CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN — DECEMBER 14

Even if you’re not a baker or don’t have time to bake, you can still whip up a holiday candy in no time.  One of my favorite holiday confections is Haystacks, which were introduced to me by my friend Patricia.  I remember her bringing them over one Christmas many moons ago, and I also remember how we wanted to go knock on her door. empty plate in hand, and say “More please.”  The recipe is easy, and consists of butterscotch chips, peanut butter, and potato sticks, which combine for an addictive salty sweet crunchy confection.  Her sister came up with the genius idea of decorating them with a few Red Hots or Cinnamon Imperials, which combine in the strangest way to create a really fun holiday treat.  Trust me on this one.

But before I get to the recipe, I also want to share a couple of other quick, easy confections from a few of my blogging friends (all of whom are award-winning home cooks) that will make your friends think you are a descendant of Willie Wonka:

SONY DSC Almond Butter Buckeyes from Seasonal & Savory

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  Honeycomb Toffee from Savoury Table

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Lake Travis Mud from Cookie Madness

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Chocolate Stout & Pretzel Truffles from The Growing Foodie

Now that I’ve primed the pump and you’re probably drooling, here’s the recipe for Haystacks.  Enjoy!

HAYSTACKS
Print
Recipe type: Candy
Author:
Ingredients
  • 11-ounce package (1-2/3 cups) butterscotch chips
  • ¾ cup creamy peanut butter
  • 9-ounce can shoestring potato sticks
  • Red Hots or Cinnamon Imperials, for optional garnish
Instructions
  1. Place butterscotch chips in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir until melted and smooth. Stir in peanut butter until completely blended and smooth. Add potato sticks and stir until coated. Drop mixture by rounded tablespoonfuls onto a waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Garnish with Red Hots as desired. Refrigerate until firm. Makes approximately 2 dozen.

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Ready to go in the refrigerator to set up 

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Looking festive

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Your friends will be asking for “More please”

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN — DECEMBER 13

Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you have to give up date night.  In the crush of holiday parties, end-of-year deadlines, shopping, wrapping, decorating, and baking, there’s something very satisfying about turning your back on all of it while you enjoy a night out with your spouse or sweetheart.

This weekend we decided on the spur of the moment to go out for dinner, just the two of us, at a nice restaurant.  A little time-saving tip for last minute dining — instead of searching for reservations by checking restaurants one at time, you can go to Open Table, select your city, number of people, and time of desired reservation, and it’ll provide you with a list of available reservations.  In Houston, which regularly tops the Zagat list of cities where residents eat out the most (in 2013, Houstonians ate out an average of 5.5 meals per week), reservations are a necessity if you’re looking for something a notch above a burger or fajitas.  We saw on Open Table that Lucille’s had openings, made a reservation, and headed out for a relaxing meal.

Lucille’s is located at 5512 La Branch, catty-corner from The Children’s Museum (and thank heavens, my days of going there and chasing my kids around the van from Mexico exhibit are behind me).  The restaurant is named after Chef Chris Williiams’ great grandmother and “Texas culinary legend” Lucille Bishop Smith, who according to the website, “has been named the first African American business woman in Texas.”  She was famous for her chili biscuits, which were reportedly served at the White House and on American Airlines.

Inside, the dark-paneled restaurant has a neighborhood feel, with a well-attended bar.  But it’s Lucille’s charming patio, which must be one of Houston’s best kept outdoor dining secrets, that we really  look forward to.  On a cool evening, enjoying the restaurant’s clever takes on classic southern dishes under the stars, it feels almost like being on vacation.

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Start with an order of Lucille’s famous chili biscuits — tender little chili and cheese-topped bites:

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Fried green tomatoes are crisp and tangy:

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And even if you don’t think you like oysters (like me), you’ll flip over these fried oysters:

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One of my favorite entrees is the restaurant’s version of shrimp and grits, with big plump shrimp, savory smoked sausage, and a few roasted cherry tomatoes, in a delicious broth:

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Another standout is pork and beans, which is a huge braised pork shank with a caramelized exterior, sitting atop a colorful medley of fava beans, lima beans, peas, and tomatoes:

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On this occasion, my husband enjoyed a special of striped bass with shrimp, lentils, and broccolini:

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Other offerings currently include salads, fried yardbird (chicken), seared duck, braised lamb shank, and a juicy burger — something for everyone.

We had a great meal and a great time, and stepping away from the holiday stuff for a few hours was decidedly a good thing.  If you haven’t tried Lucille’s, consider it for your next date night, or lunch with friends, or birthday dinner . . . .

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