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Another tradition I established for our family was baking a special coffeecake for Christmas morning breakfast. In the early years there were a few different cakes tried but the one that became the favorite was an almond cheese filled cake. For my children, their spouses and their children, Christmas morning is not the same without this cake. I share this recipe and how to make it with you here in this post.

This coffeecake dough can be shaped in the form of a wreath or a horseshoe or even a candy cane. I make it in the form of a log because it fits in the freezer better.

Since Christmas morning is busy enough, you do not want to be baking on Christmas morning or even the day before. This cake freezes well, so you can make it ahead of time, defrost overnight in the refrigerator and reheat the next morning in a 350 degree F. oven for 15 minutes. Let sit for a few minutes on a serving plate and then drizzle with frosting. You can also decorate the cake with glazed cherries or other festive trimmings.

Almond Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Dough

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 packages (1/4 ounce each or 4 ½ teaspoons) instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (110° to 115°)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 1/2 cups Eagle Brand Ultra Grain all-purpose flour (or 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour and 1 cup white whole wheat flour)

FILLING:

  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 8 ounces almond paste

GLAZE:

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Dough: Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in the electric mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add water and eggs and beat until well combined. Mix in the flour until the dough comes to a ball or comes away from the sides of the mixer bowl. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for about 5 minutes or until you’ve made a soft, smooth dough.

Remove the dough to a floured surface. Grease the bowl and return the dough to the bowl. Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it’s puffy (though not necessarily doubled in bulk).

Filling: While the dough is rising, prepare the filling by beating the cream cheese and the almond paste together until smooth. Chill until ready to use.

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Assembly:

Cover two baking pans with parchment paper.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and divide it in half. Roll each half into a 15 x 10-inch rectangle.

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Spread half of the filling on the dough, leaving a half inch border all around the dough.

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Fold 1/3 of the dough towards the center and fold the other side on top of the folded side. See photo.

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Place bread on prepared pan. Cut 1-inch-wide strips from each side of the filling out to the edges of the dough. Seal edges.

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Baking: Allow the braids to rise, covered with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size.

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Bake the braids for 22 minutes rotating pans halfway through the baking time.

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Remove from the oven, and cool on a wire rack. Yield: 2 braids.

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When braids are cool wrap in heavy duty foil and freeze. Braids should be defrosted overnight in the refrigerator and heated the next day in a 350 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove foil and place on a serving plate.

To make the glaze:  Combine the powdered sugar, almond extract and enough milk to make a frosting that can be poured over the braids. Allow glaze to set before cutting the braids.



Just like the rest of our food, when the days warm up, appetizers should get light ! If you’re planning a springtime/summer party, keep finger food healthy with lots of  fresh fruits and veggies.  Graduation, pre-prom parties, communions, anniversaries or whatever the occasion,  appetizer parties are a great way to entertain.

One factor to consider in selecting the foods is to serve an appealing contrast of hot and cold appetizers. As you plan, you will need to weigh such practical matters, as how much space is available in your refrigerator or freezer and how many appetizers you can heat at one time.

Foods served together should offer different textures. Crisp, crunchy vegetables and crackers match up well with creamy dips, spreads and cheeses. Think about flavor and variety as well. An hors d’oeuvre assortment in which the same seasonings and herbs are used to flavor every dish would be monotonous. Pair spicy, dense, or richly flavored foods with something uncomplicated, like maybe some ice-cold radishes.

For a variety at a large party, plan on serving at least one appetizer from each of these categories: meat or poultry, fish or seafood, cheese and vegetables or fruits. You’ll want a good balance for a small gathering too, but on a less ambitious scale.

Eye appeal is always important for party appetizers. No matter how attractive foods are individually, you must also consider their collective impact. Make sure the colors of food served side by side contrast appealingly.

Tips

Use this handy Portion Calculator to figure out how many appetizers you need per guest.
http://www.theperfectbiteco.com/about/planning-guide

  • Prepare dips and marinated dishes one or two days ahead.
  • Pre-slice and chop ingredients and store them in plastic bags or containers in your refrigerator – assemble them the day of the event.
  • Decorate the party area and set out non-perishables including serving utensils and dishes the night before.
  • Try to have a balance between appetizers that you can prepare ahead of time and those that need to be baked just before serving.

Appetizers That Taste Good And Are Good For You

appetizers

Salmon Pastries with Dill Pesto                                                                                                                                         

Basil Pesto can also work if you are not a fan of dill.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup lightly packed chopped fresh dill weed
  • 1/3 cup Light Olive Oil
  • 1/4 cup Chopped Walnuts
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper, if desired
  • 3/4 pound salmon fillet, patted dry
  • 1 box (15 oz) Pillsbury® refrigerated pie crusts, room temperature
  • Dill weed sprigs

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 400°F. In food processor bowl with metal blade or in blender, place chopped dill weed, oil, walnuts, lime juice, garlic, mustard, 1/2 cup of the cheese, the salt and pepper. Cover; process, stopping once to scrape side of bowl, until smooth.
  2. If salmon has skin or bones, remove them; rinse filet and pat dry with paper towel. Cut salmon into 24 (1-inch) cubes.
  3. On cutting board, roll 1 pie crust into 12-inch round. Cut into 4 rows by 3 rows to make 12 (4×3-inch) rectangles. Repeat with remaining crust. (Rectangles cut at edge of crust will have rounded side.)
  4. Spoon 1 level teaspoon dill pesto onto center of each rectangle; top with 1 salmon cube. Bring 4 corners of each rectangle over filling to center and pinch at top; pinch corners, leaving small openings on sides to vent steam. (For rectangles with rounded side, bring 3 points together at top, pinching to seal.) 
  5. On ungreased large cookie sheet, place pastries 1 inch apart.
  6. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Place remaining pesto in small resealable food-storage plastic bag. Cut small tip off 1 bottom corner of bag; squeeze bag to drizzle pesto over serving plate. Place pastries on serving plate. Sprinkle pastries with remaining cheese and garnish with dill weed sprigs. Serve warm.

appetizer1

Creamy Seafood and Red Pepper Spread

2-1/4 cups or 18 servings

Ingredients:
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced, divided
  • 8 oz. 1/3 Less Fat than Cream Cheese, room temperature
  • 6 oz. lump crab meat
  • 8  oz.cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup reduced fat Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped roasted red peppers
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
Directions:
Remove 2 tablespoons green onions and set aside.
Mix remaining onions with all remaining ingredients
Refrigerate at least for 1 hour
Sprinkle with reserved onions. Serve with crackers and squash chips. 

Fresh Squash Chips

Offer a healthy side dish option at your next cookout by serving thin slices of summer squash in addition to chips. Serve these fresh veggie “chips” with your favorite dip.
Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds

  • 2 yellow squash, cut into 1/4-inch-thick round

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients and 4 cups cold water in a large bowl. Cover and chill 30 minutes; drain and pat dry with paper towels.

appetizers1

Italian Stuffed Mushrooms  

For parties, make the stuffing and have the mushrooms cleaned and stems removed ahead of time but don’t cook them until close to serving time. Once cooked, stuffed mushrooms do not hold up well for long periods. Bake some, serve and repeat.

Serves 12

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 24 Cremini mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup fennel bulb, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Progresso Italian bread crumbs
  • 24-1 inch (or cut to the size of the mushroom cap) slices of Fontina or Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1/4 cup (packed) fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 large egg
  • Additional olive oil, to brush on mushrooms

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F. Brush 15x10x2 inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.

 Remove mushroom stems and set caps aside. Heat olive oil in a heavy, medium skillet over medium-high heat. Chop stems and add to heated olive oil in skillet.

Add fennel, tomatoes, basil and garlic. Sauté until stems and fennel are tender and beginning to brown, about 12 minutes; transfer to medium bowl. Cool off a little, for approximately 2-3 minutes. Season filling to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in egg and breadcrumbs..

Arrange mushroom caps cavity side up in prepared baking dish. Brush mushroom cavities lightly with additional oil. Mound filling in mushroom cavities, pressing to adhere. Place the 1 inch square slices of cheese on top of each stuffed mushroom prior to baking. Bake until mushrooms are tender and filling is heated through, about 10-12 minutes.

appetizers3

Marinated Olives      

Yield: 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 cups Sicilian cracked green olives
  • 1 1/2 cups Kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves

Directions:
Stir the oil, lemon and orange zest, and red pepper flakes in a heavy small skillet over medium heat just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Add the olives and toss to coat. 
Add the basil; toss to coat. Serve.  (Can be made ahead but add the basil just before serving.)

appetizers4

Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Spread      

Makes 3 cups.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. sweet bell peppers, preferably a combination of red and orange
  • 1 small eggplant, about 1 lb.
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Cover 2 baking sheets with foil. Coat foil with cooking spray. Set pans aside.

Halve peppers lengthwise and seed them. Arrange peppers cut side down on one prepared baking sheet. Place eggplant on second baking sheet and prick with fork all over. Roast peppers and eggplant for 30 to 40 minutes, until skin of peppers is blistered and blackened. Eggplant should be soft but not collapsed.

Using tongs, transfer peppers to large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to steam for 20 minutes. Wrap eggplant with foil that covered the baking sheet, and set aside for 30 minutes.

Using your fingers, peel peppers. Cut flesh into 2-inch chunks, place in food processor and pulse 5 or 6 times to chop peppers coarsely. Scoop chopped peppers into mixing bowl. Pull skin from warm eggplant, using your fingers. Place eggplant flesh in food processor. Add garlic, oil and salt, and whirl to smooth puree. Add pureed eggplant mixture to peppers and stir to combine. Mix in vinegar.

Let spread sit for 1 hour to allow flavors to mellow.  Serve at room temperature with toasted pita triangles. This spread will keep, covered in refrigerator, for up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

appetizer2

Italian Style Sausage Skewers

For variety, you could substitute cubes of melon in place of the grape tomatoes.

12 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces Italian style chicken sausage, such as Al Fresco
  • 8 large basil leaves, or more depending on size
  • 24-1 inch cubes fresh Mozzarella or Provolone cheese
  • 24 grape tomatoes
  • 24 (6-inch) wooden skewers
  • Balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Cook the sausage according to the directions on the package and cut it into 1-inch rounds. Cut the basil leaves lengthwise into thirds.
Put a cheese cube about 1/3 of the way down onto a skewer. Then add 1 strip of basil, folding so it fits nicely on the skewer. Follow with 1 grape tomato and a round of sausage. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar before serving.

I always include a bowl of fresh fruit, no matter what type of party I am hosting. Folks dig in every time.

Fresh Fruit Bowl

Use whatever fresh fruit is in season.
Ingredients

  • 8 to 10 cups fresh melon cubes
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries
  • 2 cups fresh pineapple chunks
  • 1 bunch seedless red grapes, halved
  • Fresh mint leave

Directions

Combine fruit, cover and refrigerate overnight. Just before serving garnish with fresh mint leaves..

  • Yield: 3-4 quarts.



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