RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Christmas

Peppermint Mocha Cakes

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…

We’re at the three day countdown to Christmas and the excitement is bubbling over in our home. Our annual cookie exchange took place last weekend, and last night we hosted our first ‘white elephant’ booze exchange amongst my siblings and a few other honorary family members.

IMG_2047

It was a roaring success, most certainly to be repeated in future years. I won a couple bottles of hard cider from a local orchard, a wine glass sippy cup, and a bottle of One Hope pinot noir, a portion of whose profits go toward funding adoptions for homeless animals. Every sip comes with complimentary images of wagging puppy tails and frolicking kittens. Christmas win!

IMG_2046

Gifts marked for the exchange

Tomorrow I’ll cook our annual chicken parmesan dinner, then Tuesday I’ll prepare the beef bourguignon for the Christmas dinner we will celebrate with 16 people. The abundance of our blessings in love, and family, and friendships does not go unnoticed.

IMG_2063

Brothers

Before we get swept into the Christmas tornado, I wanted to share this recipe with you. These delicious little peppermint mocha bundt cakes evolved from one of my favorite Hershey’s chocolate cake recipes. They’re moist and rich, with a minty mocha flavor reminiscent of my favorite holiday Starbucks beverage. Make them as mini cakes, perfect for gifting or bake sale donations, or make it as a full-sized treat for your holiday table.

IMG_1876

Peppermint Mocha Cakes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 3/4 cup very strong, hot coffee

For the coffee glaze:

  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • A few tablespoons brewed coffee

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour 12 mini-bundt pans or 1 12-cup bundt pan.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and peppermint. Beat for a couple minutes until well combined. Gradually add the hot coffee and stir. (The batter will be thinner than you might expect.) Pour the batter into the prepared pans, so that each pan is no more than 2/3 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (Approximately 20-25 minutes for mini-bundts, 50-55 minutes for large bundt pan) Cool completely.

To prepare the glaze, gradually stir a little hot coffee into the confectioner’s sugar until a smooth glaze forms. Drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake, then garnish with a crushed candy cane.

Makes 12 mini-bundt cakes or 1 large bundt cake

IMG_1878

Triple Ginger Cookies and Holiday Sangria

This past weekend, I hosted my third annual cookie exchange party. Cookie party, for me, is quite simply an excuse to have a bunch of my friends over to my festively adorned house, so we can indulge in afternoon cocktails and eat cookies.

We eat cheese. We drink holiday sangria, pomegranate champagne cocktails, and cocoa. We trade cookies. The kids make holiday crafts. Everyone has grand time.

IMG_2001

This year’s party was apparently so grand and inviting, that perfect strangers decided to join us.

No joke.

My cookie party got crashed by three women wearing Santa hats.

IMG_2005

They walked up our driveway, let themselves in through the front door, sat on our stairs to remove their winter boots, coats, and hats, then proceeded to walk through the house in search of someone they knew.

One of my friends alerted me to the presence of my new guests, who were wandering my house at that very moment. I ran to my husband to find out what to do.

We were just about to greet our new guests as they walked into the living room and realized their mistake.

IMG_2013

One woman, who appeared to be the mother of the other two, mumbled an embarrassed apology, then made a hasty exit. The other two women sat on the stairs while they laced up what seemed like the tallest winter boots in creation. They then chased after their mom, who was already in her car driving down the road in search of their intended party.

Had it been me, standing there, eating a piece of cheese in the living room of a complete stranger, surrounded by that stranger’s family and friends, I would have run out of that house barefoot, into the foot and a half of snow on the ground.

IMG_2027

Had they brought cookies to share, I would have eagerly encouraged them to stay. But, as I always say, every time someone crashes my cookie party… No cookies? No cocktails!

Next year, I’m hiring a cookie bouncer for my party.

IMG_2020

These spicy, triple-ginger cookies were my contribution to the cookie buffet. They’re sweet and chewy and oozing with gingery flavor. The holiday sangria, which follows, is accented with festive flavors of orange, ginger, cinnamon, and pomegranate.

You’d have crashed my cookie party too, if you knew these cookies and sangria were waiting inside.

IMG_2037

Triple Ginger Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  •  1 2-ounce bottle crystallized ginger, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups flour

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sugar, eggs, and oil. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until well blended. Roll into 1″ balls. Arrange the balls about 1 1/2″ apart on a baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until crackles form on the top. Remove the cookies from the oven, then give the baking sheet a little whack on the counter to flatten the cookies.

IMG_1988

Holiday Sangria

Ingredients

  • 1.5 liter bottle of sweet red wine (I used Sutter Home’s Sweet Red Wine)
  • 1/2 cup triple sec
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup ginger ale
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 pear, chopped
  • 1 pomegrante
  • 1 orange

Directions

Combine the wine, triple sec, orange juice, and ginger ale. Add the cinnamon stick and the chopped pear. Remove the arils from the pomegranate and add to the mixture. Remove the orange segments from the orange, chop into small pieces and add to the mixture. Remove the white pith from the orange peel, then slice the peel into small slivers. Add to the sangria. Chill and enjoy.

IMG_1997

Rainbow Cookie Cake

Is anybody else planning on getting their two-year-old a Harry & David fruit basket for Christmas this year??

I’m guessing I might be the only one, and yet, I’m 99.99% certain that it will be his favorite gift, by far. The kid is ridiculously in love with fruit.

IMG_1887

In fact, on Halloween, we stopped by my sister’s house to trick-or-treat. She handed each of the boys a piece of candy from the bowl of treats by her door, before remembering that she had an ultra-ripe Harry & David pear for my littlest guy. She ran into her kitchen to grab the foil-wrapped gem, then handed it to my little James, who literally threw the piece of candy over his shoulder like a piece of worthless garbage, in exchange for the tender pear.

I expect him to be as excited over his Harry & David fruit basket as the other boys will be over their massive Lego castle and Minecraft video game.

IMG_1898

When it comes to Christmas, I am like Walt Disney, carefully masterminding magical moments. While James revels in the magic of an assortment of unusually large, perfectly ripened fruit, I expect the other two boys to be doing giggling backflips over the two-foot-long gummy worm I plan to order or the giant rice krispie treat I found at Target.

IMG_1920

In the spirit of magical, over-sized treats, I think you’ll enjoy this oversized rainbow cookie cake. It’s like those addictingly delicious, almondy rainbow cookies, only it’s the size of an entire cake. It’s like one, giant rainbow cookie, and I wouldn’t blame you if you ate the whole darn thing.

I started with a recipe for rainbow cookies, then lighted it up just a bit with an additional egg, a bit more flour, and a teaspoon of baking powder. It’s got the dense lusciousness you expect to find in a rainbow cookie, just a bit more cake-like.

IMG_1915

This rich, chocolate-drenched cake is a must-have on any holiday table.

Rainbow Cookie Cake

Ingredients

  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1 8-ounce can almond paste
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Green food coloring
  • Red food coloring
  • Yellow food coloring
  • Seedless raspberry jam
  • Apricot jam
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Chocolate sprinkles

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray three 9×5 inch loaf pans with baking spray.

Place the five egg whites into a clean bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Use a fork to break up the almond paste into smaller pieces. In a large bowl, combine the almond paste and sugar with an electric mixer until there are no large lumps. Add the butter and beat until well combined. Add the egg yolks and almond extract and beat until blended.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

Gradually beat the flour mixer into the wet ingredients. The dough will be quite thick.

Stir one third of the beaten egg whites into the dough. This will slightly lighten the mixture. Then, fold in the remaining egg whites until well blended.

Divide the dough into three equal portions. Use a few drops of food coloring to color one portion red, another portion green, and the remaining portion yellow. *Gel food coloring has the best effect.

Use a spatula to spread each portion of dough into the three prepared baking pans.

Bake on the middle rack of your oven for 20-25 minutes, until the cakes are set and the edges just begin to turn golden.

Allow the cakes to cool for a few minutes in the pans, then carefully invert the cakes onto cooling racks. Cool completely.

Use a long serrated knife to level the cakes, removing as little cake as necessary.

Spread a layer of raspberry jam over the red layer. Place the yellow layer over the jam, then spread the apricot jam on top. Top with the red layer.

Chop the semisweet chocolate. Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan or in the microwave, just until boiling. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, then stir until smooth. Use a spatula to spread the chocolate ganache over the top and sides of the cake. Garnish liberally with chocolate sprinkles.

Refrigerate to set, but remove the cake from the fridge before serving, so it comes up to room temperature.

IMG_1949

Spiced Mango Upside Down Cake

When I think of mangos, my first thoughts are of tropical flavors. I’m pretty sure the mango belongs somewhere in that song with the lime and the coconut. I think of seafood and summery flavors, like fish tacos and spicy mango salsa (with mango margaritas on the side). I think of mango creamsicle smoothies, chilled mango cucumber soups, or even barbecue bacon mango pizzas. It’s certainly never occurred to me to combine mango with the aromatic spices of the holiday season, like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, or cloves.

So, when the National Mango Board offered to send me a sampling of mangos along with some ideas for pairing mangos with festive holiday flavors, my interest was piqued. I accepted their offer, eager for the opportunity to experiment with one of my favorite fruits in a novel way.

The shipment of perfectly ripe mangos arrived last week. Along with the selection of vibrant mangos, the National Mango Board provided a sampling of seasonal spices and a few recipe cards for inspiration. One of those recipe cards grabbed my attention in a way I couldn’t resist; Mango Upside Down Cake.

This festive spiced mango upside down cake is a definite keeper. The cake is moist and flavorful with a satisfying texture, the result of folding beaten egg whites into the batter; an extra step worth taking. And I’m fairly certain I could be happy eating nothing but the tender mango and caramelized top of this cake for the rest of my life. Seriously, the gooey top layer of this cake is something that epic poems should be written about.

This cake would work well any time of year, though I think it would be make a perfect addition to any Thanksgiving or Christmas dessert spread. The glazed top and artful mango star make it truly show-stopping and worthy of the festive season!

Today’s Focus on Technique – Folding in Egg Whites

Beaten egg whites can be folded into a variety of dishes, such as cake, mousse, souffle, and waffles for a lighter, fluffier result. The goal of folding in the egg whites, as compared to just stirring them in, is to maintain as much of the air, which has been beaten into the egg whites, as possible.

To begin, start by carefully separating the yolks from the whites, taking care not to allow any yolk to mix with the whites. (This can prevent the egg whites from getting properly light and fluffy.) Beat the egg whites using an electric mixer at medium/medium-high speed until soft peaks form. To incorporate the egg whites into your batter, start by adding about 1/3 of the beaten egg whites. Holding your spatula in an almost horizontal position, gently turn the mixture over the egg whites until the egg whites are incorporated. (This first 1/3 helps to lighten the batter, making it easier to incorporate the remaining 2/3). Add another 1/3 of the mixture, gently lifting and turning the batter over the egg whites. Add the remaining 1/3 of the egg whites, using the same gentle lifting and turning maneuver, just until the egg whites are blended and no longer. Over-mixing the egg whites into the batter will diminish the lightening effect of the beaten egg whites.

Spiced Mango Upside Down Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened (divided)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 large mango, peeled, pitted and sliced ¼-inch thick
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup mango nectar or mango puree
  • 1/3 cup milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan, set aside.

In small saucepan, melt ½ stick of butter and stir in brown sugar, simmer for about 2 minutes. Pour mixture into prepared cake pan and top with sliced mango, creating a circular fan pattern.

In medium bowl, stir  together flour, baking powder, salt, cloves, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat remaining 1 stick softened butter, granulated sugar and orange zest on high until pale yellow and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add whole egg yolks, one at a time until well blended. Add vanilla. Decrease speed to low and add half of flour mixture. Mix in mango nectar (or mango puree) and milk and then remaining flour mixture.

In another bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold one third of the egg whites into the batter. Repeat with another third of the egg whites. Finally, fold the remaining third of egg whites into the batter, taking care not to over-mix.

Carefully pour cake batter over mangos, spreading evenly. Bake for about an hour, or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes then invert cake onto plate. Cool completely.

Garnish with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and candied orange peel, if desired.

*Recipe slightly modified from the one provided by the National Mango Board

The National Mango Board provided me with a box of mangos and sampling of spices, which I used to prepare this recipe.

Mini Chicken Parm Hors d’oeuvres

Last week, in the rush of finalizing Christmas arrangements, I lost my baby’s stroller. My angel-faced three-year-old was in the midst of a full-fledged tantrum at the time. We’d actually needed to make a very rapid exit from Panera due to the aforementioned tantrum. My head was spinning to the sound of his screams. I drove off without the stroller. I’m lucky I didn’t forget one of the kids in the parking lot!

I didn’t realize my mistake until two days later when I went to retrieve the stroller from the back of my car. After a bit of confusion, I remembered the last time I’d seen it and figured what I must have done. In the hopes of getting the stroller back, I returned to the store to inquire if anyone had turned in a stroller. The cashier proceeded to pull out and paw through the store’s 12×18″ lost and found box. Ummm…I don’t think you’re going to find a stroller in that little box. Once the cashier was satisfied that the stroller was not in fact hiding under the mittens in the lost and found box, she called over the store manager who reported that it had been seen in the parking lot, but no one had turned it in.

Buh-bye stroller.

But my three-year-old, the cause of the commotion which led to the stroller’s loss, was still certain he was on Santa’s nice list. He was also certain that Santa would be delivering the very item he desired; a samurai castle play set. So certain, in fact, that in the days leading up to Christmas, he began practicing his reaction for discovering the samurai castle. And when he came bursting into our room before dawn on Christmas morning, anxious to run downstairs to check under the tree, he exclaimed “I’m gonna go downstairs and I’m gonna say WHAT??? A samurai castle?? For ME???”

Lucky for him, Santa must have decided he was nice enough to land on the nice list.

We had a lovely Christmas weekend all around, beginning with Christmas Eve. For many years now, it’s become our tradition to eat chicken parmesan on Christmas Eve. I made it for my husband’s family one Christmas Eve, many moons ago, and the tradition just stuck. But this year, we planned to have lunch at Dinosaur BBQ on Christmas Eve. We all agreed that a big BBQ lunch and heavy chicken parm dinner would be way too much indulgence for one day. So, we decided we’d have a few little hors d’oeuvre type snacks for our dinner instead. Hors d’oeuvre dinner happens to be my family’s longtime Christmas Eve tradition. But, not to sacrifice our annual chicken parm, I came up with these little baby parm hors d’oeuvres. It sort of feels like this melding of our family’s traditions was always meant to be.

For those of you planning New Year’s Eve menus, these mini chicken parms would make a delicious addition! We also enjoyed Cranberry Chipotle Meatballs and Mini Crabcakes with Chipotle Remoulade. And for a few other hors d’oeuvres ideas, click HERE.

Mini Chicken Parms

Ingredients

  • 1 pound chicken tenders or thinly sliced chicken breast
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
  • Olive oil
  • 1 French baguette, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • Fresh parsley, torn or chopped
  • 1 cup thick, smooth, full-flavored tomato sauce (I used a smooth pizza sauce.)
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the chicken tenders into small pieces (about 1″ square). Dip the chicken into the beaten eggs. Then dip each piece into the bread crumbs. Press the crumbs onto all sides of the chicken. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. When good and hot, place a few of the breaded chicken pieces into the oil. Cook for about two minutes on each side, until golden brown and cooked through. Place the cooked chicken onto paper towels to remove the excess oil. Repeat, in small batches until all chicken has been cooked.

In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, parmesan and a bit of fresh parsley. Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet. Spread some of the cheese mixture onto each slice of baguette. Place a cooked piece of breaded chicken on top of the cheese. Drizzle each piece of chicken with tomato sauce. (Don’t overdo it on the sauce.) Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top of each.

Bake for about 10 minutes, until hot and melty.

**The chicken can be cooked ahead of time and refrigerated until assembling the hors d’oeuvres. If you prepare and chill the chicken ahead of time, it will take about 5 minutes longer in the oven to reheat during the final baking.

Christmas Feast Menu and Homemade Butter

Ever tried to get a good picture of three little boys, ages four and younger? Harder than herding cats. Enjoy a few of my favorite outtakes from our attempt at a Christmas card picture.

We’re two days from Christmas now and moving into full Santa mode. We’ve been hosting Christmas for as long as we’ve lived in this house, which was my husband’s grandmother’s house for 46 years, until we bought it and made it our home. Christmas has always been hosted in this house and nothing makes me happier than continuing that tradition.

But what we don’t have is a traditional Christmas dinner. Planning new menus is part of the fun for me. So, each year I like to mix things up with a little something different. This year, we’ll be entertaining sixteen of our dearest friends and family members for dinner.

At first I was thinking of serving roast rack of lamb with a cranberry horseradish sauce. But lamb is one of those foods that not everyone enjoys, so it didn’t seem like the wisest choice for such a large crowd. (I’m saving that idea for my New Year’s Eve dinner!)

I considered making the Braised Beef Short Ribs with Figs and Red Wine that I made for a dinner party a few months ago. It’s easy, delicious, and can be made a day ahead of time. But more than anything, the thought of hearing my guests singing, “Oh, bring us some figgy short ribs! Oh, bring us some figgy short ribs…” amused the heck out of me. Alas, my grocery store hasn’t been well-stocked with short ribs lately and I feared I wouldn’t be able to get enough.

Ultimately, I’ve decided to make Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon. It’s widely enjoyed, can be fully made a day ahead of time, reheats like a dream, and is an affordable option for a such large crowd. And it can be eaten without steak knives, which is particularly convenient since I don’t own 16 steak knives.

On the side I’ll be serving poached pear and pomegranate endive ‘salads’, quiche Lorraine in a homemade all-butter crust, roasted asparagus, buttered egg noodles with fresh parsley, scalloped potatoes au gratin, garlic peas, cheddar garlic biscuits, and French bread.

With homemade butter.

Did I tell you about the lie I told on Thanksgiving? We had just sat down at the table to enjoy our feast. My guests were admiring the array of homemade goodies, including a from-scratch green bean casserole with homemade crispy onion straws on top. And that’s when the lie came bursting out of my mouth. I’m not even sure why I said it. But out it came, “I even made the butter!”

But I hadn’t made the butter. It was just a yellow stick of Wegmans brand butter. I retracted my statement before I’d even finished it. But, I have in fact made butter in the past, back in the day when I taught preschool. It was an annual part of our classroom Thanksgiving feast. It’s simple as can be and a fun task for little helpers.  And so, to make up for my Thanksgiving lie, we’re making homemade butter for our Christmas dinner.

What you’ll need is a container with a tight-fitting lid (a mason jar works well), two clean marbles, 1 cup heavy cream, 1/8 teaspoon salt. Pour the cream into the jar. Add the salt and marbles. Then, shake, shake, shake.

Keep shaking.

Shake some more.

In about 7-10 minutes you should feel the cream thicken and the marbles will become silent. Keep shaking.

Shake it like a shake weight.

Pass the jar off to your guests if your arms get tired. After a few more minutes, the butter will separate from the buttermilk. It’s impossible to miss when this happens. Pour off the buttermilk (and save for other uses, if desired) and remove the marbles, if they’ve wedged themselves in the clump of butter.

Back in my preschool days, we stopped at that step and enjoyed our fresh butter on warm rolls. But, if you want your butter to last longer than a couple days, you’ll want to drain your butter of as much of the buttermilk as possible. To do this, cover the butter with ice cold water. Press the butter with a spoon to release some of the buttermilk. The water will become cloudy. Drain the water. Repeat this process until the water remains clear. Tightly wrap and refrigerate your butter.

Ok…I’m signing off until after Christmas. Time to put my Santa hat on. Wishing you and your loved ones the very merriest of days! And may all of your Christmas wishes come true!

Flat and Chewy Chocolate Cherry Cookies

I love my children with all of my heart and every ounce of my soul. I really do. But, some days, I swear they’re going to land me in the looney bin.

Take the baby, for example, who is certain he’s signed up for the exclusive, all-inclusive, deluxe mommy package, which features uninterrupted day and night snuggle time. He’s been filing his very vocal complaints with customer service every time I place him down to wrap a gift or bake a cookie.

Then there’s my oldest. He’s four (and a half) now. And he’s bursting with Christmas spirit and big ideas involving my Christmas decorations and the pile of trash I just finished gathering. He’s like an eager elf with a sledgehammer and glue.

But, it’s my three-year-old who is going to sign the papers at the crazy house. This funny little fellow aptly took on the role of middle-child long before there was a baby to make it official. He is cute as a button and silly as a goose, but boy does he have a flair for the dramatics! He’s got a propensity for tantrums even on his best days and when he’s not feeling well…well, just be thankful you don’t need to be around him when he’s sick. He was sick last week, just in time for the Christmas rush…a little virus which led to a double ear infection, which caused a few miserable, feverish days. It put a bit of a kink in my carefully crafted schedule leading up to Christmas. But, such is life with a family. You take the challenges with the rewards and be thankful when the challenges are only as major as an ear infection and a few tantrums. He’s better now and back at school today, which means I can resume my elfing at double speed.

I’m about to run down to the grocery store now to start gathering provisions for Christmas entertaining. But first I have to share these cookies with you. I decided I needed to add some last minute chocolate chip cookies to this year’s collection, but I didn’t want the standard tollhouse cookie. I wanted something flat and chewy, with big chunks of chocolate and dried cherries. I thought that if I eliminated the baking soda, the cookies would stay flatter. A batch of those cookies proved me wrong. Turns out that the key to flatter cookies is a higher proportion of butter to the other ingredients. So, I reduced the flour, increased the sugar, and played around with the size and baking temperature until I came up with the perfect, flat and chewy chocolate chip cookie.

Trust me, Santa likes his chocolate chip cookies like this!

Flat and Chewy Chocolate Cherry Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cherries, chopped

Directions

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until creamy. Then, beat in the eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually blend the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips and dried cherries. Refrigerate for about an hour. (You can skip the refrigeration, but the dough will be much more manageable after a bit of chilling.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Roll the dough into balls, just under an inch in diameter. (Refrigerate remaining dough between batces.) Place the balls at least 2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake on the middle rack for 11-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Tutti Frutti Chocolate Fudge and Crispy Peanut Butter Snowballs

There’s less than a week until Christmas! Is anyone else absolutely buzzing with excitement? I mean, literally trembling with anticipation??? Or maybe that’s just the result of the extra caffeine I’ve been pumping into my system to give me enough Santa power to get everything accomplished in time.

I hesitate to admit it, but I may have taken on too much this time. I’m absolutely spinning in my to-do list. My kitchen looks like Pamplona post bull run. My guest room (which needs to be houseguest-ready by Wednesday), looks like Santa’s workshop in the 11th hour. There’s glitter permanently embedded in the baby’s scalp (you know that stuff never comes off) from the place-setting ornaments I decided to make for each of my sixteen Christmas dinner guests. And there’s still a googly eye hot-glued to my wrist from the small army of candy cane reindeer my sons and I prepared for their little schoolmates. Oh, and though I’ve been baking faster than the Keebler elves, I don’t think I’ve made enough to pass out to all of the people on my list.

It’s too late to turn back now. Onward we go.

I’ve been tossing around a few stories I’d hoped to pair with this post, stories about Christmas trees, wish lists, and snakes in my bathtub. Yes, snakes in my bathtub! But, I fear I may never get this posted if I don’t just get right to it! So, let’s just do this.

They say variety is the spice of life. Well, same goes for cookie platters. The key to a great cookie platter is variety of flavors, textures, and color. So, in addition to the standard mix of baked oatmeal chocolate chip craisin cookies, vanilla cherry drops, and sand tarts, I like to include a few other non-cookie type goodies…like chocolate dipped dried fruits or pretzels, truffles, and fudge. Like this simple and delicious tutti frutti chocolate fudge or kid-friendly crispy peanut butter snowballs!

If you’ve got even a little space left on your holiday to-do list, go ahead and pencil these in!

Tutti Frutti Chocolate Fudge

Ingredients

  • 3 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups mini marshmallows
  • 3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup fruitcake mix (finely chopped, mixed candied fruits), divided

Directions

Lightly butter two 8×8 inch baking dishes or one 13×9 baking dish. Combine sugar, evaporated milk, butter, and salt in a pan over medium heat. Bring to a full boil. Cook 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low if the mixture bubbles up too vigorously. Remove from heat. Stir in the marshmallows and chocolate chips until melted. Stir in 3/4 cup of the candied fruit. Pour the fudge into the baking dish(es). Sprinkle the remaining candied fruit on top. Cool completely at room temperature. Then, refrigerate until firm. Remove the fudge from the baking dish and cut into small squares. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.

Makes 4 pounds

Crispy Peanut Butter Snowballs

Ingredients

  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup crisped rice cereal (Rice Krispies)
  • 1 cup shredded, sweetened coconut

Directions

Combine peanut butter, powdered sugar, and rice cereal until well blended. Roll into 1″ balls. Roll the balls in the shredded coconut to adhere. Store in a cool place until serving or adding to cookie platters.

Coconut Crisps

I mourn my lack of singing ability every time O Holy Night comes on the radio. Man, do I wish I could sing the bananas out of that song! Mind you, my lack of musical ability doesn’t even begin to stop me from belting it out at the top of my lungs. My poor, unfortunate children who have to listen to me sing!

It’s one of my life’s greatest heartaches; my longing for even a pinch of musical ability. I would have been a Broadway star. Or maybe taken Michael Flatley’s place as the fast-stepping star of Riverdance. At least I could have tried, if I’d had even an ounce of talent to pursue that path. But I’m resigned to simply sing along with the soundtracks and watch episodes of So You Think You Can Dance, with both admiration and envy in my heart. It just wasn’t the path my life was meant to take.

But, I can bake.

And I can play around with ingredients to create delicious treats, like these coconut crisps. O holy night, are these good! Thin, crispy, and buttery. We’re going coconuts over these cookies around here. It’s gonna take a lot of self-control to save some for our Christmas guests. I promise I’ll try.

Coconut Crisps

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut

Directions

Using a hand-mixer, blend together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the salt, vanilla, and egg. Beat until well-blended. Blend in the flour and the coconut. Form the dough into a ball and refrigerate for about 30 minutes, until firm and moldable. Form the dough in a log shape, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the log in the wax paper and roll the dough to make it as even and round as possible. Freeze for at least 2 hours, until hard.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the dough into 1/4 inch slices. Arrange the slices on cookies sheets, at least two inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown around the edges and on the bottom. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then carefully transfer to a cooling rack. The cookies will be soft initially, so you can somewhat adjust the shape, if necessary. Store the completely cooled cookies in an air-tight container.

Makes about 3 dozen

Cranberry Chipotle Cocktail Meatballs

I hosted a little cookie exchange this weekend. It was really just an excuse to engage in a bit of holiday cheer with a few of my best girl friends…as if we needed an excuse! We drank pomegranate champagne cocktails and warm mugs of mulled wine as we laughed by the light of the Christmas tree. Then we loaded up our trays with the assortment of delicious cookies and homemade bread before saying good night. I love the holiday season exactly for such festive gatherings.

Our evening was as educational as it was fun. We learned such things as:

  • When offering your guests mulled wine, it helps to say the word “mulled” slowly and clearly, so your guests do not believe you are offering them some sort of fancy French mold wine.
  • Carrots are not only delicious, but also an excellent source of small talk.
  • If your boot gets stuck on your foot as you pass through airport security, you will need to sit in the naughty passenger area until the boot can be pried from your foot. (Try to appear as if you’re ok with this situation.)
  • Alec Baldwin likes Word with Friends and Wegmans. And we still like Alec Baldwin.

I made a few snacks for my cookie party, including some spinach-gorgonzola triangles (think spanakopita, made with gorgonzola cheese instead of feta) and these cranberry meatballs. They’re inspired by a recipe I spotted in an advertisement for Ocean Spray cranberry sauce. Ocean Spray’s recipe calls for a combination of jellied cranberry sauce and chili sauce over frozen cocktail meatballs. It reminds me of the sweet and sour meatballs which my mom used to make with a combination of grape jelly and ketchup. It was one of her standard dishes to bring to potlucks and they were surprisingly delicious. You’d never have guessed the sauce was made from jelly and ketchup, of all things!

I knew there was something to this cranberry meatball idea. So, I made a few little tweaks to raise the homemade factor in the recipe and to kick up the flavor with a bit of chipotle heat. The result is sweet, savory, spicy, and surprisingly delicious. These tasty little meatballs are going to make a prompt reappearance on my Christmas Eve menu!

Cranberry Chipotle Cocktail Meatballs

Ingredients

For the meatballs:

  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 1/2 medium onion, very finely diced
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper

For the sauce:

  • 2 cans jellied cranberry sauce
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1-2 chipotle peppers (from a can of chipotle in adobo)

Directions

To prepare the meatballs: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ground turkey, onions, eggs, bread crumbs, salt and pepper until well-blended. Form into 1″ balls. Place the meatballs on a baking sheet which has been lightly rubbed with oil. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until cooked through.

To prepare the sauce: Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium/medium-low heat. (Use one chipotle pepper for mild/medium heat or two chipotle peppers for medium-hot.) Use a fork to smash up the cranberry sauce. Stir and cook for about 5-7 minutes until a sauce forms. Remove the sauce from heat and allow to cool slightly. Puree the mixture using a blender, immersion blender, or food processor. Pour the sauce over the cooked meatballs.

Meatballs and sauce can be refrigerated or frozen until use.

To reheat: Reheat the meatballs in a foil-covered baking dish in a 350 degrees oven, until the meatballs are heated through, about 25-30 minutes (frozen meatballs will take longer). Periodically stir the meatballs as they reheat. Alternately, the meatballs and sauce can be reheated in a saucepan over medium-low heat or in a slow-cooker.

Makes about 60 cocktail-sized meatballs

Tis the season for festive cocktails, like pomegranate champagne cocktails and mulled wine.

For the pomegranate champagne cocktails: Place a few pomegranate arils (the bright red seeds) into the bottom of a champagne glass. Pour a splash of pomegranate juice over the arils. Fill the glass with champagne. The arils sparkle like floating gems and are really fun to pop in your mouth as you enjoy your festive cocktail.

For the mulled wine: Mulled wine is warm, spiced and flavored wine…sort of a warm sangria. It’s typically made with red wine. The flavors and spices can vary. I combined 1.5 liters of Merlot with 1/4 cup honey, 1 cup of pomegranate juice, and two cinnamon sticks. Then, cut one navel orange in half. Squeeze the juice into the mixture, then place the orange halves into the liquid. Slowly warm the mixture to a very gentle simmer. Allow to gently simmer for about 20 minutes. Do not boil. Serve warm. You can prepare the wine on the stovetop in a saucepan or use a slow cooker.

Secrets of An Avon Beauty Boss

Achieving Beautiful Dreams with Avon

The Gourmand Mom

Good food, seasoned with a dash of life

%d bloggers like this: