Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Cookie Plate

Christmas cookies bring back memories of my childhood more than any other holiday food does.  Every year after school got out for the holidays, we'd make a list of the cookies we were going to make for our Christmas cookie plate.  One sister always made peanut blossoms, another always made molasses crinkles.  The rest of us chose among the other perennial favorites:  snickerdoodles, russian tea cakes, sugar cookies, chocolate crackles, and chocolate chip (of course).  Sometimes, someone would feel especially spunky and try a new treat, like mini pretzels with hershey kisses and m&m's melted on top, or chex muddy buddies!

Here are some of our favorites, old and new:

Full of brown sugar and vanilla, these are the best.

Any kind of shortbread is good, but the flavors of dark chocolate and orange make this especially bright and festive.

We've been eating these for as long as I can remember.  They are probably the #1 favorite cookie in my family.

With a consistency between cookies and breakfast pastries, these citrus-spiked lovelies are addicting!

A favorite for all ages

A sweet, nutty treat that is so easy even the littlest cookie bakers can help

These might tie with the peanut blossoms for my family's top Christmas cookie.  With their soft, chewy texture and warm, spicy flavor, they capture the holiday season in every bite.

Another version of shortbread, this time filled with tart cherry preserves that bake to a candy-like consistency

Candy Cane Cookies
This is a new favorite--as in, I just had them for the first time two weeks ago!  They are so delicious.  Buttery, minty, sugary.  A big thank you to Kristan for bringing them to our church Christmas party, where I think I downed a full dozen in about 2 minutes, and for sharing the recipe with me.

for the cookies:
1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup powdered sugar, plus more for rolling hot cookies
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups flour

Beat butter until creamy.  Add powdered sugar, peppermint extract, and salt, and mix well.  Gradually add flour and mix just until dough comes together.  Cover and chill for 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Pinch off a small amount of dough and roll into a 1" ball, then roll out into a long, skinny cylinder.  Bend one end over to make a candy cane shape.  You can also just roll out the dough to 1/4" thick and use small cookie cutters.  Bake on parchment-lined sheets for 18 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately roll in more powdered sugar.  Place on a rack to cool.

for the glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
2 1/2 Tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
6 regular sized candy canes, crushed

In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar, milk, and extract, and whisk until smooth.  Drizzle over warm cookies, then sprinkle with crushed candy canes.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Holiday Treats to Share

Giving gifts to friends and neighbors is such a fun part of the Holiday season. Growing up, we always delivered plates of cookies, and I still plan on doing that this year when we spend Christmas with my parents.  Since becoming a mom and having children of my own, I've tried to branch out from the standard cookie plate and give unique, homemade treats. It isn't because I don't like cookies; I do, and we still make all of the old favorites. I just like any excuse to make something new and delicious! Plus, if you don't give away all of your cookies, you get to eat them all yourself. I find it is a winning strategy!

Here are some of our favorite treats to share:

Not at all like Cracker Jacks (and the better for it), this sticky, salty, chewy, delicious caramel corn disappears in the blink of an eye.

If you're tired of all the sweets, try giving loaves of warm, homemade bread!

OK, so they still haven't won any contests (ask me about last week's church potluck sometime), but they remain some of the most tasty bars we've ever had!

Who doesn't love hot-off-the-griddle pancakes or waffles smothered in a heavenly berry concoction?

We actually received this as a present from a neighbor one Christmas when I was growing up. It has been a family favorite ever since!

Do they even need explaining?!

Cranberry Pecan Granola
This is what we're giving our friends and neighbors for Christmas this year. And we're not the only ones! This recipe can fairly easily be doubled (it all depends on how many big bowls and cookie sheets you have laying around), and can also be halved if you want smaller batches. Although the recipe technically makes 4 quarts of delicious, addicting granola, I found that by leaving a little head-space in each jar, I could fill 5-6 wide mouth quart jars with each batch.

Cranberry Pecan Granola
a true Frankenstein's monster of a recipe, with bits and pieces borrowed from here, here, and here

8 cups rolled oats
1 cup raw, shelled sunflower seeds
1 cup raw, shelled pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup powdered milk
3/4 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3 cups dried, sweetened cranberries

Arrange the baking racks in your oven so that they are in the top 1/3 and bottom 1/3 of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with foil and set aside. In a very, very large bowl, combine oats, sunflower seeds, pepitas, pecans, and powdered milk. In a small bowl or 2-cup glass measuring cup, combine all remaining ingredients except cranberries. Stir to combine, then pour over oat mixture. Using a big wooden spoon, gently stir the oat mixture until it is all thoroughly and uniformly coated with the maple syrup-honey mixture. Divide oat mixture evenly between the two prepared baking sheets, and evenly distribute the mixture on each sheet. Place both pans in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Gently stir the mixture on each sheets, being careful not to burn yourself or spill any granola into the oven, rotate the sheets, and bake for another 15 minutes. Remove both pans from the oven and allow to cool completely. Break up the granola, place in a big bowl, add the cranberries, and mix well. Pack into jars, bags, or any air-tight container.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy December 1st! and Savory Holiday Snacks

Last year, I took on the completely overwhelming (but festive) task of posting a holiday recipe every day for the 25 days of December leading up to Christmas. This year, I've decided to tackle a different holiday food theme each week and just do one big post. This week's theme is...
It is December 1st and I can already count 6 holiday parties on our calendar in the next two weeks alone, each requiring us to bring a little something to nosh on. The holiday season is ruled by sweets, but potlucks and parties are great places to showcase savory treats too. Here are some of our favorites--ones that actually get requested year after year:

I could eat the whole thing by myself. It'd hurt, but I'm pretty sure it would be worth it.

Salty, creamy, and smoky--all rolled into one delicious bite!

So much better than those frozen ones, and so easy too.

All from scratch, super delicious, and served with a nice, crusty baguette to sop up all of that extra, yummy sauce.

A cool and refreshing alternative to all of that hot, heavy holiday food.

You might wince when you read the ingredients, but just trust me: these babies taste fantastic. I've tried monkeying with the recipe, but the original version just works better, so you might as well follow it. I actually get assigned to make these for our friends' potluck every Christmas because people liked them so much the first time!
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