Friday Recipe Exchange: Holiday Sweet Treats, Something For Everyone

While I’m busy baking away today, here are some previous goodies from 2014:

Assorted Cookies1

Lots of cooking going on. And look what Santa dropped off early:

Mystery Machine

Just in time to hold the assortment of cookies I made this week. Most of them are going into gift boxes, but I’ll hold enough back for my annual Christmas Eve dinner.

Let’s get right to it. Pictured above:

Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies, recipe here

Spritz Cookies, recipes and instructions for using a cookie press here.

Not pictured because I still have to make them, Chocolate-Walnut Flourless Cookies, recipe here. I love these because you’d never know they were flourless and they taste like brownie bites.

Looking for side dishes for your holiday dinner? You can click here for a lot of different types. And for the pet lovers, Bixby posted an update here and here is photo evidence of how the cats torment him, try not to laugh, it hurts his feelings.

How about you, what’s on your menu for the holidays? Share your holiday traditions, both edible and otherwise.

Mexican Russian Pecan Cookies

Tonight’s featured recipe had a bit of a serendipitous beginning. I was having lunch with friend LFern and told her I was still working on what type of cookies I was going to make for my gift boxes. LFern mentioned she really liked Russian Tea Cakes. I’d never heard of them, so I googled, figuring I’d surprise her with them in her gift box. Turns out they are also called Mexican Wedding Cookies. Next day I was visiting friends Larilyn and Alton (not that one) and what do they bring out to go with the coffee? Mexican Wedding Cookies. Turns out Al calls them Mom’s Pecan Cookies and he shared his mom’s recipe with me. So no matter what you call them, they are tasty.

Pecan Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 ¼ cups flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup chopped nuts pecans
  • Powdered sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix butter, ½ cup powdered sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add flour, salt and mix until the dough comes together. Stir in the nuts. At this point, I mixed by hand until the dough stuck together and was smooth.

Scoop about a tablespoon of dough, roll into shape and place on baking sheet

Bake cookies for 18-20 minutes until bottoms are just slightly brown. Remove from oven and cool for just a minute. Fill a small bowl with powdered sugar and roll each cookie in the sugar until coated. Place on a rack covered with wax paper (keeps the sugar mess to a minimum) to cool.

You have to roll them in powdered sugar while they are still hot, which hurts like hell for the first two, but after that, your fingers are coated in powdered sugar and it acts like a heat shield and you’ll be fine. Look, holiday gift baking isn’t for wussies. It’s an extreme sport.

After they cooled, I coated them with more powdered sugar for a festive look.

That’s it for…this year. We won’t have another recipe exchange until January. But I will be posting the recipes for Christmas Eve dinner between now and Christmas. The menu is: Roasted Cornish Game Hens, Smashed Potatoes, Cranberry Chutney, Spinach Salad, and an Ice Cream Sundae Bar.

Have a wonderful holiday, whatever you celebrate. Thanks for coming along for the ride – TaMara

Christmas balls

 

Holiday Gift Ideas: Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’m busy baking for my annual gift boxes. These won’t be in them, because I”m working on two new cookie recipes I’ve never tried my hand at before. More on that later…

Chocolate Chocolate Cookie

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.

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Originally posted Nov 2011

Holiday Gift Ideas: Spicy Nuts

This week I’m focusing on recipes you can give as gifts (and you thought I was just going to annoy you with Christmas Carols). This week is about sweet and salty.  A change from the traditional sweet treats. Here are two spicy nut recipes that are sure to be welcome gifts:

Cajun Spiced Nuts

  • 1 tsp teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tsp teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 6 cups unsalted deluxe mixed nuts
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt

Mix spices together and set aside.  Heat the nuts in a dry skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to toast, about 4 minutes. Add the butter, stirring, until the nuts begin to darken, about 1 minute. Add the spices, the sugar, 1 tablespoon water, and the salt, stirring until the sauce thickens and the nuts are glazed, about 5 minutes.

Remove the nuts from the heat and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Make sure they are all separated. Let the nuts stand until cooled and the sugar has hardened, about 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container. Makes 6 cups

Indian Spiced Nuts

  • 1 cup unsalted roasted peanuts (or cashews)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 4 tablespoons shredded coconut (either fresh or unsweetened)
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix the nuts coconut, butter, sugar, coriander cumin, garam masala and salt together and pour onto the baking sheet. Toast for 40 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through for even baking. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool. Store in an airtight container. Makes 2 cups

Now once you have these recipes completed, how about some creative ways to wrap them?  Colored plastic wrap and ribbons, holiday Chinese take out containers are always fun, glass canning cars with fabric inserts between the rim and the seal, or even more fun, wrap the nuts in decorative paper cones, tied with ribbon.  These are all creative ways to present your gifts and you make personalized labels to enhance the presentation.

From MakeandTakes.com click on the picture for instructions.

 

 

 

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Originally Posted December 2011

Holiday Gift Ideas: Flavored Popcorn

I’m repeating the holiday gift series this week. We’ll start with flavored popcorn:

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.

 

Originally posted Dec 2011

Christmas Eve Preparation and Gift Ideas Update

Had a nice dinner out tonight.  We have a lot of good Mexican restaurants around here, often difficult to choose between them.  Since we were at a movie beforehand, we chose the one across from the theatre.  I had a really good black bean soup, excellent coffee and sopapillas in a nice fresh strawberry puree.  I love them because they are nice and sweet, but not heavy.  Great after a nice meal.  Homesick Texan has a nice recipe for them here if you’re inclined to make your own.

I have all the ingredients for the Bacon-Cashew-Caramel Corn and will make it this weekend. Just in time to share with friends.  Being that it is holiday time, I’ll have to squeeze cooking in between events. There is always lots to do and see.  Though I am bummed I missed the fireworks this year – totally spaced them – and this year Santa skydived into town (at night, with flaming feet).  This all happened within blocks of my house, so I had no excuse.   Anyway, this weekend will be shopping and going to the Holiday Lights at the Botanic Gardens.  Good time to test out the new camera.

I’ve settled on the menu for Christmas Eve and have made my list which I’ll start picking up over the next week.  Christmas is sneaking up on us.  So in case you’re still looking for holiday gift ideas, there will be cookie recipes over the weekend to finish out your goodies tray.

Now here’s something to remember, if you run into questions, you can email me, I can usually get back to you the same day.  So if there is a recipe question or you suddenly look at your turkey and have a panic attack I can probably give you some suggestions pretty quick.  Or get you to a resource.

I’ll update you on the caramel corn and menu shopping.  Until then…

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.