New Year’s Appetizers – Sour Cream Brownies

Somehow it’s already New Year’s Eve. I’m not sure exactly how that happened. No one asked my permission and it seems like it was just barely Christmas Eve yesterday! However, I can’t complain too much because around here New Year’s Eve is a day for watching bowl games and eating a variety of appetizer foods all leading up to the stroke of 12 celebrations.

So here’s a sneak peak at our New Year’s Appetizer menu.

* 7 Layer Bean Dip

* Clam Dip

* Cucumbers with Cream Cheese and Dill

* Pumpkin Spice Muffins

* Chicken Wings with Buffalo Sauce

* Chicken Teriyaki Wings

* Rotisserie Prime Rib

* Sour Cream Brownies

* Cream Cheese with Raspberry Jalapeno sauce

So we’ll have pictures to share as the day goes on. Here’s the first and the recipe for the Sour Cream Brownies, which are kick butt, just in case you wondered. We use Ultra Gel in the brownies to preserve the moisture and help to provide a tender crumb. This allows us to cut back on the fat and use a light sour cream without giving up a bit of flavor. :)

Sour cream brownies

Sour Cream Brownies

10 ounces semi sweet or bitter sweet baking chocolate

6 ounce unsalted butter

4 ounces unsweetened applesauce

2 large eggs

1 cup sugar

2 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 Tablespoons Ultra Gel

1/2 cup light sour cream

In a microwave safe bowl combine butter and chocolate. Microwave on medium power in 30 second bursts until mixture is smooth. Add applesauce and sugar and mix well. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in vanilla. In a separate bowl combine flour, salt, baking powder and Ultra Gel and stir to combine. Gradually whisk flour mixture into chocolate mixture until just combined. Fold in sour cream. Sprinkle a few mini chocolate chips in or on top as desired.

Pour mixture into a greased baking pan and bake at 375 for 25-35 minutes depending on the depth of your pan. This makes really thick 8×8 brownies, thinner 9×9 brownies and thin 9×13 brownies. The oven temp stays the same for each, but you will need to adjust your total baking time.

Allow to cool, cut and serve. This makes a very rich brownie so I suggest serving it in small pieces or with a little cream or ice cream to cut some of the richness.

Bacon Potato Soup

There is something about the wintertime that makes me want to eat soup. I’m sure some of it is the cold and the snow (not that we have much yet this year, still dreaming of a White Christmas) and I think some is a reflection of an urge to have a full, warm tummy and hibernate. Anyway, one of my favorite soups is our Bacon Potato Soup. This is a great creamy soup with big chunks of potatoes and a little (or a lot, I won’t judge) salty bacon for balance. Bacon Potato Soup is a great soup for reheating, so I tend to make a big ol’ pot of it and we munch it down for a few days following the initial make. Day 2 to Day 3 is my favorite, when I think the flavors are at their peak.

One of the tricks with Bacon Potato Soup is using Ultra Gel as our thickening agent. Unlike a flour based roux, the Ultra Gel won’t separate and go grainy in the fridge, so the leftovers are easy. As well because Ultra Gel can be added at any temperature the milk doesn’t have to boil and so you have a lot fewer problems with boil over or scorching.

When it comes to the potatoes I prefer Yukon gold potatoes in bacon potato soup. This type of potato holds up a bit better under heat and takes on a really nice caramelization which adds a rich flavor to the entire soup. Russets will also work, but you just have to be really careful not to over-cook them so they don’t go to mush.

Mmm…now I’m hungry. Off to heat up a bowl! Happy Holidays from our family to yours!

Bacon Potato Soup

6 slices of bacon, cut into pieces

4 ribs of celery, diced

1 medium onion, diced

2 large yukon gold potatoes, cubed

6 cups of milk

Ultra Gel (I generally use about 1/2-3/4 of a cup for a medium thickness. Your milage may vary depending on the fat content of your milk and the total milk you add)

salt and pepper to taste

In the bottom of a heavy pot fry bacon until crisp. Remove bacon leaving 2-3 Tbps bacon grease in the pan. Add veggies to the grease and simmer until slightly browned and tender. Add potatoes and a little salt and pepper and cook until tender. Pour in milk and heat to cooking temperature (about 180 degrees or just shy of boiling). Mix in Ultra Gel and stir until smooth, add bacon back in. Serve once desired thickeness is reached. I like it with club crackers, but my boys top their soup with cheese and more bacon.

Note: If you have trouble with the Ultra Gel lumping because it’s hard to stir around the potatoes, just hold back about 2 cups of the milk and add the Ultra Gel to that before adding it to the main soup.

Loaded Ginger Snap Cookies

In the last few days we’ve been partaking in one of our favorite holiday traditions by building gingerbread houses with the extended family. My dad’s birthday is in December and the houses are one of his favorite activities. Now, I enjoy the decorating and all, but for me there’s always a vague problem in the idea of using really good eating gingerbread to build gingerbread houses. So I find that I go for gingerbread that is more structurally sound for building and then crave something amazing to eat.

This is where these Loaded Ginger Snap Cookies come in. Now we’ve talked about ginger snaps before and I’ve shared one of my favorite recipes, but that was before my sweetheart husband found Alton Brown’s version of Ginger Snaps. Oh my goodness, what a wonderful cookie with three kinds of ginger in it. The only problem was that they lost moisture and crumbled too soon. So it was Ultra Gel to the rescue of our ginger snaps and with a few adjustments we have a wonderful ginger snap cookie that is Bunneh’s favorite cookie ever. I love them too, and even funnier so does Little Girl who isn’t even two yet. We’re definitely raising a foodie!

These cookies freeze really well either in dough balls or baked, so make up a big batch and split it for wonderful cookies all holiday season.

triple ginger cokies

Loaded Ginger Snap Cookies

2 1/4 cup flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 Tbsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp salt

2 Tbsp Ultra Gel

1 cup dark brown sugar

5 ounces unsalted butter, soft

3 ounces molasses

1 large egg

1/4 cup milk

2 tsp grated fresh ginger

1/4-1/2 cup finely chopped candied ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, soda, ginger, cardamom, cloves, salt and Ultra Gel and set aside. In a stand mixer combine the brown sugar and butter and beat until light and fluffy 2-3 minutes. Add molasses, egg and fresh ginger and beat until well combined. Fold in crystallized ginger. Add the dry ingredients and mix to combine.

Drop batter by spoonsful onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes to desired doneness. 12 minutes will give you a fairly chewy cookie and 15 more crispy. Remove from oven and cool on pans for 1 minute before transferring to a cooling rack to fully cool. Store in an airtight container.

For freezing: Scoop dough into balls and place on a cookie sheet. Freeze until batter balls are solid. Remove to a ziptop bag and squeeze out as much air as possible and seal. Label, date and keep frozen.

Easy Whipped Key Lime Pie

I got a few questions asking for more information about my key lime pie, so I thought I’d expand on the wonders of key lime pie a little. A traditional key lime pie is made with egg yolks, key lime juice and sweetened condensed milk. The idea is that the acid ‘cooks’ the egg and the whole thing forms a delicious emulsion which sets in a graham cracker or crushed nut crust. I like traditional key lime pie. However, it takes a bit to set and if you are at all concerned about the raw egg it can be a turn off. So a few years back I created a key lime pie that is based off of the flavors of the original but with a lighter texture and no egg. In this case Ultra Gel steps in to hold the emulsification together and whipped cream adds lightness.

Now, one of the other fun things with this recipe is that you can get creative with other citrus flavors. I’ve replaced the lime juice with lemon juice and a couple drops of food coloring for a fun pink lemonade pie (pictured below), and substituting orange juice makes for a fun orange dream flavored pie. I expect pineapple would be good too, but I haven’t tried that one yet.

So here’s something a little different for your next Christmas party. I particularly like to serve it up in tart sized crusts for a great appetizer that is a little sweet and a whole lot of sassy.

pink lemonade pie IMG_2097

Easy Whipped Key Lime Pie

1/4 cup key lime juice (or other concentrated citrus juice)

1 can sweetened condensed milk

2 Tbsp Ultra Gel

2 cups whipped stabilized whipping cream (I always use the Ultra Gel recipe 1 pint cream, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, vanilla to taste, 1/2 tsp salt and 1-3 tsp Ultra Gel)

Combine juice, sweetened condensed milk and Ultra Gel until well blended. Fold in whipped cream and pour into a graham cracker pie crust. Top with additional whipping cream. Refrigerate until ready to serve. This is also really good frozen.

Tips for Cream Pies and Fabulous Meringue

Cream piesWith Thanksgiving around the corner I’ve been getting a lot of questions about pies. Since the pies are my favorite part of the holiday, and usually the one I’m in charge of, I do have some tricks of the trade to pass along. So pull out a chair and come into my parlor.

Five Tips for Amazing Cream Pies

1: Use a cooked custard for your filling. Whether you use the recipes from Cornabys (And we have some great ones), or you love your Jello, go with the cooked versions. The benefits of the cooked versions are two fold. Part the first, the cooked custard sets more firmly and will be much easier to slice without making a huge mess. Part the second the lactose (milk sugar) in the dairy when cooked caramelizes and tastes fantastic, so you’ll get a much richer flavor from the cooked versions than the instant ones.

2: If you don’t use a cooked custard make sure to decrease the amount of liquid going into your instant pie filling so the starches can give you a more stable set.

3: Watch your heat! When cooking a pudding or custard there is the vast temptation to get the job done and kick the heat to high. Dairy does not like heat and in particular it doesn’t like to boil. When you boil your puddings you end up with scorching and a curdled mess. So cook your fillings on medium heat. It takes longer, but it gives you a better result.

4: Do not add flavorings or fruit to the custard until it has cooled for at least 10 minutes (the exception to this is cocoa powder which in a homemade custard you’ll add at the beginning and cook the product with the cocoa in it). Many of the extracts we use in cooking have an alcohol or oil base and if the custard is still too hot that will boil off immediately and many of those flavors will be lost. As well fruit can partially cook and brown and cookies will go soggy. So be patient.

5: Wait to top with whipping cream until your pies are completely cool. If they’re still warm they’ll liquify the cream and that is not a happy thing. As well…do your wonderful pies the justice of really good whipping cream. Many non dairy creamers are stable, but not particularly tasty or good for you. So look for a good real cream whipping cream. If you’re worried about your cream falling, just add 1 tsp of Ultra Gel per pint of cream when you’re whipping it and watch the magic. :)

Now, speaking of toppings, one of the toppings that many people like but struggle with is the meringue. Meringue is usually a combination of egg whites and sugar which has been whipped and then cooked just long enough to get a good set and a crispy exterior. Some recipes include a little cream of tartar to help stabilize the whip. Given all of that this is still a topping that many people struggle with because it can weep and break. So there are a few things I can suggest to keep this topping fantastic.

1: Always make sure your meringue comes all the way to the edge of the pie. If it’s just sitting in the center as it cooks the sugar around the edges will cause the meringue to melt and ooze. As long as you get the meringue to the crust or edge of the pie plate it will have something to bind to that isn’t sugary and won’t be as prone to break down.

2: Add a little Ultra Gel to your recipe (about 1 tsp per egg white). Add the Ultra Gel early on when you are first bringing your meringue to a foam and it will help to hold the moisture in the meringue and keep it from breaking both upon the first serving and even into the next day.

Here is our favorite recipe for meringue. We’d love to see yours!

Ultra Gel Meringue

3 egg whites
3 tsp Ultra Gel
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

In large bowl, beat egg whites Ultra Gel and cream of tartar until foamy. Gradually, 1 Tbsp at a time, add sugar, beating until fully incorporated before adding the next Tbsp. Beat to stiff peaks. Spread over prepared pie and bake at 350 until top is just browned. Enjoy!

Pecan Pie Bars

The big Thanksgiving countdown is on, and with the day of family dinner just around the corner I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the pies which will be coming with me this year. One of my favorite pies is pecan pie. It’s a rich pie with one of my favorite nuts and carmelly goodness both on top and underneath. There is very little about pecan pie I don’t like. However, sometimes the ratio of nuts to everything else isn’t quite right and the crust can be hard to cut. As well it takes a while to cook and making enough for everyone can be financially difficult when pecans are 8-9 bucks a pound. What’s a girl to do?

My answer is pecan pie bars! This is a great solution as it combines a shortbread crust with all the goodness of pecan pie filling and plenty of nuts without having to deal with whole pecans, or long baking times. This is all for the good. And one large batch makes 12 to 16 servings, depending on how thick you want to cut them. 12 in my house definitely!

So here’s the recipe for really good pecan pie bars. I started with a Land o Lakes recipe and made some changes as I think adding Ultra Gel to both the crust and the filling help keep them both more balanced and tender. I also change up the filing a bit. So here’s a link to the original and here’s my version. See which one you adore.

pecan pie bars

Pecan Pie Bars


1 cup flour

3/4 cups whole wheat flour

1 Tbsp Ultra Gel

3/4 cups butter, softened

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup chopped pecans


1 cup corn syrup

1/2 cup dark corn syrup

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

3 eggs

3 Tbsp Ultra Gel

6 Tbsp flour

2 tsp vanilla

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine 1 cup flour, 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, butter, Ultra Gel and sugar in a bowl. Beat at medium speed until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in 1/3 cup pecans and press evenly onto bottom of ungreased 13×9 inch baking pan. Bake 18-22 minutes or until edges are light golden brown.

Combine all filling ingredients except pecans and mix well. Stir in pecans. Spread over hot crust. Bake an additional 30-35 minutes until filling is set and knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool and cut into bars.

Double the batch to make in an edge jelly roll pan!

Bonus recipe!

Easy Cheater Key Lime Pie

1/4 cup key lime juice

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1 Tbsp Ultra Gel

2 cups whipped whipping cream

Combine juice, sweetened condensed milk and Ultra Gel until well blended. Fold in whipped cream and pour into a graham cracker pie crust. Top with additional whipping cream. Refrigerate until ready to serve. This is also really good frozen.

Pumpkin Cake Revisited

Last November I introduced everyone to my family’s favorite pumpkin cake. This cake is a combination of all the best things in pumpkin pie with a rich cake crust and a strudely topping. (I’m pretty sure strudely is a word somewhere.) Well, this year we made some adjustments to the recipe and the new pumpkin cake is even BETTER.

Pumpkin cake still starts with basic ingredients and ends up in a cake which is a balance of pumpkin custard and cake, but we’ve cut back on the sugar and changed around the spices for more contrast. Pumpkin cake can also be made with homemade pumpkin puree or pumpkin butter, though you may find the flavor a little different from what you’re used to. Not different bad, but just different, a bit lighter but ever so fresh. The recipe also works well if you start with a Gluten free cake mix, putting pumpkin cake on the menu for those who are gluten intolerant! This pumpkin cake is a great place to start if you haven’t already indulged your pumpkin cravings, or just practicing up for Thanksgiving.

With the holidays on the way make sure to check our store often as out gift packs and other gift options are coming on sale. There’s nothing like a raspberry chipotle dressing on turkey or quick Ultra Gel powered gravy!

pumpkin cake

Pumpkin Cake – Revisited


1 white or yellow cake mix (reserve 1 cup)

1 egg

1 Tbsp Ultra Gel

1/4 cup milk

½ cup melted butter


1 (29 oz) can 100% pure pumpkin

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

3 large eggs, slightly beaten

2 Tbsp Ultra Gel

1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk


1 cup reserved cake mix

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

¼ cup softened butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the crust ingredients and press mixture on the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch cake pan.

Combine pumpkin, sugar, salt and spices in large bowl. Mix with electric mixer on low speed until combined. Add eggs and mix on low speed for an additional 1 minute. Gradually mix in Ultra Gel and evaporated milk. Pour pumpkin mixture over unbaked crust.

Combine dry ingredients for topping mixture together in small bowl. Add butter and mix together until crumbly. Sprinkle topping over pumpkin mixture.

Bake for 1 hour until the pumpkin cake tests done in the center. Allow to cool and serve with sweetened whipped cream. Refrigerate leftovers.