Category Archives: Holiday

Polenta Breakfast Bake

I rarely post on days that aren’t Wednesday or Friday, but I really wanted to get this recipe on here in time for Christmas. Consider this extra post a little gift from me to you.Polenta Breakfast Bake

We may not have done any holiday baking when I was a kid, but we still had plenty of Christmas food traditions. When I was growing up, my mom used to make a breakfast casserole every Christmas morning. While I was (and, honestly, continue to be) wary of any dish with “casserole” in the name, I made an exception for that one. Paired with Mom’s traditional all-citrus fruit salad,* it was impossible for even the pickiest of us to resist. It was so good that we didn’t complain when we were told we had to eat breakfast before opening our gifts. It was magic, I tell you.

*This is not a recipe—it’s literally just bite-sized pieces of navel orange and ruby red grapefruit with their membranes removed. Mix ‘em together in a bowl and chill overnight. Polenta Breakfast Bake

Now, you may have noticed that I am speaking about my mom’s breakfast casserole in the past tense. That’s because she stopped making it about ten years ago, right about the time that my sisters and I started wanting more input in our holiday menu.

Another reason? Mom’s casserole was made with Bisquick. I have nothing personal against that mix—it’s responsible for every homemade pancake I ate as a child and I am forever grateful for its convenience—but I don’t use mixes these days.Polenta Breakfast Bake

Long story short: today’s Polenta Breakfast Bake is an homage to the Christmas Morning Casserole of my childhood, minus the Bisquick, plus a creamy polenta base and some extra greens. It’s not my mom’s recipe, but it’s damn good.Polenta Breakfast BakePolenta Breakfast Bake

Also, it’s naturally gluten-free (thanks, coarse ground cornmeal!). And people think you’re fancy when you say you made polenta anything, so there’s that.Polenta Breakfast BakePolenta Breakfast Bake

My favorite thing about this recipe is that, like my mom’s, it doesn’t require any specific timetable. Flexibility is important when it comes to any holiday meal planning, but I am particularly opposed to any recipe that might require me to get up and start puttering around the kitchen when it’s still dark outside. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: sleep > baking (and, um, cooking too).Polenta Breakfast BakePolenta Breakfast Bake

This Polenta Breakfast Bake can be prepared morning-of, if you are an early bird, but I love that I can assemble it a day or two ahead and then just bake it for 25 minutes before serving. I have a hard time doing anything in the morning without the aid of coffee, but I can absolutely turn on the oven and bake a breakfast casserole for 25 minutes.Polenta Breakfast Bake

Hot from the oven, this Polenta Breakfast Bake will be a little hard to slice cleanly, so feel free to scoop it instead. I was able to slice the casserole pictured after letting it cool for about half an hour, but I’d be happy to eat this stuff in any shape (or lack thereof). Leftovers keep very well in the refrigerator and will slice & reheat like a freaking dream.Polenta Breakfast Bake

One last thing before I get to the recipe. Like all recipes on this site, I’ve made this Polenta Breakfast Bake to suit my own flavor preferences. I used breakfast sausage and cheddar cheese because those were prominent flavors in my mom’s recipe, but you can swap them for any meat and/or cheese you like in weights equal to those in the recipe. My only word of advice here is that if you choose to use bacon, remove it from the pan while you sauté the onion, garlic, and greens so that it doesn’t burn. Oh, and speaking of greens, feel free to leave ‘em out if you have picky eaters (or if breakfast vegetables just aren’t your thing).

That’s all a very long way of saying that you should take my favorite and make it yours ❤ Polenta Breakfast Bake

Looking for more holiday breakfasts? Check out these overnight Cinnamon Rolls, this Eggnog Puff Pancake {Dutch Baby}, and this whole round-up of breakfast time favorites!

Polenta Breakfast Bake
makes 8-12 servings

2 1/2 cups water
2 cups milk (preferably whole)
1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt, divided
1 1/2 cups polenta or coarse ground cornmeal
8 ounces freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese (2 cups), divided
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon prepared dijon mustard
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
8 ounces raw breakfast sausage, removed from casings
1 medium white onion, diced small
4 cloves garlic, minced
10-12 ounces fresh greens, roughly chopped (I used a mix of baby spinach and baby kale)
4 large eggs
1/4-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (based on preference)

Grease a 9×13-inch pan or other large casserole dish (a broiler-safe one, if possible).

Make polenta. Bring water and milk to a simmer. Keep an eye on it, as milk can boil over dramatically without much notice. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Whisking constantly, add polenta in a thin stream. Reduce heat to medium-low, whisking very frequently for 25-30 minutes, until thick. Remove from heat. Whisk in 6 ounces (~1 1/2 cups) cheese, cayenne and dijon, followed by butter. Transfer to a heatproof bowl and let sit 15 minutes.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add breakfast sausage and cook, breaking it up with the edge of a spatula, until browned (about 8-10 minutes). Add diced onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add about half the greens and let wilt. Add remaining greens and cook until wilted. Remove from heat. Stir mixture into polenta.

In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk together eggs, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper. Stir eggs into polenta mixture. Transfer everything to prepared pan. It may be covered and refrigerated at this point for up to 48 hours.

Preheat oven to 425F. Scatter remaining 2 ounces (~1/2 cup) of cheese over the top. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes, or until golden at the edges, and slightly puffed and a little jiggly in the center. For an extra golden top, broil for 1-2 minutes. If your dish is not broiler-safe, you can heat the oven to 475F with the casserole on the top rack. Watching it closely, let it cook 5-10 minutes, turning as needed, until cheese has browned in places.

Let casserole cool for a few minutes. Scoop or slice and serve. Casserole will slice like a dream once cooled.

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Cold slices reheat well in the microwave.

Leftovers may be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Polenta Breakfast BakePolenta Breakfast BakePolenta Breakfast Bake

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Stained Glass Cookies

Stained Glass CookiesHello there! I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving break. I had a wonderful time in Massachusetts and Rhode Island with 2/3 of my immediate family, but am happy to be home for a few weeks to work on all sorts of holiday goodness! I’ve got loads of great posts headed your way before December 25th, but this first cookie recipe of the season, which benefits Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, might be my most important post of the whole year.Stained Glass CookiesIf that organization sounds familiar, it’s because I supported them last year too as a participant in The Sweetest Season. Cookies for Kids’ Cancer is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that encourages people to raise funds for pediatric cancer research by making cookies and sharing them with friends and family. The goal is to raise funds to facilitate innovative treatments, one cookie at a time. Many supporters (AKA “Good Cookies”) choose to have bake sales or cookie swaps, but I’m participating with a group of bloggers by posting new cookies recipes and donating directly. I made my donation on Giving Tuesday, but if you’d like to learn more and/or make a charitable donation to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, click here.Stained Glass CookiesThere’s no easy way to transition from writing about pediatric cancer to writing about anything else, so please excuse this clunky attempt. Now that I’ve made my donation to this wonderful organization, it’s time to talk about holiday cookies, namely these stunning Stained Glass Cookies!Stained Glass CookiesThese were one of the first Christmas cookies I ever made. My mother didn’t (and doesn’t) bake, but once when we were little, she dropped my sister and me at a kids’ cooking school for a day of holiday treats. While I don’t remember any other cookies we made that day, I do remember crushing hard candies and watching them transform in the oven into beautiful “stained glass.”
Stained Glass CookiesStained Glass CookiesStained Glass CookiesBut I’m getting ahead of myself. If you’ve never heard of Stained Glass Cookies, they’re nothing more than roll-out sugar cookies (in this case, my Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies) with the centers cut out and filled with crushed hard candy. As they bake, the candy melts into a thin, transparent sheet, similar to a stained glass window. Neat, huh?Stained Glass CookiesStained Glass CookiesAnd freaking beautiful, am I right?!Stained Glass Cookies

These cookies are simple to make. The recipe is straightforward enough that there’s no need for a tutorial, but I’ve got a few notes for you anyway. Because of course I do.

  • You can use any cookie cutters you like, permitting that they are in graduated sizes.
  • I used crushed Jolly Ranchers candy here. I chose to only use one flavor of candy per cookie, but feel free to mix and match to your holiday heart’s content.
  • These are a great cookie to make with kids, permitting you don’t mind them getting a little sugared up (in which case you probably shouldn’t be making cookies anyway and you may be on the wrong website 🙂 ). Just make the dough ahead and let them help cut and fill. I made these frequently in my nanny days and they were always a big hit.

Stained Glass CookiesAll that said, I hope you’re as excited for holiday baking as I am! Here’s to a season of sweets, treats, and doing kind things for our fellows…you know, like putting a few dollars toward a good cause ❤ Or making a batch of Stained Glass Cookies for people you love.Stained Glass Cookies

Stained Glass Cookies
makes about 5 dozen medium cookies

3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
4 oz (1/2 brick) full-fat brick-style cream cheese, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 12 ounce bag Jolly Ranchers or other hard candy, crushed
sparkling sugar, optional

Special Equipment:
rolling pin
graduated cookie cutters

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a separate large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Cream in granulated and light brown sugars, followed by the egg, vanilla, and almond extract. Add dry ingredients in 3 installments, combining completely after each. Divide dough into quarters and wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 3 hours, or up to 3 days.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Set aside.

Lightly flour a surface and a rolling pin. Take one quarter of chilled dough at a time, roll it to 1/4-inch thickness, and cut with cookie cutters. Place cut cookies at least 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Use smaller cookie cutters to cut out centers of cut cookies. Remove center dough and fill Cookie centers with a few pieces of crushed candy. Sprinkle exposed cookie dough with sparkling sugar, if desired.

Bake cookies 7-8 minutes, rotating top-to-bottom and front-to-back at the halfway point. Cookies are done when dough is no longer wet-looking and centers are bubbly. Let cookies cool on the pans for ten minutes before carefully peeling cookies away parchment and removing to a rack to cool completely. Repeat rolling, cutting, filling, and baking with any remaining dough.

Cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days. Separate layers of cookies with wax paper.
Stained Glass CookiesStained Glass CookiesStained Glass Cookies

Stained Glass Cookies

Apple Cider Cranberry Sauce

Apple Cider Cranberry SauceMy mother makes the best cranberry sauce in the world, but that’s not the recipe I’m sharing today.* Sorry to disappoint.

*Just kidding! I wrote her original recipe in the notes at the end. It’s a Thanksgiving two-fer 🙂 Apple Cider Cranberry SauceI have a good reason for holding out on you. My mom’s cranberry sauce is made with a large amount of brandy, which gets cooked off over the course of an hour in the oven. As I have mentioned previously though, I cannot safely consume alcohol, and therefore do not keep it around, even for cooking.

Since I quit drinking five and a half years ago, cranberry sauce is one of the only dishes that I have really missed. I’ve found work-arounds or substitutes for all sorts of other recipes, but I just couldn’t find one that hit all the same buttons as my mom’s.Apple Cider Cranberry SauceIn case you’re wondering, those buttons include:

  • It’s gotta be whole berry. No weird can-shaped cranberry jello here.
  • It can’t have more than three ingredients. I’ve had cranberry sauces with nuts and spices and other fruits and all sorts of other silliness, and all of it was completely unnecessary.
  • It shouldn’t have any citrus. Orange and cranberry are complementary flavors, but I can’t stand them together in cranberry sauce. This is more of a personal preference than anything, but I mean, this is my personal food blog.
  • It can’t be too sweet. I hate when cranberries are so over-sweetened that their natural tartness is completely masked.
  • It has to be easy. Like ridiculously easy. So low-maintenance, it’s silly. And if it can be made more than a day ahead, that’s ideal.
  • If nothing else, it must be so delicious that I want to eat it every time I spot the jar in the fridge.

Apple Cider Cranberry SauceApple Cider Cranberry SauceIt’s taken a few years and many sauces with unrecognizable berries, too much sugar, flavors I didn’t care for, and a lot of feeling sorry for myself, but I’ve finally made a cranberry sauce that hits all those buttons. And the missing ingredient was looking at me the whole time in the form of a seasonal fridge staple: apple cider. It has flavor, but not enough to overwhelm the cranberries, and it’s sweet without being saccharine. Perfection.Apple Cider Cranberry SauceApple Cider Cranberry SauceThis sauce comes together over the course of an hour in the oven. It gets stirred twice, but needs no help otherwise.Apple Cider Cranberry SauceThe result is soft, bursting berries that slump into a sweet, sticky sauce. It’s just divine. As is the fact that it can be made today and nuked in the microwave just before you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, it’s probably even better that way. Love that.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers.Apple Cider Cranberry Sauce

Want more cranberries? See here and here. For more apple cider, see here and here.

Apple Cider Cranberry Sauce*
makes about 3 cups

2 12-ounce bags whole cranberries
1 cup apple cider
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350F.

Combine all ingredients in a 9×13-inch casserole dish and stir together. Bake 60 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes.

Remove sauce from oven. Cool for a few minutes before transferring to a serving dish. Serve.

Cranberry sauce may be made up to two days in advance; it reheats well in the microwave.

Note:

If you want to try my mom’s cranberry sauce, swap the cider for brandy and double the sugar. Everything else is the same.
Apple Cider Cranberry SauceApple Cider Cranberry SauceApple Cider Cranberry Sauce

Cheesecake Blondies

Cheesecake BlondiesI have been debating for three days whether or not I should post these Cheesecake Blondies or use Independence Day as a “free pass” to take a rare blog day off.Cheesecake BlondiesCheesecake Blondies won out though, because they are the perfect treat to sink your teeth into while you watch the fireworks. Creamy cheesecake and chewy brown butter blondie in near-equal layers? Sign. me. up.Cheesecake BlondiesAnother great thing about these blondies? They are super easy to make and bake up in just 25 minutes!Cheesecake BlondiesThe most difficult part of making Cheesecake Blondies is waiting for them to chill. Those three hours can seem eternal, but they are completely necessary—nobody likes warm cheesecake.Cheesecake BlondiesOnce the chill time is up, slice up the blondies and revel in their cuteness. Chocolate chips have a way of making things more adorable, don’t they?Cheesecake BlondiesMake a batch of Cheesecake Blondies for your holiday cookout or pack a box into a cooler and take them on the go! You and your friends and family will love the combination of tangy cheesecake and sweet, brown buttery blondie ❤ Cheesecake BlondiesHappy Fourth of July!Cheesecake Blondies

Cheesecake Blondies
makes one 8- or 9-inch square pan, about 9-16 blondies

Blondie Batter:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup light or dark brown sugar, packed
1 large egg, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips + more for scattering

Cheesecake:
8 ounces (1 brick) full-fat brick-style cream cheese, room temperature
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish with foil and grease lightly. Set aside.

Brown the butter. Place butter in a light-colored saucepan over medium heat. Let butter melt. Butter will bubble and crackle as the water content evaporates. Swirl the pan frequently for 5-7 minutes, keeping an eye on the color. When the solids are turning brown and the butter is nutty and fragrant, remove the pot from the heat and immediately pour the brown butter into a large mixing bowl.

Add brown sugar to the brown butter and stir to combine. Whisk in egg and vanilla. Use a silicone spatula to stir in flour and salt, scraping down the bowl as needed. Fold in chocolate chips. Spread batter into prepared pan. Set aside.

Make cheesecake. In a medium mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat cream cheese until fluffy. Mix in sugar, followed by egg and vanilla. Pour on top of blondie batter and smooth to the edges of the pan. Scatter additional chocolate chips over the top.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, tenting with foil at the 15 minute mark or if anything begins browning too quickly. Blondies are ready when the cheesecake just barely jiggles when the pan is jostled. Let cool in the pan on a rack until they reach room temperature. Refrigerate for 3 hours or until completely cold.

Use foil overhang to lift blondies out of the pan. Carefully peel off foil. Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to slice bars, wiping the blade clean between cuts. Serve.

Leftover Cheesecake Blondies will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. For best storage, separate layers with wax paper.Cheesecake Blondies

Funfetti Petit Fours

Funfetti Petit FoursHave you ever had petit fours? They’re tiny cakes that are coated in sweet poured fondant—somehow the perfect combination of cuteness and class. They’re often seen at weddings, baby showers, and brunches. In my family, we like to eat them on Easter Even (aka Holy Saturday).
Funfetti Petit FoursGrowing up, we’d forego Easter morning Mass in favor of the Easter Vigil service the night before. While choosing this service did allow us to miss the crowd on Sunday morning, it began at 8:30pm and lasted more than two hours. Luckily, if you’re into liturgical pageantry, the Vigil starts with candles in the dark, ends in the light, and has all sorts of incense, bell ringing, beautiful music, and probably another ten things I’m forgetting. Forgive me—I’m a lapsed Episcopalian.
Funfetti Petit FoursOnce the service was over, we’d race home in my dad’s Cadillac, put on pajamas, and reach for the box of petit fours in the fridge. There are few pleasures greater than a cold late-night petit four from Blue Bonnet Bakery (the place with the gingerbread men and florentines). The dense cake was flavored with vanilla and almond, coated in a layer of poured fondant, and topped with a flourish of crusting buttercream. These once-yearly treats border on sickly-sweet, but my whole family loves them.Funfetti Petit FoursI haven’t been home for Easter in many years now, but I always try to have petit fours on Easter Even. I’ve tried them at a few places around Brooklyn, but most that I’ve found are layered with jam. They’re delicious, but not what I crave this time of year.
Funfetti Petit FoursI know my petit fours will never quite live up to the almond-scented Blue Bonnet Bakery version of my dreams, so I’ve decided not to try to recreate those, and instead to make a version that celebrates one of my favorite things: rainbow sprinkles! Funfetti Petit Fours, y’all. They’re a thing now.
Funfetti Petit FoursFunfetti Petit FoursI’m positively in love with this combination of buttery Funfetti cake, vanilla frosting, homemade poured fondant, and rainbow sprinkles. It’s like having everything I love (including nostalgia for my childhood) in one perfect 1 1/2-inch bite.
Funfetti Petit FoursFunfetti Petit FoursI should say that this recipe is very long, but not too terribly difficult. In fact, as it has no layering or filling, it’s one of the simpler petit fours recipes you’ll find. With the exception of coating the petit fours with poured fondant (easier than it sounds), it’s a lot like making a regular frosted cake. But again, there are a lot of parts, and you will need to use three pans and at least three bowls. It’s a lot for one baker—this might be the sort of recipe you make with a friend.Funfetti Petit FoursNo matter how (or with whom) you choose to address this recipe though, if you follow the directions, you will be rewarded with the sweetest, tiniest, happiest, most colorful petit fours you’ve ever seen ❤ Happy Easter, y’all!Funfetti Petit Fours

Funfetti Petit Fours
makes about 2.5-3 dozen 1 1/2-inch petit fours

Cake:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/8 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon imitation butter extract, optional
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
1/2 cup rainbow jimmies (not nonpareils)

Vanilla Buttercream:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Poured Fondant:
1/3 cup hot tap water
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 lb. confectioners sugar (about 3 3/4 cups)
pinch of Kosher or sea salt

For Decoration:
rainbow sprinkles (jimmies or nonpareils)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9×13-inch pan. Line with parchment and grease again. Set aside.

Make the cake batter. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and granulated sugar. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add eggs and egg yolk one at a time, beating completely after each addition. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by 1 cup of the buttermilk. Continue alternating until all ingredients are used and batter is just combined. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to fold in jimmies. Scrape down the bowl as necessary.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Tap full pan on the counter five times to release any large air bubbles. Bake cakes 30-32 minutes, rotating back to front at the halfway point. Cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cake cool in pan for fifteen minutes. Remove cake to a rack to cool completely.

Cake may be made up to a day in advance.

Place cake on a cutting board. Use a serrated knife to even out the top.

Line a jelly roll pan or quarter sheet pan with parchment. Place cake on prepared pan. Freeze for 30 minutes.

Make the frosting. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Beat in confectioner’s sugar in three installments, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Beat in salt, followed by vanilla. Add in heavy cream until desired consistency is reached.

Line a rimmed half-sheet pan with parchment and place a cooling rack over the top. Set aside.

Remove cake from freezer and return to cutting board. Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to slice off crispy cake edges (about 1/4-inch on all sides). Slice cake into 1 1/2-inch squares.

Use an offset icing knife to crumb coat squares on top and 4 sides. Place on prepared rack/pan. Chill for 15-30 minutes.

Make poured fondant. In a liquid measuring cup, stir together hot water, light corn syrup, and vanilla.

Fill a small pot with 1-2 inches of water. Set a heatproof bowl over the top, ensuring that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Remove bowl and bring water to a simmer.

Place white chocolate chips in the heatproof bowl. When water simmers, place bowl back over the water. Whisk until melted. Alternate adding confectioners sugar and liquid ingredients, whisking constantly until smooth. Whisk in salt. Remove from heat and let cool a few minutes (it works best around 100F).

Remove cake squares from refrigerator. Working quickly, spoon poured fondant over the top and sides of each square. Use an offset icing knife to adjust sides as necessary. Top with another dot of poured fondant and more sprinkles. Re-warm poured fondant as needed.

Let poured fondant set for at least an hour. Serve.

Leftover petit fours will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 7-10 days.

Funfetti Petit Fours