon spatula until all the popcorn is coated.

Now, butter your hands really well.

Scoop up a palm full of the popcorn mixture,

and press into a ball. (I used 2 hands to form the balls, but I had to hold the camera)

Place on waxed paper to set. (this takes about 2 hours for them to completely set up)

If the popcorn mix begins to stick to your hands... butter your hands again.
Wrap in plastic wrap (colored if you can find it), or cellophane and tie with a ribbon.

Instant edible ornaments!  (unlike the cinnamon - gingerbread men)
Or simply stack on a cake plate to form a wintery centerpiece...  


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Elfin Pies - Pecan Tassies

I love making tassies around Christmas.  Their diminutive stature makes me think of elves.   (Yes, I really am just a big kid)  They equate to about 2 bites, which makes them the perfect size for kids and adults alike.  On top of that, they are just plain cute.... You know, like "chubby cheeked baby" kind of cute.  Though I would strongly discourage pinching the tassies.
Normally, I make Lemon tassies, cause I am a sour puss.  This year, however, I was in the mood for Pecan ones.  I have a sneaking suspicion this is due to the lack of Pecan pie at Thanksgiving.  Thus I have not consumed my traditional 1 piece of Pecan pie this year.

The crust for Pecan Tassies is really more of a cookie, thus it's extremely simple to prepare.  Granted, pressing it into the little muffin tins is a little time consuming, but it's not really all that bad.  I do feel I should mention the wooden "Dough Pusher" things.  I am all for kitchen gadgets that make your life easier, but I have one of those things, and never use it.  The dough always sticks to the thing, no matter how well I flour it.  Nope.... don't like it at all. By the time I get done fighting with it, trying to make it work, I could have just done it by hand in 1/2 the time.  Thus I just use my fingers. Besides, I like to feel how thick the sides and bottom are on each one.  I guess I am just one of those people who needs to "feel" my food. :)

Pecan Tassies

6 oz (170g) Cream Cheese
1 cup (227g) (8 oz) Unsalted Butter
pinch of Kosher Salt
2 tsp Granulated Sugar
2 1/2 cups (320 g) (11.3oz) AP Flour


4 oz Butter, melted and cooled
1 cup (200g) (7oz) Sugar (or 3/4 cup Brown and 1/4 cup Dark Brown depending)
1 large Egg
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
2 cups Pecans, broken

Beat Cream Cheese, Butter, Salt and Sugar in the bowl of your mixer, until light and fluffy.

Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour.

Continue mixing until a soft sticky dough is formed.

Gather into a ball and flatten slightly,

then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours to firm it up.

Place melted Butter, Egg, Sugars, Vanilla extract, and Kosher Salt in a medium glass pitcher.

Mix well, with a fork, until thoroughly combined, then set aside.

Spread the Pecans out on a sheet pan and toast in a 350 degree oven for 8 minutes.

Break up the Pecans into pieces and set aside.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and break of .5 oz (15 g) pieces then roll them into balls and plop them in the holes of your mini-muffin tins. (this will make 2 batches of 24 tassies)

Press in the center with your thumb to make an imprint in the middle.

Use your index finger to gently press the dough up the sides of each mini-muffin depression.

Fill each tassie shell with broken pecans.

Spoon (or pour) about 1 TB of the mixture over the top filling about 3/4 full (I overfilled mine slightly... oops)

Place in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes or until the crusts are golden brown. (They puff in the oven, thus the warning about only filling them 3/4 full)

Remove from the oven and let set for 10 minutes in the pan. (just long enough for the gluten to set in the dough but no longer or they will begin to stick to the pan)

Using an off-set spatula to gently lift each tassie out of the pan.

Place on a cooling rack until they come to room temperature.

Place in a tin and store in the refrigerator until ready to consume. (but remember to leave a couple for Santa's Elves on Christmas Eve)