Friday, December 4, 2009

Feliz Navidad Goodies

People In Hell Want Ice Water Too
When I was young every single year, without fail, my Gran would send me two things for my birthday ~ my very own batch of peanut brittle and my very own batch of her refrigerator cookies, without nuts [because I like nuts in my candy, but not in my cookies ~ go figure.].  Everyone else in the house had to share their own batch of peanut brittle and Gran's refrigerator cookies with nuts.  [I promise I wasn't spoiled.  Really.]  As my Gran got a little older and was unable to make me my goodies, my mother took over the task.  My birthday is at the beginning of December and no matter who was doing the baking and making, as soon as I received them, I knew Christmas was just around the corner.  [I also learned pretty quickly to hide everything so that my dad wouldn't eat all my baked goods.]  This was a time where my mom baked cookies and cakes and made candies in abundance.  Once I asked her why she made so much, she replied, "You never know who might be showing up for Christmas, and they make great gifts."  And she was right.  There was always someone we hadn't counted on showing up at Christmas, and mom was always ready with a Cherry-Date Cake, the proverbial Fruit Cake, or a tin of Peanut Brittle or Pralines.  Also, I do believe a few of my teachers ended up with a few cakes over the years.  [I promise, though, I did earn my grades, but you know, it never hurts...]  A lot of what my mom made was passed down from her mother, my Gran.  I never asked the origins of the recipes [kicking myself in the backside], but I decided that I'd share a few of the family recipes with you.  [When I get to Heaven, I'm pretty sure my Gran is gonna kick my buttocks for sharing them with you, though.  Just so you know...]  Also, I'm sharing 2 recipes of my own that have become a tradition.  So much so that if I didn't make them for Christmas, I'd be in a lot of trouble.

Peanut Brittle

Gran's & Mom's Peanut Brittle [pictured above]
I've tasted a lot of peanut brittle over the years, and none have ever come close to this recipe of  my Gran's and my Mom's.  The ingredients are simple, but there's a "trick" to making candy.  I never helped my mom make the peanut brittle, but I watched her every year make batch after batch of it.  When I finally married, that first Christmas after receiving my Birthday Peanut Brittle, I called to thank her, and I also asked for "the recipe."  I've made it every year since.  The key to making any candy is to follow the directions exactly and have everything ready to go ~ time is of the essence.  [Plus an extra set of hands would be nice, but as my mom used to say, "Caroline, people in hell want ice water, too."]

2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter, plus some to butter pans
1/2 cup water
2-1/2 cups raw peanuts [unsalted]
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Heavy 3-qt sauce pan
Candy thermometer
Wooden spoon
2 large baking sheets [I use 2 old Airbake ones that are warped]

Butter the 2 large baking sheets and the 3-qt sauce pan.  Combine sugar, corn syrup, butter, and 1/2 cup water in buttered 3-qt sauce pan.  Cook and stir continuously over medium-high heat until boiling.  Clip the candy thermometer to the side of the pan [making sure it doesn't touch the bottom of the pan].  Now cook and stir over medium-low heat to 275 degrees Farenheit, or soft-crack stage [abt. 30 minutes].  Stir in peanuts and stir to 295 degrees Farenheit, or hard-crack stage [abt. 15-20 minutes].  Remove from heat & remove thermometer.  Quickly, sprinkle baking soda over the hot goo [Yes, that's a technical term.] while constantly stirring.  Then quickly pour the hot goo onto the baking sheets, dividing it equally.  [Good luck on that "equal" part.]  Once it's cool, break into pieces.  Then, hide it.  Otherwise, it won't last long.


Gran's & Mom's Pralines [pictured above]
This is a decidedly New Orleans [or Nawlins] delicacy.  My Gran's Gran, Annie O'Brien, came to America from Ireland through the Port of New Orleans.  Also, my Gran was born in Chaney, Rapides Parish, Louisiana.  Did the recipe come from there?  Good question.  I wish I knew the answer.  However, lucky for you, I have the recipe.

1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 cup of heavy cream [You're making candy for goodness sake.  Don't use the light.]
3 Tbsp. butter
2 cups pecan halves

The Equipment: The same as above minus the baking sheets, but add wax paper.

Lay out on the counter about 2 feet of wax paper.  Butter the saucepan again.  Combine the sugars [both kinds] and the cream.  Cook over medium-high heat until boiling, stirring constantly.  Clip the thermometer to the side of the pan.  Cook & stir over medium-low heat to 234 degrees Farenheit, soft-ball stage [abt. 16 minutes].  Remove from heat and add butter, but don't stir it in.  Let hot goo cool until thermometer reads 150 degrees Farenheit.  Stir in the pecans and beat with wooden spoon for about 3 minutes.  Should be thick, but still glossy.  If it's too stiff, add a couple drops of hot water [Drops, people.  Candy-making is not the world of "more is better."]  With a spoon, drop mounds of hot goo onto wax paper.  Don't worry.  It will flatten as it cools.  Now hide this too.  It seems to disappear.


Caroline's Christmas Cookies [pictured above]
These are popular with the family, and are much better than a fruit cake. [Snort.  That doesn't take much.]

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter-flavored shortening
1/2 cup sour cream
3 eggs
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1-1/2 tsp. salt, sifted
1 tsp. baking powder, sifted
1/2 tsp. baking soda, sifted
1-1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1 tsp. grated oramge peel
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup candied cherries [red & green], diced
1/4 cup citron, diced

Heat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.  Mix sugar, butter-flavored shortening, sour cream, and eggs.  Stir in the rest of the stuff [another technical term].  Drop on cookie sheets and bake for 8-9 minutes.  Yes, these will need to be hidden, too.

Tortilla Soup

Caroline's Christmas Eve Tortilla Soup [pictured above]
As I've mentioned before, I was born and raised on the Texas-Mexican border.  This is an area that has a blend of cultures, which naturally extends into food.  I can't remember when my mother started serving Mexican food on Christmas Eve, but my stomach and I are sure glad she did.  For me, it just isn't Christmas Eve without Mexican food, especially tamales. [pictured below]  My mom didn't make them from scratch, and neither do I.  They can be heated up in an oven, but I've found that they remain moist if I steam them.  Most everything she used to serve and what I now serve is finger foods ~ taquitos, queso, fluatas, tacos, etc.  Several years back, I added homemade tortilla soup, and it's now requested every year.  I've given the recipe to my Cajun neighbor, and now I'll share it with you.

Vegetable oil
24 corn tortillas, 12 thinly sliced [1/4 inch in width] & 12 sliced [1/2 inch in width]
1 Roasted Chicken, de-boned and chopped [I buy the one already cooked at the store.]
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 Poblano pepper, de-seeded and chopped  [optional & you can substitute with your fave pepper]
1-49 oz. can chicken broth
1 cup water
1-28 oz. can petite diced tomatoes in juice
1 can sweet corn
1 can sweet cream corn
4 tsp. cumin
6 tsp. chili powder
1 cup of chopped cilantro
salt & pepper to taste
Lime juice from 5 limes

Sliced Avocado
Grated Cheddar & Monterrey Jack Cheese
Leftover fried tortilla strips
Sour cream

Fry the 1/4-inch corn tortilla strips in vegetable oil, drain on paper towels, and set aside.  In large pot, saute onion, garlic, and Poblano pepper until tender.  Add chicken, broth, tomatoes with the juice, both cans of corn with liquid, and water, and bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the 1/2-inch corn tortilla strips [the ones not fried] cumin, chili powder, cilantro, salt, and pepper.  Simmer for 30 minutes.  Add lime juice from 5 limes.  Stir and simmer for 5 minutes.  Serve hot with desired toppings.  I usually set it up as a buffet of sorts.


Feliz Navidad!


  1. Everything looks yummy! Thank you for sharing Grans secret recipes, I will try them but won't tell anyone!

  2. Mmm... I love peanut brittle. We don't keep it in the house anymore because my daughter's allergic to peanuts. Any idea how almond brittle would taste? :-)

  3. I love peanut brittle, might give it a go

  4. Thank you for sharing your family recipes. They all look so good. I've been searching for a decent tortilla soup recipe for a while. I've bookmarked this post and will be back again (and again).


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