Category Archives: Holiday Gifts

Christmas Music: 12 Pains of Christmas, Bob Rivers

It’s just not Christmas until I hear this song. I’m in the kitchen baking more cookies. Lots of cooking left to do for tomorrow’s dinner. House is clean (-ish) and I’ll have to get some actual office work done tonight, but it’s all falling together.


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Holiday Baking: Day 3

Tonight was the Fruit Pie Cookies.

I used cranberry, strawberry and blueberry for the fillings this time.

These are the cranberry filled ones.  They are slightly tart and go well with the sweet butter cookie.

These are the blueberry and cranberry filled.  The strawberry are still in the oven.  And I realize you probably can’t tell from the photos, but that is a mini-muffin tin.

And yes, I am having fun with my new camera.  Thanks for asking.

Christmas Baking on Solstice

Started the Christmas baking tonight.  Happy solstice and happy 2nd night of Hanukkah.

Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Holiday Gift Ideas: Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies

These are pretty and very tasty.  They’re easy and just a touch above regular chocolate chip cookies.

Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • dash of salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds or peanuts), chopped

mixing bowl and cookie sheet

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cream together butter and sugars.  Add eggs and vanilla, mixing well.  Sift together salt, soda, flour and cocoa, then add to butter mixture, blending well.  Add nuts and chocolate chips.  Spoon onto cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  Cool on cooling rack.

Caramel Corn Update

So I made two batches of the Caramel Corn.  I’ve included my  updates on the  process over on the  Bacon-Cashew Caramel Corn entry.  Click over there the see the changes.

Here’s the first picture from the new camera:

This is without any real effort, just set it for the food application and snapped.  I did have to compress it because I had it on the highest quality setting, so the file size was huge. It lost a bit in the compression.  But I am pleased so far.  I needed something I didn’t have to fuss with and this seems to fit the bill.  I’m going to a holiday light show tomorrow night, I’ll give it a real test there.

I can’t wait to have time to really play with it and see what it can do.


Holiday Gift Ideas: Fruit Pie Cookies

I made these last year.  These cookies are so pretty they make a great addition to any holiday cookie platter or box.

The recipe is for apple filling, but I then did another batch using strawberry, blueberry and apple fillings. I made 3 dozen, 12 of each flavor.  Strawberry, Blueberry and Apple.  It took 1 cup of fruit for each dozen.  The only changes I made was to use a splash of lemon juice in the blueberries and strawberries, instead of cinnamon and nutmeg.

From Oct 2010 (click over for more pictures).

I’m going to declare this recipe a success.  These are really good, not too sweet thanks to the butter cookie base.  I made a half batch, my usual technique when working on a recipe.  I wish I’d made a whole batch.  Partly because they are really good, but also because they are time consuming to mix.

I’ve had the idea in my head for a while and it just took some time for the whole thing to kind of come together.  It’s part butter cookie, part apple pie, part apple crisp – I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.

Apple Pie Cookies

Butter Cookie Base:

  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour

Apple Pie Filling:

  • 2 Golden or Granny Smith, or other firm, apples – cored and chopped into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 tablespoons water (as needed)

Crumble Topping:

  • 2 tbsp butter, soften
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats (not instant)

Bowl, saucepan, min-muffin pan, wax paper

In bowl, cream together butter and sugar, add cinnamon and vanilla, mix well. Add flour, blend until well mixed, but do not over beat. Spread onto wax paper and roll into a long tube, about 1-1/2” in diameter. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, until chilled and firm.

Meanwhile, in saucepan, melt butter and add apples and simmer on medium to medium-low. Mix together brown sugar and spices, add to simmering apples, mix in well. When apples are softened, sprinkle flour over them, mix in, add water as necessary to create a thick syrup. Let simmer on low until you are ready to use.

In bowl, cut together butter, flour and oats until fine crumbles.

To assemble: spray muffin pan with oil, remove dough from refrigerator, cut twelve 1/4-inch slices from the dough, then replace remainder back into the refrigerator. Press each disk into the muffin pan, making a little bowl. Add apple mixture and top with crumbles. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool slightly before removing from the pan. They should slip out pretty easily – I used a knife to help slip them out. Makes 36 cookies.

You’ll have to let the pan cool just a bit before you assemble the next batch, as the butter cookies melt pretty quickly.

Holiday Gift Ideas: Bacon-Cashew Caramel Corn

UPDATE:  I made two batches of caramel corn last night.  I had some success with the bacon version and better success with the second, nuts and popcorn batch.

First, I was only so-so on the bacon.  The sugar really overpowers it and it loses a lot of what I like bacon for, its salty bacon flavor.  It was worth a try, but not something I would do again. It is a great conversation starter, though.

Second, cooking times.  I lowered the stove top time for the caramel sauce down to 1 minute after it comes to a boil.  More than that it scorches too easily.  I also lowered the oven to 200 degrees after the first 15 minutes.  Ovens vary, so it may just be mine, but the lower temp created a more even caramel effect, less toasty, which the first batch had.

Third, I started with a large roasting pan, then after about 20 minutes moved it to a baking sheet and I cooked the second batch on baking sheets.  It was much easier than remembering to stir it every 5 or 10 minutes.

I’ve made the changes below.


Yes, you heard me right.

I was searching around for a good caramel corn recipe, I wanted it to have cashews for sure. Then I stumbled across one that included bacon and I knew that was what I wanted to do.  I looked over a half a dozen or so caramel recipes and put together one I thought was both simple and tasty.  Then I added the bacon and cashews.  I’m planning on making this over the weekend – I’ll update you if there are any changes.

You can use the basic caramel recipe and substitute nuts of your choice and eliminate bacon if desired. The recipe lends itself to just plain caramel corn if you like, or use dried fruits or other imaginative ingredients to make it your own. I think the possibilities are endless.  But I think a salty addition is necessary to complement the sweetness of the caramel.

Cashew Bacon Caramel Corn

Note: You can use the basic recipe and substitute nuts of your choice and eliminate bacon if desired.

  • 8 oz maple smoked bacon, cut into eight pieces per strip
  • 12 cups (3 quarts) of popped corn
  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups cashews (or peanuts, or peanut/cashew mix)

Skillet, saucepan, roasting pan  baking sheets

In skillet, cook bacon until mostly crisp, drain on paper towels and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Reduce to 200 degrees after 15 minutes of baking.

Place popcorn into a well-greased roasting pan.

In saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a low boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to med-low and simmer until thickened, about 3 minutes - 1 minute worked better. Remove from heat, add vanilla and baking soda (yes, it will foam up). Gently stir nuts and bacon into sugar mixture and pour over popcorn, toss, coating popcorn evenly. Bake, stirring occasionally, until popcorn is a deep golden brown, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours  – mine was done at the 1 hour mark. Cool and break apart.

Holiday Gift Ideas: Tex-Mex Popcorn Snack

Photo by Mark Thomas

One more savory popcorn mix to add to your gift tin.  Then I’ll start on the sweet popcorn recipe.

Tex-Mex Popcorn Snack

  • 4 cups popped corn
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon taco seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 16 oz mini pretzels
  • 16 oz cheese crackers (cheez-it style)*
  • 12 oz honey roasted peanuts

Mix together butter and seasonings, toss with popcorn, add remaining ingredients and toss until well mixed. Spread out on a baking sheet for 30 to 60 minutes and then package.

*to really spice this up, use jalapeno or spicy cheddar crackers.

Holiday Gift Ideas: Flavored Popcorn

I volunteered to do Christmas Eve dinner this year.  So suddenly my cooking plans have completely changed for the  month.  I have a list of recipes going through my head. What to choose, what to choose? We’ll be discussing those as the month goes on.  Until then, let’s continue with the Holiday Gift series.

One of my favorite things is the mixed can of flavored popcorn.   Unfortunately they can vary in quality and price.  And if you’re paying a premium, well let’s face it, it all hype, because popcorn is cheap, as are most of the ingredients that go in flavored popcorn.  So  I thought I’d pull a few recipes together this week so you could make your own variety tin of flavored popcorn.  I actually have a tower of gift boxes that I’m thinking of filling with different flavors.  You can use decorative plastic and ribbon, or holiday tins, or zip-lock bags placed in pretty gift bags.

For the first recipes, I thought something cheesy.

White Cheddar Cheese Popcorn

  • 8 cups popped corn
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 1/2 cup white cheddar cheese powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried mustard
  • dash of cayenne
  • salt to taste

It might be easiest to do this in two batches.  In a large bag, toss popcorn thoroughly with butter to coat completely.  Mix together cheese and spices, toss with popcorn in the bag until everything is well coated.   Spread out on to baking sheet for 30 to 60 minutes before packaging (this keeps it from becoming soggy).

Chili-Cheese Popcorn

  • 8 cups popped corn
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • dash of garlic
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan (I’d use the Kraft style for ease)
  • salt to taste (the Parmesan may make it salty enough)

Again, you may want to make this in batches.  Mix together butter and spices and toss with popcorn in a large bag.  Add cheese and toss again until well coated.  Spread out on to baking sheet for 30 to 60 minutes before packaging.

Additional flavor ideas:

White cheddar cheese powder and taco seasoning.   Parmesan and dry packaged  buttermilk ranch dressing seasoning.

Holiday Gift Ideas: Santa Hat Brownies

This  cute photo was posted on my facebook page, but there was no photo credit.  If I track that down I’ll add it.   And here is the original link.  Thanks Daisy, these are incredibly cute!  Everyone, head over there to see her original recipe.   The recipe I cobbled together is below:


Okay, I’m just winging it here people. You can just use a box mix if you don’t want to make brownies from scratch. I suggest adding 12 oz of semi-sweet chocolate chips to any box mix to up the quality. If you make the recipe as written, let me know how it turns out for you.

Santa Hat Brownies

  • Pan of Gooey Chocolate Walnut Brownies, cooled completely (recipe below)
  • 30 strawberries, washed, hulled with tops cut off to make flat, hat shape
  • Whipping cream (I’d use a Ready Whip style – real cream in a spray can – or you can whip up your own)
  • About 1-1/2 inch circle cookie cutter

Cut 30 circles (or as many as you can get out of the pan). Add whipped cream, strawberry – cut-side down, and a small dollop of whipped cream on top

I would use the Chinese Take-Out containers for gift giving to keep them intact.  Or take them on a platter to the office or a party to wow everyone. And I’d use the leftover brownie pieces as ice cream topping. You can freeze pieces in an airtight container for later use (no more than a week or so, or else they’ll be stale).

Gooey Chocolate Walnut Brownies0074759961274_500X500

  • 3 sticks plus 2 tbsps butter
  • 12 ounces 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chips
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsp unbleached flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

13×9 baking dish, greased

large mixing bowl, double boiler*

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt the butter and 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chips together in double boiler (*I use a metal dish over a large saucepan, works great). In mixing bowl beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract. Allow the chocolate mixture to cool a little, then add to the egg and sugar mixture and beat well. Fold in the flour and salt. Then stir in the nuts and semisweet chocolate chips. Beat by hand to combine then scrape and pour the brownie mixture into baking dish. Bake for 25 t0 35 minutes. You want the top to be a paler brown, slightly cracked even, and the center gooey, not runny. They’ll continue to cook after you take them out, so don’t let them dry out in the oven. Check continuously from the 25 minute mark until the desired consistency. Makes 24 to 30 depending on how big you want them to be. They are quite rich, so you may want to go with the 30 cut.



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