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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.

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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.

No-Bake Ginger Fruit Cake Balls

Did you know that you can watch the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular on Netflix? I was beyond thrilled when I found it yesterday.

Growing up on Long Island, attending the Christmas Spectacular was just about an annual event. To me, it is the epitome of Christmas in New York City. I have been itching to make a trip down to NYC to share the experience with the boys, but for the cost of the good seats, they’re just not ready. We’ll definitely bring them in a few years, when all of their attention spans are a bit more predictable. If you ever find yourself in NYC during the holiday season (and I strongly suggest you make a point of finding yourself there at some point in your life), make sure you get yourself tickets to the show. And if you can’t get there to see it, check it out on Netflix. It’s really wonderful. I’m totally going to be a rockette when I grow up.

In between working on my kickline skills and practicing my sweet tap dancing moves, I started working on this year’s cookie collection. I baked eleven dozen Double Chocolate Peppermint cookies for a little cookie exchange I’m hosting tonight. And then I made these little no-bake fruit cake balls. Crushed gingersnaps and sweet molasses make up the spiced base, while tender bits of brightly colored candied fruit deck the balls with festive fruitcake flavor. And if you like your Christmas cookies spiked with a bit of booze, go ahead and soak the candied fruit in a bit of spiced rum for even more fruitcake flavor! Loving this new addition to my cookie collection!

No-Bake Ginger Fruit Cake Balls

Ingredients

  • 2 cups gingersnap crumbs (about 40 gingersnaps, very finely crushed)
  • 6 tablespoons molasses
  • 4 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup candied fruit (fruit cake mix)
  • 1-2 tablespoons spiced rum (optional)
  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips or candy melts

Directions

If desired, pour the rum over the candied fruit and allow it to soak for at least an hour. Combine the gingersnap crumbs, molasses, peanut butter, and candied fruit until well blended. The mixture should stick together when pressed, but not be overly wet or sticky. Add a touch more molasses if the mixture is too dry. Use your hands to form balls, about 1″ in diameter. It’s helpful to press the mixture into a rough ball shape before rolling in your palms. Gently melt the white chocolate chips or candy melts in the microwave or in a double boiler. Use a spoon or pastry bag fitted with a fine round tip to drizzle the melted chocolate over the fruit cake balls. Store in an air-tight container.

Makes about 40

Fresh Green Bean Casserole

Back in the day, we wrote actual letters to Santa. We’d drop our carefully crafted wish lists into the post box and hope for the best. Nowadays, Santa has e-mail and a facebook page. He checks Amazon.com to learn of each little girl and boy’s greatest wishes and he uses his webcam to compose personalized video messages for tech savvy toddlers. And if that weren’t enough, Santa now deploys an army of tiny felt-dressed elves to maintain constant creepy surveillance in our homes. My, how times have changed! But ultimately, all kids are just hoping to end up on the nice list and to receive that special item from their wish list.

As a kid, I repeatedly wished for the Barbie Dream House; the one like my cousins had. Heck, I would have settled for the Barbie Camper, ’cause that was also pretty sweet. I never actually received either of those items. Ahem, Santa! Like many young boys, my husband’s childhood wish was for a Craftmatic adjustable bed. And though he’s certain he was on the nice list (at least some of those years) he never received that Craftmatic bed. I’m sure Santa had his reasons.

Like most parents, I have every desire to make my children’s Christmas wishes come true. Their delight is my delight. But, I can not bring myself to purchase one of the items on my four-year-old’s wish list. The item whose features (squeamish, beware) are described as:

  • Create your own delicious treats!
  • Eat bubbling brains and zombie skins
  • Inject spiders into the eyeballs
  • Watch the Zombie’s jaw rip open as it pukes out a brain barf beverage
Seriously. Go ahead and read that last part again. I couldn’t make that up if I tried. Boys are gross. How about some nice Legos instead?
But enough disgusting zombie talk. Let’s talk Christmas dinner. For many families, green bean casserole is standard fare for Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. My family was not one of those families. But it became part of my tradition once I started spending the holidays with my husband’s family. The crispy onion straws had me at hello.
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My version of a classic green bean casserole tastes much like the canned cream of mushroom variety found on many holiday tables. Only my version is made from scratch with fresh, delicious ingredients. It’s hardly any more work and the result is noticeably fresher and more vibrant. The dish can be mostly prepared a day ahead of time, making it super easy to pop in the oven on Christmas day!
***

***

Fresh Green Bean Casserole

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds green beans, lightly steamed and cut into halves or thirds
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 2 cups baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 -1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper
  • Homemade crispy onions straws*

* Click HERE to see the Pioneer Woman’s step-by-step guide to making crispy onion straws. Her procedure calls for a candy thermometer. And while a candy thermometer would be useful, it is not necessary. Just give the oil several minutes to get really good and hot. Then, test a very small batch of onions. The oil is hot enough when the coated onions bubble frantically and quickly become golden brown and crispy. The onions can be made a few days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container. They will loose some of their crispiness in the container, but will re-crisp nicely when baked on the casserole!

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the steamed and chopped green beans in a large casserole dish. Set aside.

Heat butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped shallot and mushrooms. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until they are tender and golden. Sprinkle the flour on top of the mushrooms. Stir and cook for an additional minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken. Reduce the heat. Add the parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.

Pour the mushroom sauce over the green beans, then give the dish a little shake to help the sauce settle over the beans. Top the mixture with the crispy onion straws and bake for about 20-25 minutes until bubbly hot.

**You can prepare the dish ahead of time up to pouring the sauce over the green beans. Then, cover and refrigerate until preparing to serve. When reheating, allow the beans and sauce to bake for about 10-15 minutes before topping with the crispy onion straws. Once you’ve added the onions, give it another 15-20 minutes to finish baking.

Pomegranate and Poached Pear ‘Salad’

I’d like to take a moment to officially declare pomegranate as the most fun fruit to eat.

First comes the game of removing the tiny, shimmering pomegranate gems, called arils, from the hard exterior rind. Some people recommend a process of scoring the outer rind of the pomegranate, soaking it in cold water for a few minutes, then breaking the pieces open and allowing the arils to fall to the bottom of the water while the rind floats on top. Others recommend cutting the pomegranate into pieces and smacking the rind with the back of a spoon to loosen the arils, which should eject from the fruit. I like to simply cut the pomegranate into pieces and go to work, pulling apart the fruit piece by piece, systematically releasing the gazillions of juicy arils from within. There’s something incredibly satisfying about peeling back the layers of membrane within the fruit to uncover pockets of the sweet, plump gems.

The small effort of removing the arils yields a great reward; a bowl full of sweet, ruby gems. Pop one in your mouth and enjoy the sweet burst of juice as you bite into each delicious seed. Pick one up the next time you spot them in the grocery store. Now is the time to enjoy this delicious, fun fruit! And they’re super healthy for you too!

If you can stop yourself snacking on this tasty fruit, save some of the pomegranate arils for this delicious composed ‘salad’ of sorts. This seasonally perfect dish would make a very elegant hors d’oeuvre for a holiday party or perfect first course for a seated dinner. (Pretty certain this is going on my Christmas dinner menu!) Fresh pears are poached until tender, then paired with salty gorgonzola and vibrant pomegranate arils, nestled into a crisp leaf of Belgian endive. A simple pomegranate balsamic vinaigrette and candied walnuts provide the finishing touches.

Poached Pears and Pomegranate ‘Salad’

Ingredients

  • 2 heads Belgian endive
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • 1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

For the Poached Pears:

  • 2 ripe, firm pears (Anjou, Bosc, Bartlett…)
  • 4 cups poaching liquid (water, white wine, champagne, apple juice…)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 vanilla bean (optional)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)

For the Candied Walnuts:

  • 1/2 cup shelled walnut halves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Pinch of cinnamon
For the Vinaigrette:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper
Directions

For the pears: Peel pears, cut off tops and bottoms, and cut in half lengthwise. Remove the core, using a melon baller or knife. Place the pears in a saucepan with your poaching liquid. (Any combination of water, white wine, champagne, juice, etc. would be delicious.) Stir in the honey. If desired, add a cinnamon stick and/or a vanilla bean to the liquid. Bring the poaching liquid to a gentle simmer. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the pears from the cooking liquid and allow to cool. Once cool, chop the pears into small chunks and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Walnuts: Heat walnuts in a pan over medium heat for about 3 minutes, until they begin to toast.  Add butter and cook for an additional minute.  Add brown sugar, cinnamon, and about 1 tablespoon water to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly until the water has evaporated and the nuts are glazed. **You may need to add small quantities of additional water to achieve a glaze. Allow to cool. The glaze will harden as the nuts cool. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

For the Vinaigrette: Whisk the oil, vinegar, pomegranate juice, and mustard together. Season with salt and pepper.

To Assemble the Salad: Rinse the endive. Cut off the core end and carefully separate the leaves. Fill each leaf with a bit of the pear, pomegranate, and crumbled gorgonzola. Top with candied walnuts. Arrange on a platter to serve as an hors d’ouevres or plate 2-3 prepared endive leaves per person as a first course. Lightly drizzle with the vinaigrette.

Serves 4-6

Holiday Cookie Round-Up

Well, folks… The holiday season is officially upon us! And with that, the time to complain about the too-early Christmas displays and carols on the radio has passed.

But then, that stuff never really bothered me anyway. Quite the opposite.

In fact, the week before Thanksgiving, as I stood in line waiting to checkout at my local Target, I overheard a woman complaining to the cashier about how early the Christmas displays appear. I stood there, silently judging her, as I pretended to peruse the selection of batteries, mascara, and matchbox cars, cleverly arranged to attract impulse shoppers. Bah humbug, Ms. Scrooge!

I happen to enjoy the early holiday displays in the stores. (Now you’re judging me, aren’t you??) There’s something about the anticipation…seeing those decorations, but knowing it’s not time, not just yet. I look, I plan, I wait. As much as I love Christmas, I force myself to wait until after Thanksgiving to bust out my full festive cheer. Honestly, I can only focus on one holiday at a time. And we’ve still got a skeleton hanging outside our front door and leftover Thanksgiving green beans in the fridge.

It’s here though, for real now. There is no longer shame in the jingle bells I’ve left tied to my running sneakers or the shopping cart I intend to fill with glittery wrapping paper this morning. The scarecrows and skeleton outside my front door will promptly be replaced by a happy family of snowmen and a blinking reindeer. The holiday season is here and that also means it’s cookie baking time! Are you ready??

I’ve got a few new cookie ideas brewing for this year. But to get you started, here’s a look back at some of my previously posted cookie recipes.

**I’ve starred the favorites I’ll be remaking for this year’s cookie collection.**

Carrot Cake Cookies

Peppermint Patty Cheesecake Bars

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

**Sand Tarts**

**Cherry Vanilla Drops**

Rainbow Cookies

**Coconut Macaroons**

**Double Chocolate Peppermint Cookies**

Choco-Cherry-Coconut Bars

**Pfeffernussen**

**Oatmeal Chocolate Craisin**

Lemon Ginger Sugar Cookies

Almost Thin Mints

**Chocolate Covered Spiders (Haystacks)**

**Peanut Butter Fudge**

Holiday Bark

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The Gourmand Mom

Good food, seasoned with a dash of life

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