Sunday, September 23, 2018

Readers share their holiday recipes, from appetizers to desserts

Is it just me, or has 2016 felt like a particularly long year?

More than ever, we need something comforting. And what better to soothe our anxieties than butter, sugar and the classic holiday recipes that conjure up sweet memories?

Welcome to that time of year when we run reader-submitted recipes. This year, we have opened the field up to recipes from any part of your holiday meals — appetizers, side items, entrees and the beloved desserts. What hasn't changed is we are featuring recipes sent in by you, our readers. We received dozens that ran the gamut from Corn Souffle to Coconut Tarts. Featured below are a couple dozen we think you'll enjoy this holiday season.

A recurring theme, as always, is family, and the different kinds of tradition that get passed down through the years. One of my favorite stories comes from Lisa Banzanella Smith, whose recipe for Nonna's Holiday Mashup is literally a combination of every family member's favorite dish. Smith says about her grandma, who would cook every year: "After several years, she discovered we all had our own favorite entrees, so one year she put all our favorites in her delicious sauce and created this recipe." Another reader felt so strongly about her family's manicotti that she submitted a poem to describe the dish.

Most of these recipes have a simplicity to them and familiar ingredients. It doesn't take anything fancy to come up with an iconic holiday dish.

This year, we asked a quartet of local chefs to put their own spin on four featured reader recipes: Sue Conrad's Cossack's Delight mushroom dish, Sara Kennedy's Tangerine Sweet Potatoes, Linda Broback's Mom's Seafood Chowder and Frazier Bess' Fudgy Oatmeal Bars.

David Benstock of Il Ritorno in St. Petersburg took the mushroom dish, emerging with a stuffed mushroom recipe that gets an added flavor boost from truffles; Edison chef Jeannie Pierola came up with an ambitious seafood chowder. Ferrell Alvarez at Seminole Heights' Rooster and the Till created a multi-layered sweet potato side, and the pastry chef at Cena in Tampa, Evan Schmidt, created a sophisticated dark chocolate confection. Some of these require serious chops in the kitchen, but think of the payoff with your guests.

We hope you will find something to like in either version of these recipes, and in this sampling of other reader submissions.






Cossack's Delight

Sue Conrad of North Redington Beach writes in with a mushroom recipe that makes for an ideal holiday hors d'oeuvre. It's not a stuffed mushroom recipe but rather a sauteed mushroom recipe.

The first time Conrad ate this dish was about 1975. She and her husband, both mushroom lovers, have since been hooked on the recipe, which calls for fresh mushrooms rather than canned ones.

Here is how Conrad describes her dish:

"Most everyone has a stuffed mushroom recipe, always a reliable standby when it comes to entertaining. The following recipe is one that I've had since the '70s, and when I make it for party hors d'oeuvres, it usually disappears quickly. I've even had people who think they really don't care for mushrooms tell me how delicious this is. It's a welcome addition to a Christmas or New Year's buffet — and then there's the annual Super Bowl bash."

Over the years, the recipe has changed a bit. One of the ingredients "back in the day," Conrad says, was MSG. She took that out of the recipe years ago and hasn't been able to taste a difference. Conrad also added a bit more flour to the sauce to thicken it up.

She has some advice for cooks who wish to make the recipe. First, make sure your mushrooms are fresh. White button mushrooms are best, but you could also use baby portobellos. The dish is best served slightly warm.

"When I make this dish, I'm thinking cocktail party with people, be it family or friends, who enjoy trying a different take on standard fare," Conrad says.

1 pound button mushrooms

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large garlic clove, crushed

1 small onion, very finely minced

Soy sauce

1/8 teaspoon each (or more to taste) dry mustard, paprika and seasoned salt

Dash of Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup sour cream

Wash mushrooms with damp towel.

Heat butter and oil in a large saucepan, then add mushrooms, garlic, onion, 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce and other seasonings through salt and pepper.

Cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Cover, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

Blend flour and sour cream in a separate bowl, beating with a whisk or electric hand mixer until smooth.

Stir into mushroom mixture until combined, then turn off heat.

Add more soy sauce to taste, if necessary, and serve.

Serves 4 to 8.



Spiced Pecans

This recipe comes from my niece's mother-in-law. It is one of our favorite family holiday recipes at Christmastime. — Pat Swaney, Sun City Center

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 egg white

3 tablespoons water

1 pound pecan halves

Mix together first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in pecan halves, making sure to coat the nuts thoroughly.

Spread out on a rimmed cookie sheet. Bake at 250 degrees for 90 minutes.

Stir thoroughly every 15 minutes. Spread out on paper towels to cool, and serve.

Serves 8-12.



Pineapple Zucchini Bread

This recipe can be served for Christmas, before or after the meal with coffee. It seems to be a favorite for one and all. — Rita Dickson, Tampa

3 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup crushed pineapple, drained

1/2 cup raisins

1 cup chopped walnuts

2 cups shredded zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two loaf pans. Beat eggs till foamy. Add sugar, oil and vanilla, and mix.

Add dry ingredients, and mix well. Add pineapple, raisins and nuts, and mix, then add zucchini and mix gently until combined.

Divide batter between loaf pans, and bake for 45 minutes. Check with a toothpick for doneness.

Makes 2 loaves.






Tangerine Sweet Potatoes

Sara Kennedy of Tampa submitted a different kind of sweet potato recipe for holiday dinners. Typically we think of mashing them, but her recipe calls for roasting them — always a terrific way to treat root vegetables — and kicking things up with some citrus.

Kennedy says: "For many years during the holidays, I would serve fancy recipes in which sweet potatoes lounged in butter and brown sugar, topped with marshmallows or coconut. However, in 1996, an issue of Cooking Light magazine provided a better option with a recipe called Tangerine Sweet Potatoes."

She says that not only was it an appealing dish, but they have a modest calorie count for those keeping track. She tried it for the first time around 2002, when she was trying to lose weight with the help of Weight Watchers. She was looking for a sweet potato recipe that was lighter, and "since I had oranges growing in my backyard, I hoped to use my homegrown fruit as well."

"It is a family favorite now," Kennedy says, "especially apt for cooks in Florida, since its citrus-y ingredients are plentiful in our state during the holidays. Those who grow oranges or tangerines in their yards can use their own fruit to make the sauce."

Over the years, she has tweaked the recipe a bit: "If I am in a rush, I use a … can of whole yams, cut up, instead of fresh sweet potatoes; I prefer butter to margarine. I recommend juicy hybrid honeybell fruit for the sauce because it comes into season during the winter months in Florida."

She advises when making the dish to wash the lemons and remove the seeds as you slice the fruit before arranging it on the potatoes. If you're short on time, and don't want to work with whole sweet potatoes, a 40-ounce can of Bruce's Yams makes a fine substitute.

Kennedy says her favorite part of the dish is the citrus flavor, both from the sliced lemons that sit atop the potatoes and from the orange sauce in which the potatoes cook. Her oldest daughter, Clare, who is now grown and living in Minneapolis, remembers how it "perfumed the whole house while it was baking."

9 cups peeled sweet potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), thinly sliced

8 lemon slices

Cooking spray

2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon grated tangerine or orange rind

1/2 cup fresh tangerine or orange juice

2 tablespoons margarine, melted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Arrange sweet potatoes and lemons in a 13- by 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Combine remaining ingredients in a separate bowl. Drizzle mixture over potatoes. Seal foil firmly over the potatoes and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove foil, baste and stir, then bake another 30 minutes. Serve with cranberry sauce.

Serves 8.



Spicy Cranberries

I have always served homemade cranberry sauce with our holiday dinners. When our daughter was invited to her boyfriend's family holiday dinner for the first time, she requested someone pass her the beets. She was told there were not any beets on the table, and that the food item she thought were beets was cranberry sauce. ... She had never seen the tin can molded cranberry sauce. ... This recipe has jalapeno peppers and onions to give it a subtle kick. It can be served as a side dish, a sauce or an appetizer by simply pouring it over a block of softened cream cheese and serving with crackers. — Cindy Ordes, St. Petersburg

2 bags cranberries

1 cup sugar

½ cup vinegar

1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon allspice

Rinse and sort the cranberries. In a saucepan, combine all ingredients, bring to a boil, and simmer till cranberries pop, about 5 minutes. Store in refrigerator. Serve with ham, pork tenderloin or turkey.



Clear Beet Soup (Barszcz)

Wigilia is the traditional Christmas Eve vigil supper in Poland. It is a day of fasting, then feasting. ... Wafer or Oplatek is passed from oldest to youngest, reflecting on the year past and hopes for the year to come. ... Barszcz is one of the dishes served. Being Polish, when we gathered at Babci's house for dinner, soup was served first. I do not have her recipe, since she cooked by taste, but this is the closest thing to her Barszcz. ...My husband, son and I do the Wigilia every year and think of all of our relatives who made this time special for us, even until today. — Marie Patrick, Land O'Lakes

2-4 dried mushrooms

1 cup water

6 cups vegetable stock

3 large beets, grated

1 peeled, diced apple

Beet Sour (recipe below)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon dill



Soak dried mushrooms in water overnight, then cook mixture in a pot until mushrooms are tender. Remove mushrooms and reserve liquid for soup.

Cook beets in vegetable stock in a pot over medium heat, adding apple and cooking for about 15 minutes. Add the mushroom water and Beet Sour to taste.

Simmer briefly but do not boil. Add garlic, sugar, dill and salt and pepper. Simmer 5 more minutes, then strain. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

Serves 8.

Beet Sour

1 pound beets

1 slice stale rye bread

1 clove garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon sugar


White vinegar


Peel and thinly slice beets, then place in a large glass jar. Add stale rye bread, garlic, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 cup white vinegar. Cover with 1 ¼ quarts lukewarm water. Cover mouth of container with cheesecloth and let stand at room temperature for 3 days. Strain, seal and refrigerate.



Apricot Bread Pudding

This is one of my most frequently requested recipes. I believe the original came from an old Better Homes and Garden magazine. With a few tweaks, the recipe became mine. This never fails to please. It is not your Grandma's bread pudding. — Jeanne Ann Mansfield, St. Petersburg

4 eggs

3 1/2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

5 cups torn bread pieces (6 to 8 slices)

12 dried apricot halves, quartered (cut with kitchen shears)

1/2 cup golden raisins

For the topping:

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 tablespoon butter

Melted vanilla ice cream or maple syrup

In a medium mixing bowl, beat together eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla. In a large mixing bowl, combine bread pieces, apricots and gold raisins. Place bread mixture in a greased 2-quart, 9- by 13- by 2-inch rectangular baking dish. Pour milk mixture over bread in baking dish. Press down with back of spoon to soak all the bread pieces.

Make the topping: In a small bowl, stir together the 2 tablespoons sugar and cardamom. Sprinkle over bread mixture. Dot with butter.

Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 55 to 60 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Serve warm with melted vanilla ice cream or maple syrup drizzled over each serving.

Serves 6 to 8.






Mom's Seafood Chowder

A recurring theme in the recipes we received from readers was the influence of Florida on the dishes they treasure during the holidays. Like the sweet potatoes infused with tangerines, Linda Broback's recipe for Mom's Seafood Chowder is also inspired by her family's place in Tampa Bay. Broback, who now lives in Spring Hill, writes in to say her mom made this chowder for guests "when they arrived at their vacation home in Apollo Beach, Fla.; what a treat!"

Broback says her mom, who always cooked without a recipe, got the idea for this recipe after years of making an Oyster Stew that her mother made.

"This was a traditional chowder (Mom) made for Christmas Eve," she says. "When she was growing up, her mother made Oyster Stew. The younger children liked the Seafood Chowder, so that became the chowder for their Christmas Eve table."

Broback tried this new incarnation for the first time in 1981, and says it was a hit. The dish was often served with "pounds of shrimp on the side."

Broback says to use wild caught shrimp if you can, not farm raised. But there is nothing too strict about this recipe. Like her mom, Broback uses it more as a guide and tweaks as she goes to get the right flavors.

Her advice for home cooks? "Take the recipe in steps. Don't get overwhelmed by all the ingredients. It is worth your time. Your family will ask you the same thing my family does: Why don't you make this more often?"

1 tablespoon butter

½ cup onion, chopped

¼ cup carrot, diced

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 potato, diced

½ pound fresh fish, like cod

½ pound fresh medium-sized shrimp

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Dash white pepper (black pepper can be substituted)

2 ½ cups milk or half and half

1 (6-ounce) can salad shrimp with juice

1 (6-ounce) can clams with juice

1 (6-ounce) can crabmeat with juice

1 cup chicken broth

4 slices fried bacon, cut into pieces, for garnish

Melt butter in a skillet, then add onion, carrot and celery and saute until tender. Set aside.

In a small sauce pot, add diced potatoes and enough water just to cover them, then boil under tender, reserving the liquid.

In a pot, poach the fresh fish in enough water to cover it, until just done, and reserve liquid. Do the same thing with the shrimp, poaching, until just cooked, and reserve liquid.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Blend in flour, salt and white pepper. Cook for a few minutes, just to take the raw flour taste away.

Add milk all at once. Cook quickly, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and bubbles. Add canned shrimp, clams and crabmeat, plus poached fish and shrimp, potatoes, celery, carrot and onion. Add chicken broth, and stir well. Simmer over low heat for a few more minutes, then serve.

Serves 4 to 8.



Pickled Pork

This is a Portuguese marinated pork recipe. My mother-in-law, Lourdes Vieira, who was from the Island of Madeira, would make this during the holiday season. My mother-in-law never measured anything, so one day my sister-in-law, Josephine, stood by her side as she was making it, and as Ma would put seasoning in her hand to sprinkle on the meat, she would stop and measure it. That's how we got the recipe. — Sarah Vieira, St. Petersburg

Whole pork butt (about 14 pounds)

1 1/2 quarts white vinegar

1/4 pound garlic cloves

Handful salt

Red pepper flakes, to taste

Handful marjoram

Cut pork butt into 1-inch cubes

Combine the next five ingredients to create a marinade.

Place meat in a large slow cooker or a plastic container with a tight cover. Pour marinade over meat and mix well.

Cover tightly and keep in a cool place for two days, stirring once or twice.

When ready to cook, pour entire thing into a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes, then drain well.

Brown meat in a large frying pan, then serve. It tastes best on split Italian hard rolls to make sandwiches.

Serves about 20 people.




Christmas day would soon be here

Full of tradition, fun and cheer

Watching Mom prepare good food

Put everyone in a festive mood.

Down to the basement she would retreat

To make manicottis, our once a year treat.

On an old brown stove she got the pan hot

Ready for the batter poured spot by spot.

A mountain of shells she seemed to make,

There had to be enough for everyone to take.

Rolled to perfection, filled with cheese,

This homemade dish was sure to please.

Christmas dinner, the pan then brought forth,

The foil lifted on our steaming main course.

Saucy, cheesy, rich and good

Each holiday I make them just like mom would.

— Gina Rehberg, Wesley Chapel


For the dough:

6 eggs

1 ½ cups water

1 ½ cups milk

1 ½ teaspoons salt

3 cups flour

Beat eggs in a bowl, then add water, milk and salt.

Add flour, a little at a time. Mix until smooth. The dough will be thin, like pancake batter.

Spray a large frying pan with cooking spray and heat until hot on medium-high heat.

Ladle ¼ cup batter onto the hot pan, to make a 6-inch circle. (I move the pan around to spread the batter out.)

Flip the shells to cook the other side. They cook quickly, so don't let them get too brown.

Layer the cooked shells on a cookie sheet, putting waxed paper between the layers.

Refrigerate shells until you are ready to fill and bake.

For the filling:

3 ½ to 4 pounds ricotta cheese

3 eggs

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

1 to 2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes

Pasta sauce, storebought or homemade

Combine all ingredients well in a bowl.

Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of the mixture on one side of a cooked manicotti shell, then roll into a log.

Spoon pasta sauce onto the bottom of a baking pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Place rolled manicottis into baking pan.

Cover with more sauce and more Parmesan cheese, to taste. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes.

Insert a knife into middle of pan and, if the knife is hot to the touch when removed, they are done. Let rest about 5 minutes before serving.



Pumpkin Ravioli With Sage Butter and Toasted Hazelnuts


Coming from a New Jersey Italian family, we always had some type of pasta dish during the holidays. When my mother visited me in Florida to share the Christmas holidays, I decided to be traditional but change it up. For the first course, I served Pumpkin Ravioli in a sage brown butter sauce topped with toasted hazelnuts. I fell in love at first bite. My mother, however, looked across the table at me and declared: "Nothing should be in ravioli but cheese, this is not Italian." Needless to say, I have been serving Pumpkin Ravioli on Christmas Eve for 30 years. — Theresa Wilson, Apollo Beach

For the ravioli filling:

1/3 cup finely chopped shallots

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage leaves

2 tablespoons parsley

2 cups canned pumpkin

2 tablespoons cream cheese

1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Grated fresh nutmeg

Ground pepper

For the sauce:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

6 fresh sage leaves

Large pinch nutmeg

1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

Saute shallots and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon each sage and parsley. Stir in pumpkin. Add both cheeses to pumpkin mixture and stir. Top with some grated fresh nutmeg and stir. Refrigerate pumpkin mixture.

Make your own pasta or purchase pre-made ravioli pasta sheets. Cut pasta to make 48 raviolis. Fill with pumpkin mixture. At this point you can freeze or refrigerate individual raviolis for 2 days.

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add ravioli and cook on a simmer about 4 minutes or until they float to the top.

Make the sauce: Melt the butter. When butter starts to brown, tear the sage leaves into the pan and fry for about 20 seconds. Remove from heat and stir in the nutmeg. Pour butter sauce over ravioli and sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts.



Nonna's Holiday Mash-Up

My Italian grandmother was a magical cook. During the holiday season, she'd invite her large family for special meals. She would serve this meal family-style, along with bowls of homemade ricotta that had been dressed with olive oil and freshly shredded basil, roasted lemon asparagus, garlic butter broccoli, loaves of crunchy homemade bread and several bottles of Barolo wine. — Lisa Bazzanella Smith, St. Petersburg

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 head fresh garlic, all cloves minced finely

I large head Italian parsley, minced finely

2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

1½ pounds sweet Italian sausage

1½ pounds chicken thighs, deboned and skinned

2 pounds sea scallops

Heat oil in a large pot. Add garlic and parsley. Saute until garlic is golden. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium.

Cook for exactly 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Set aside.

Cut sausage and chicken thighs into 1-inch chunks. Halve scallops. Bring sauce back up to medium heat. Add sausage and chicken to pot. Poach gently on medium for 20 minutes, stirring often. Add scallops and cook 5 minutes more.

Serve over any macaroni, gnocchi or spaghetti squash.

Serves 6-8.






Fudgy Oatmeal Bars

Frazier Bess of Brandon shares his signature Fudgy Oatmeal Bars, which have the consistency of brownies. Since Bess first had these bars about 20 years ago at a Christmas party, they have become an integral part of his family's traditions.

"More years ago than I care to recount, I hosted a Christmas party to which a neighbor brought these scrumptious bars," Bess says. "She gave me the recipe, and they have been a part of our family's Christmas celebration ever since. So much so that our granddaughter, a Marine Sergeant stationed in Asia, requested that we find a way to package them and send them to her because 'it just isn't Christmas without them.' "

This dish makes Bess think of his favorite time of year.

"It makes me think of family, friends and celebrations. This is one of about 15 recipes my wife and I make to give away at Christmas. Feedback is always positive."

He offers one tip when preparing the bars: "Just be sure to keep wetting your hands while you are spreading it into the pan."

2 cups packed brown sugar

1 cup butter, softened

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

3 cups quick-cooking or regular oats

1 (12-ounce) package Nestle Semi-Sweet Real Chocolate Morsels

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped nuts

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon salt

1 (12-ounce) package Reese's Peanut Butter Chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a jellyroll pan measuring 15.5 by 10 by 1 inches.

Mix brown sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl until combined.

Stir in flour, baking soda and salt, then add oats.

Reserve 1/3 of the oatmeal mixture, and press the remaining mixture into the bottom of the pan. This mixture gets very sticky, and it helps to wet your spoon or fingers.

Heat chocolate morsels, sweetened condensed milk and 2 tablespoons butter in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until chocolate morsels melt.

Remove from heat; stir in nuts, vanilla, salt and peanut butter chips. Spread over oatmeal mixture in the pan.

Drop reserved oatmeal mixture by rounded teaspoonsful on top of chocolate mixture. Flatten the dollops a bit so that they spread out.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven and, while warm, cut into 2- by 1-inch bars.

Makes about 70 bars.



Empire Biscuits or Scottish Christmas Tea Cakes

Mary Frances Kirkpatrick of St. Alfred's Episcopal Church sent a recipe from one of the church's oldest parishioners, 87-year-old Margaret Beavers Copland of Clearwater. Beavers says about the recipe: "My mother, a Scot, knew them as German Biscuits until World War I, when they were quickly renamed "Empire Biscuits."

½ pound butter or margarine

½ cup sugar

¾ cups flour

1 small or medium egg

Seedless raspberry jam

For the icing:

1 cup confectioners' sugar

Boiling water or cold milk

Few drops of vanilla

Glace cherries for top decoration (maraschino cherries that have been candied in sugar syrup)

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and flour, mixing until dough is formed.

Knead, and roll out on an unfloured board to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into rounds (approximately 2 inches) with a cookie cutter and place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Cool.

Prepare icing by mixing confectioners' sugar with enough boiling water to make a soft icing. Add vanilla.

Spread half of the biscuits with jam and cover with another biscuit. Spread icing on tops and place half or quarter glace cherry in the center.



Mrs. Harvey's White Fruitcake

After (our) Mom passed away nearly 30 years ago, my sister and I have kept the tradition alive each year, by baking (this recipe). We give away most of it to family and friends, following the recipe pretty closely, but usually substitute some walnuts and sliced almonds for part of the pecans, always add extra lemon and almond extract, sometimes a bit of rum extract, occasionally a few poppy or sesame seeds. ... It's a perfect Florida tradition; light and fruity, using real candied fruits from Paradise Fruit in Plant City ... Southern pecans and no spices — just quality ingredients. — Patricia B. Ferguson and John Bailey, St. Petersburg

4 cups shelled pecans

1 pound candied cherries

1 pound candied pineapple

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

½ pound butter

1 cup sugar

5 large eggs

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ to 2 ounces vanilla extract

½ to 2 ounces lemon extract

Chop nuts and fruit into medium-size pieces; dredge with ¼ cup of flour.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Sift together remaining flour and baking powder; fold into butter-egg mixture. Stir in vanilla and lemon extracts. Blend in fruit and nuts.

Grease a 10-inch tube pan or rectangular loaf pans. Line with parchment, wax paper or foil; grease again. (I use brown grocery store bags cut, then folded to fit the pans, buttered after putting into the pan.)

Pour batter into prepared pan or pans. Place in cold oven and bake 2½ to 3 hours in tube pan or 2 hours in 8½-by-4½-inch loaf pans at 250 degrees. Check cakes 1 hour before done, and again in 30 minutes. When done, remove from oven; cool in pans or cake rack.

Makes about 5 pounds of fruitcake.



Adele's Snowflake Chocolate Drop Cookies

1/2 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup milk (whole or 2 percent)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup cocoa

For icing:

1 cup or more powdered sugar

Milk to thicken

Set oven to 350 degrees.

Cream shortening and sugar together.

Add egg, vanilla and milk; beat well.

Sift together dry ingredients and gradually add into mixture, stirring well.

Drop spoonfuls on greased cookie sheets and bake about 10 minutes.

Mix icing ingredients together until smooth, adding just enough milk to form into icing. When cooking are cooled, drop frosting like snowflakes on cookies.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

— Adele Ida Walter, Tampa




This holiday recipe for Sandies has been a tradition for us for many, many years. ... My mother, who passed away 20 years ago at the ripe age of 94, always made these for us at Christmas. My son loves them as well, so his 2 daughters learned how to make them for him. ... Of course, we always think of Grandma Annie. — Mary Jane Moffitt, St. Petersburg

1 cup softened butter

¼ cup powered sugar

2 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon water

2 cups sifted flour

1 cup nuts, like pecans, chopped

Cream together the butter, powered sugar, and vanilla. Stir in the water; then add the sifted flour, mix well. Stir in the nuts. Shape into balls.

Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 300 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool slightly, then roll in powered sugar.

Makes 5 dozen.



Portuguese Nut Squares

5 eggs

1/2 pound sugar

1/2 pound flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped nuts

1 teaspoon anise seed

Beat eggs well, then add sugar and beat well.

Add flour and salt, mix well.

Fold in nuts and anise seed.

Pour mixture into a greased 12- by 9-inch pan.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Set aside for 10 minutes. Cut into strips, then return to oven and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool before serving.

— John J. Pacheco, St. Petersburg




Every year when I make a batch of Snickerdoodles, I am transported back in time. I do not know whether it is the shaping of the dough balls or the aroma of cinnamon as they bake, but it happens each time I make them. It was in my parents' kitchen in Michigan, that, as a girl, I learned many important lessons. One of the best was that doing things for others and sharing is important. My mother spent weeks preparing plates of delicious cookies consisting of 10 or 12 different varieties to share with friends. Not only did she instruct us on how to make each kind correctly, but she showed us, by her example, that the most important ingredients were love and care. — Joan Anderson, Tampa

1 cup shortening

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons sugar plus 2 teaspoons cinnamon, combined, for rolling the cookie balls

Mix shortening, sugar and eggs thoroughly. Sift and stir in dry ingredients except sugar and cinnamon.

Chill dough and roll into walnut-sized balls. Roll in the sugar/cinnamon mixture.

Place about 1 1/2 inches apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet.

Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned, but still soft. Watch carefully. Cool on wire racks.




Growing up ... we would share holiday traditions (with our Jewish neighbors) like Passover seder and Easter dinner. Christmastime was my favorite because the neighbor's kids came over to help decorate our Hanukkah bush, and Mrs. G would give us the most magical Christmas present of all, rosettes. Thin, crispy, flower-like shells generously powder-sugared and centered with a dollop of jam. ... My dad used to call them liar's cookies because, upon discovering several missing from the box, he asked my brother and me if we knew anything about them. We, denying vehemently any guilt, (were) outed by our sugar-frosted mouths and shirt fronts. ... Rosettes, although time-consuming, are easy to make once you get the hang of it. The tools are readily available, inexpensive and you need only buy them once: a deep fryer or large heavy bottomed pot, rosette iron and handle, tongs and a butter knife. — Lori Renshaw, St. Petersburg

1 tablespoon sugar

2 jumbo eggs at room temperature

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

1 cup sifted flour

1/4 cup milk, 2 percent or whole

1 (1-pound) package powdered sugar

Peanut oil

1/4 teaspoon baker's ammonia

Grape jam, at room temperature

Fill peanut oil to the line of a deep fryer or at least 4 inches in a large pot. Heat oil to 370 degrees. Attach rosette iron to the handle, and place in the oil to heat.

In a large glass bowl beat sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt with an electric mixer. Slowly beat in the flour, incorporating each batch until smooth before adding more.

Then, slowly drizzle milk into batter, increasing the mixer speed toward the end. Beat on high until smooth, about a minute. If you add the milk before the flour, your batter will be unappetizingly lumpy.

Let batter sit for about 10 minutes. Cover countertop with clean newspaper or paper towels. If using a deep fryer, put one whole section of the paper under it. Set tongs and knife on a heat-resistant surface on one side (I use a paper plate), and create a place for the iron to rest on the other (usually a plate lined with paper towels).

To make the first rosette, remove the iron from the oil, shake off excess oil and dip the iron halfway into the batter. Do not allow the batter to come over the top of the iron (if it happens, put the iron in the fryer for a minute or so and scrape off with the knife and start over).

Place iron in the oil and hold until the batter crisps up and begins to release. You will see it trying to slide off the iron by itself. Fry until golden brown. If the shell won't come off on its own, gently use a butter knife to help it off.

Using the tongs, remove the now crispy shell to the newspaper and drain upside down. Be prepared to ruin the first few. Repeat until you get near the bottom of the batter. If you still have batter but it is too shallow to stick to the iron, add more milk a few tablespoons at a time and prop the bowl up on one side to pool the batter more deeply.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. When you are done making the shells, place them face down on cookie sheets lined with paper towels. Bake for 3 to 4 minutes. You do not want them to darken in color. If they do, remove promptly.

Repeat until all the shells have been baked. This step keeps the shells crispier longer .

Return the shells to the papered countertop and, using a sifter, shake the powdered sugar over the face-up shells, as much or as little as you like.

Next, cut a tiny corner off a small zip-top bag. Put the room temperature jam in the bag and seal, removing most of the air. Squeeze a little jam into the round centers of the shells. Deploy any ugly shells for a taste test.

To store, cover with plastic wrap and keep in an air-tight vessel. The rosettes will stay crisp and fresh for days. Do not store in the fridge; they will become soggy.

Note: Baker's ammonia helps the shells stay crisp, longer. You can skip this product, but your rosettes will likely go soft by the next day. Available at bakery supply shops and online, one bottle lasts a long time

Makes about 4 dozen.


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