Archive for December, 2010

Me and my 10 lb baby.

Christmas and cookies just go together. In fact, I think a jolly cookie fever  sweeps through this time of year leaving everyone feeling sugared and stuffed. People love to make and eat cookies they don’t want regularly  because of tradition and family. Cookies just taste different during the holiday season. Personally, I’ve never been a big cookie baker. Chocolate chip cookies tend to be my standard along with a favorite holiday cookie/candy, the chocolate peanut butter ball.

Since I had the time, I spent the days  before Christmas making different kinds of cookies each week (most were new recipes for me) and then gave them away to friends, neighbors, and the seniors at the community center. I liked playing Santa. It was fun to catch neighbors backing out of their driveways and scout out friend’s homes I haven’t visited in years all for the sake of  a little sweet cheer.


Did I sample all of these treats more than once, yes. Did I buy three jars of marshmallow Fluff, yes. Did I even get close to the number of cookies my Aunt Bec made, NO. I heard she made twenty different kinds. She is a baking saint.

Week One: Vanilla Caramels and Fudge.

*There’s no visual record of the my first attempts at candy making. Although the first few bites of caramel tasted good, they quickly turned rock hard in under 30 minutes. The old-time fudge solidified in the pan and I could lift the whole thing up with the cemented candy thermometer. It was not a good day in the kitchen, I was lucky to salvage the pot and the thermometer. I laughed and learned, what else can you do.

Round Two of fudge went much easier. I turned to the time-tested and trustworthy Fluff.

Mamie Eisenhower’s recipe was so good, I ended up making it twice. I did add smashed candy canes to the top (mostly to make it more Christmas-y, but  it actually tasted really good).

Eisenhower Fudge


4 1/2 cups of sugar

pinch of salt

2 Tablespoons butter

1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk

12 ounces (2 cups)  semisweet chocolate chips

12 ounces of German Chocolate (in baking section of store)

2 cups marshmallow creme

5 candy canes (crushed into bits) – optional


In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, salt, butter and milk. Boil for 6 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the chocolate chips, German chocolate, and marshmallow creme.

Pour hot milk mixture over the chocolate mixture and stir with wooden spoon for at least 5 minutes, until the chocolate has melted and the fudge has begun to thicken.

Line a 9 by 13 inch pan with lightly buttered wax paper. Pour the fudge into the pan and let sit.

If you’re adding crushed candy canes, feel free to add them after the fudge has cooled a little (maybe 15-20 minutes).

Cover fudge and let it sit on the counter overnight until it’s firm enough to cut into squares.

Week Two: Rocky Road Cookies

*These were so yummy, we pretty much ate them all in one night. Luckily the recipient of them joined us for dinner, so she got her share too.

Rocky Road Shortbread

1 1/4c flour
1/3c pecans, chopped finely
1/2c butter
1/3c sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4c mini-marshmallows
1/2c walnuts, chopped coarsely
1/2c chocolate chips, either milk or semi-sweet

Pre-heat oven to 350′, grease baking sheets. Beat together butter, sugar & vanilla until creamy. In another bowl mix dry ingredients together – flour & finely chopped pecans. Slowly stir into creamy mixture.

Use a 1″ cookie scoop, scoop dough and place on baking sheet. Gently flatten until about 1/2″ thick, with smooth-ish edges. Bake 16 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges.

Just before cookies come out of oven, melt chocolate chips. I use the microwave – high for about 1 minute, then stir until completely melted. Watch out, microwaves vary and it is easy to scorch your chocolate.

Remove cookies from oven, spread with approximately 1 tsp. chocolate/cookie, then top with coarsely chopped pecans and marshmallows. Return to oven for 2 more minutes for the marshmallows to soften.

Remove from oven and place on racks to cool.

Week Three: Peppermint Whoopie Cookies and Lep Cookies with Browned Butter Frosting (separate blog to come on this Farris classics).

*I was a little nervous about the Whoopie Cookie, which is basically like a moon pie. I didn’t think it would travel well, but it just looked so cute, I gave it a go. I’m glad I did. It was fun to make and ended up holding together great after being in the fridge for about an hour!  Yes, I added candy canes to this recipe too, (I heart peppermint).

Peppermint Whoopie Cookies


2 cups  all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp.  unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 tsp.  baking soda

1/4 tsp.  salt

1/2 cup  butter, softened

1 cup  packed brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp.  vanilla

1/2 cup  buttermilk

1 1-oz. bottle  red food coloring (2 Tbsp.)

1 recipe  Whoopie Pie Filling, recipe below

1/4 cup of crushed candy cane


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment; set aside. In medium bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

2. In large mixing bowl beat butter on medium to high 30 seconds. Beat in brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk, beating after each addition just until combined. Stir in food coloring.

3. Spoon batter in 1 or 2-inch diameter rounds, about 1/2-inch high on prepared baking sheets, allowing 1 inch between each round.

4. Bake 7 to 9 minutes for 1-inch cookies or 9 to 11 minutes for 2-inch cookies, or until tops are set. Cool completely on baking sheets on rack. Remove cooled cookies from baking sheets.

5. To fill, dollop Whoopie Pie Filling on flat sides of half the cookies. Sprinkle candy cane on top of the filling. Top with remaining cookies, flat sides down. Makes 60 one-inch or 42 two-inch cookies.

6. Whoopie Pie Filling: In medium mixing bowl beat 1/4 cup softened butter and half an 8-ounce package softened cream cheese until smooth. Fold in one 7-ounce jar marshmallow creme. I did add candy cane to the filling, maybe 1  1/2 table spoons.

7. To store: Refrigerate in airtight container up to 4 days. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving.

Week Three/ Part One: Butter Pecan Cookies, Swedish Tea Cookies and more Fudge.

* There are three treats that mean Christmas to me and Butter Cookies and Swedish Tea Cookies (some people call them wedding cookies or mexican wedding cookies) are two of them. In my mind, they taste like our family holidays. Mom came over to teach me the recipes and bake all day.

Butter Cookies


1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups flour

whole pecans


Cream butter and sugar together. Add flour. Mix well.

Chill for 2 hours.

Roll into small balls.

Flatten each with your thumb.

Decorate with a single pecan placed in thumbprint.

Bake 12 minutes at 375.

Makes 3 dozen.

Swedish Tea Cookies


1/2 cup of powdered sugar

1 cup margarine or butter softened

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups flour

1 cup finely chopped pecans and almonds

1/4 tsp salt

Extra powdered sugar


Beat 1/2 cup powdered sugar, butter and vanilla until fluffy.

Add flour, nuts, and salt. Mix until dough holds together.

Shape into 1 inch balls. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake at 325 for 15 to 20 minutes (until set, but not brown).

Remove from pans, cool slightly, roll in powdered sugar. Cool and roll again.

Makes 5 dozen.

The Fudge, revisited.

Week Three/ Part Two: Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls, Peanut Butter Cookies with Hershey Kisses and Chocolate Chip Cookies.

*Christmas Eve morning I got up and baked to Perry Como and falling snow. Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls (or Buckeye’s) are my other favorite Christmas treat. I can’t get the recipe out of my Grandma, she has to ask her sister and well, that’s family for you. I found a recipe online that pretty much tastes the same. Mine are messy, not smooth like Gladys’. I’m considering calling them Lumps of Coal from now on.

My Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls or Lumps of Coal:


1 Cup chunky peanut butter

1 cup Rice Krispies Cereal

1 cup powdered sugar

I package of Almond chocolate bark

wax paper


Mix peanut butter, powdered sugar and Rice Krispies together in a large bowl.

Spread wax paper on a tray or multiple plates.

Roll mixture into walnut sized balls and place on covered trays. Chill for 1 hour.

Melt the package of chocolate bark in a medium to small-sized saucepan.

Dip balls into the chocolate with tongs and put them on wax paper covered trays/plates (could be ones from earlier or new trays).

Cool  until firm by leaving them on the table or in the fridge!

*Our favorite restaurant in town is Cascones in Overland Park. We had our wedding reception there and love being regulars. Christmas Eve is one of their busiest nights of the year. The staff stays late filling take out orders and making families full and happy. It’s become a tradition for John and I to take them treats  and hopefully make working Christmas Eve a little easier. This year the staff got Peanut Butter cookies with Hershey Kisses. Classic and easy to eat on the go!

* When John and I got married I made a point of asking him what cookies meant Christmas to him. He remembered always having Chocolate Chip, not a traditional holiday cookie for the Farris family.  Each year I make a batch on Christmas Eve just for my honey. This year I insisted he eat the batter on the beater for breakfast. There wasn’t any pushback, but  I wasn’t allowed to take a picture.


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Tom sent me this story and it was just perfect…

My wife and I got married 3 years ago. We both love food and grew up in awesome food families. My wife’s family is from Italian and I’m learning all about the magic of sauces and the perfection of Gnocci. But I grew up in a house where we (as a family) always cooked together. My dad would cook, my mom, my sister and I would do all the prep clean up. We always were in the kitchen together. And like any food family we have a number of recipes that are true family secrets. They are the recipes that my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins… we all know these recipes. It’s the food that makes us family.

So four years ago I was searching for the ultimate mother’s day gift. Because I’m a designer and my parents are artists I knew if I wanted to impress, I needed to make my mother a gift. So I silk screened set of recipe cards for my mom. She is always giving out her recipes to coworkers and friends so I thought she needed some cards that people would know were from Susie Brantman.

Mom seemed to like the gift but then…

A whole year went by and I never saw any of the recipe cards. (Did she hate the gift?)

Then my fiance and I had a couples wedding shower. My parents were there and I clearly remember unwrapping the gift from my mom. She had taken all the recipe cards I gave her and copied down EVERY family recipe on them. But not just the recipes; she wrote where they were from, why we loved them, the stories of our family with the recipes, illustrations of some dishes.

AMAZING! The amount of time that I know my mom spent writing all these down is incredible. I still can’t believe that she took all that time to pass on those recipes to me.

The best part of the gift to me is now that I have my son, I pull them out and start cooking dinner with him in the kitchen and I just smile at the idea that it feels like my mom, my whole family is in the room when we are cooking. These recipe cards are the one thing that I hope get to pass on to my kids.

Susie and Tom’s son James

Susie Brantman’s famous CRACKER JACK COOKIES


2 sticks butter

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon soda

2 cups oatmeal (old fashioned)

2 cups rice krispies

1 cup coconut


Set oven to 350.

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and soda. Combine flour and egg mixture. Add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Drop heaping tablespoons, about 2” apart on greased baking sheet. 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove immediately from pan to cool.

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Growing up with a dad in the kitchen is a special thing, I know from experience. So when I read Danielle’s e-mail, I felt an instant happy connection.

“Food is very much apart of my memories of growing up and I enjoy baking and cooking now. My dad was the cook of our house. He had a garden. I would go grocery shopping with him and he’d push me around as I stood on the edge of the cart. He’d pack my lunches and write notes on the brown bag. We’d pull and make taffy across the kitchen. He’d cook breakfast just about every morning.”

When it comes to parents and children, food helps to shape our relationships in so many unspoken ways, no matter how much we are a like or how much we’re different.

Lunch box notes, grocery cart rides, and making breakfast together are not just expressions of our love, they help make us who we are, and how we remember each other.

Danielle’s love and pride in her dad just beams when she talks about him. It just makes me want to go and give my dad a big hug.

A recipe from Danielle and her Dad…

Baked Oatmeal

Mix together:

1/4 cup of oil

1/2 cup of sugar

1 large egg

Add, mixing well

2 cups of QUICK oats

1 1/2 tsp. of baking powder

1/2 tsp. of salt

3/4 cup of milk

Pour into a greased 8 inch square pan.

Microwave at 70% power for 8 minutes

or Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

For a healthier version:

1/3 cup of applesauce instead of oil

and substitute 3 packets of Splenda for the sugar

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Our family has a lot of bakers, but Great-Aunt Bec is our family’s Paula Deen. This summer at my grandpa and Great-Aunt Gladys’s birthday party Aunt Bec took aside and said, “Now honey, would you like to come bake pies with me for my church chili supper and pie sale? “

The answer, of course, was YES!

A chance to bake pies and become closer with my extended family was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

So one Saturday morning I drove to Boonville and helped my aunt and her daughter, my cousin, Marsha make pies, pies, and more pies.

I arrived to find most of the work done, (Bec got a jump-start on us) but by the end of the day we had 17 treats for the event: Chocolate, Coconut, Pecan, Apple Walnut, Lemon, Pumpkin, Peanut Butter with Chocolate Ganache, Cherry Cheesecake with Pretzel Crust, Better than Sex Cake and Custard Pies.

During the afternoon Bec, Marsha and I talked baking, shared recipes and felt like the family we are. I loved eating homemade pimento cheese sandwiches with Marsha at the kitchen table while Bec cooked behind us. I felt like a kid again in a lot ways.

I also got to flip through Aunt Bec’s cookbook. It’s a notebook with generations of family recipes written in her lovely handwriting — so much work, but so worth it.

When we arrived at the chili supper/pie sale everyone was in prep mode and I was happy to help.


I cut so many pieces of pie, it was all really just a blur.


One of the best moments of the event was when my grandpa showed up.


I grabbed a piece of Bec’s chocolate pie and ate dinner with him.

We both realized at the same moment that it was the first time we had ever eaten a meal with just each other. That made the day even sweeter than all the sugar in those pies. I have to admit; I cried all the home just thinking about it.

My pie did end up selling and I’m proud to say that I heard Marsha bought it.

Aunt Bec’s Pie Dough Recipe:


4 cups of flour

2 cups of Crisco Butter

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon of sugar

1 egg (beat)

2/3 cups of cold water

teaspoon vinegar


Mix together.

Leave in the fridge for up to two weeks!

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A family meal celebrates time together, well-being, and family identity. Jennifer told me about all of these things when she described her family through the food they share.

Her father’s family was in the produce business and her grandmother was a cook, so food is a part of who they are as well as their Japanese heritage.

Jennifer loves to cook and her aunt gives her cookbooks with little notes on them about specific recipes she might like to try or ones they’ve eaten together.

We had a long talk about how some aspects of Japanese American cooking have been influenced by new surroundings and environments. Depending on region, say Hawaii for example, food like Spam has found its way into Japanese recipes or hot dogs sautéed in soy sauce and scrambled eggs show up in Japanese American cookbooks.

Jennifer told me about this great meal she and her family prepared the last time she was in San Francisco. It started with a family shopping trip to a huge Asian Market.

Then the ingredients…

I’ll let Jennifer and her Auntie explain what happens next….

I love that the cooking takes place on the table and that you dig in together. What a cozy feeling of togetherness and engaging way to share a meal.

I was so inspired by Jennifer’s Sukiyaki tradition that I decided to try it myself. We did not have an electric hot-pot for the table and we did substitute chicken and shrimp for beef, but it was still fun and yummy. Here is our family’s version.

I had no idea my dad knew how to use chopsticks!

Then we played cards and had brown sugar crumb cake. I’m not sure if Jennifer’s family did that, but they might have.

Jennifer’s Recipe:


Serves 4-6

½ cup soy sauce

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup mirin

2 cups dashi (Japanese stock)

Cooking oil

1-1/2 pounds top sirloin, very thinly sliced

1 can bamboo shoots, drained and sliced

4 cups spinach, washed

2 cups renkon

1 cup shiitake mushrooms, washed

1 block medium tofu, pressed and sliced

1 package rice noodles, prepared as directed

Mix together soy sauce, sugar, dashi and mirin in an electric hot-pot or electric frying pan.  When the dashi mixture comes to a boil, add a portion of the sukiyaki ingredients and cook for a few minutes.  Each diner can remove ingredients from the pot and enjoy over hot rice.  Refill the pot as needed and repeat.

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I started the day by making the stuffing at 7AM. It isn’t Thanksgiving unless you’re up early cooking something.

At 8AM Linda, Lynley and I participated in Boonville’s 3rd Annual Turkey Trot. We bundled up and headed out.

While we were gone the rest of the family watched the Macy’s Parade, cooked the last things, and reheated.

Here I am checking on dad’s handy work…

My father has worked in the diary industry for most of his adult life. He felt the need to give shout-outs to dairy products while mashing potatoes. He loves to “plug” his favorite butter. Also enjoy my grandma’s commentary in the background.


Grandma’s noodles are a family tradition and are best with mashed potatoes. I think everyone looks forward to them the most. They deserve their own blog post.

Our traditional turkey shaped butter.

Thanksgiving takes an army of crock pots and cooks. I just love that!

The table’s set. Can we eat now?

Fill up your plates! We always forget something…

Once John arrived we could truly call it Thanksgiving!

We are a family of all adults, so there aren’t any kids around to keep us entertained. Last year, my sister and I provided a little pre-dessert talent show with a beginner’s tap dancing routine.

Yes, those are matching dresses and we already owned them.

This year we decided to keep up our amateur entertainment and did a performance piece.

After the duel, we had dessert.

Now here’s my question to you. After a big family meal, does your family spilt up by gender and socialize in different rooms? My family has done this all my life and I have no idea why we do it! I am sure it dates back to the olden days of men having things to discuss and women cleaning up, but I think it’s funny that we keep doing it.

The final Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers.

We all dug out our containers and began to scoop up. I loved grandma’s. All her food just went on top of the oyster stuffing.

That night, after our drive home, I cozied up to big bowl of noodles and mashed potatoes. The next day I had a turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry applesauce on toast. I missed my family already. All I could think was “Is it time for Thanksgiving 2011, yet?”

Hope Thanksgiving left you stuffed and ready for more!

Want to share any of your Thanksgiving stories or memories?

Send them to thepiesthatbind@gmail.com or feel free to comment on this story!

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Grandma’s fridge covered in photos of Thanksgiving’s past

For the past 4 or 5 years our Thanksgiving dinner has been on the move. My grandparents hosted it for over half of my life. Growing up it was my favorite holiday. My whole family (which was only about 10 people) would crowd into grandma and grandpa’s house. Lynley and I would have to sleep on the floor in the living room.

We would wake up to grandma rattling pots and pans in the kitchen and the smell of noodles cooking on the stove. I loved the feeling of being all stuck together and the steam on the windows from all the cooking. We would go for long walks down country roads after the meal, my Aunt Linda usually fell asleep on the floor while the guys watched football and the adults played cards in the evening.

When we got older and life got more complicated with jobs and college, we all ended up at my parent’s house. As the years went by and it got harder for my grandparents to travel long distances, so I hosted Thanksgiving. Then my favorite holiday waffled between houses for a while and finally ended up at my Aunt Linda’s.

Linda isn’t a huge cooking enthusiast and last year we actually had a Thanksgiving of turkey burgers and sweet potato fries, and yes, it was a total blast (you should try it sometime).

This year we took the more traditional route. Lynley and Linda assigned dishes to everyone and we spent the Wednesday before just cooking together (John had to work, so he was joining on the actual holiday).


Turkey: Dad and Grandma

Noodles: Dad and Grandma

Mashed Potatoes: Grandma and Dad

Cranberry/Apple Sauce: Stephanie

Sweet Potatoes: Lynley

Green beans: Linda

Rolls: Mom

Oyster Stuffing: Grandma

Cornbread Stuffing: Stephanie

Gravy: Dad

Pumpkin Cheesecake: Lynley

Chocolate Pecan Pie: Stephanie

Wine: Dad

Board Games: John

Good Attitude: Grandpa

We all started out in grandma’s kitchen fussing over the turkey and it’s many parts.

Here are some of our cooking together turkey moments…

Grandma’s roasting pan is a crucial part of holiday gatherings. The question was, would the bird fit?


Stuffing the bird. Please note grandma’s obsession with the neck and Lynley sneaking on more pepper.

Oh boy, turkey parts.

Random sillies.

Grandma, dad and grandpa love oyster stuffing; the rest of us, not so much. For some reason I was placed in charge of chopping the oysters into tiny bits.


Cooking away….

I absolutely love to go to the grocery store the day before Thanksgiving just to witness the chaos. So after we did that, Lynley, Linda and I headed over to her kitchen for round two of cooking.

Lynley and I cook really well together and it’s just one of the many reasons why I love my sister. Our personalities just compliment each other in the kitchen.  We created a nice system of “you cook your recipe and I’ll wash your dishes.” Linda put together her new air hockey table in the basement while we did the cooking. We sang ABBA, drank a little beer and I spilled egg in a lot of places (drinking and cooking for Steph is not a good combo).

Later that night, Linda, Lynley and I found a vintage 60’s Hullabaloo How-To Dance book in the basement. We spent about an hour learning to Freddie, Fruge, Mashed Potato, Buzzard, Swim, Jerk, and Bird to Linda’s records (oh yeah baby!) from the 60’s. I was too busy doing the shimmy to capture any of this, but I honestly think it was the non-food highlight of the whole holiday.

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