Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!!!

One last Blog post before Christmas!  The finale of our Holiday cooking is our huge batch of sugar cookies that we make every year on Christmas Eve.  I have backed away from all the different kinds of Christmas cookies that I used to make to concentrate on candy making, but I can't resist these fabulous soft and fun to make and eat goodies once a year.  This makes about 8-10 dozen cookies and takes the four of us about 2 hours to decorate.  By the end, we are all sick of cookies and sticky up to our elbows, but the cookies are so good they are usually gone within a few days.  The recipe is from a former family member, and we decorate with a variety of colored sugars and sprinkles.  This year I also found some intricate little sugar decorations at a cake shop, and we added them for a special little touch.

Soft Sugar Cookies
8.5 c flour
3 c sugar
4 t baking powder
2 t baking soda
2 t salt

Mix these together and rub in 1 lb butter or margarine.

1.5 c milk
1 T vinegar

Mix these and sit 10 minutes for milk to sour, add:

4 t vanilla
2 eggs,

mix these in with the milk, then add to the shortened dry ingredients a little at a time until completely mixed.  Chill overnight, then roll out to 1/4" thick and cut out shapes.  Bake at 325 for 15 minutes.  Cool, frost, and decorate.

1 stick butter
2 t vanilla
4 c powdered sugar
3 T milk

(actually, we used about 4 times this much icing)

Alternatively, you can decorate with sugar before baking and forget the icing.  My dad likes them this way, but this year my kids over ruled their Grandpa.

In addition to the traditional Christmas shapes we make crabs and lighthouses to symbolize our yearly trip to Chincoteague.  (i.e.  Sandy-Claws, the Christmas Crab) and other stuff to remind us of fun stuff we've done through the year.  This year the dinosaurs symbolize the time Melissa and Julia spent volunteering at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History summer camps, where Rebecca was also a camper.

Merry Christmas!!!!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Gifts

Ok, now it's time for the big payoff.  You have spent tons of time slaving away on all those goodies and now you finally have an excuse to force people to eat them and tell you how fabulous they are.  Of course I am talking about Christmas.  I have spent a few minutes making some last-minute easy treats like chocolate mint spoons, and fluffernutter bars which are specifically for gift giving. 

The Chocolate Spoons are really super simple, but they make a cute addition to packages or gift baskets.  I used some leftover melting chocolate and dipped some red spoons in it then sprinkled with crushed candy canes.  These can be used to flavor coffee or hot chocolate, depending on the tastes of the recipient.  The Fluffernutter Bars were a last minute invention when I needed to use leftover chocolate from an encore batch of Marshmallow Elf Pops.  I spread some peanut butter and marshmallow fluff on seperate graham crackers, then put them together and dipped them in chocolate, then sprinkled with some festive jimmies. 

When you are forcing someone to eat your candy, you should probably put it in attractive packaging.  Every year I head to the dollar store in early November to stock up on baskets, treat bags, chenille stems (used to be called pipe cleaners) and any other inexpensive little festive boxes they might have.  This year they had tiny Christmas boxes in the shape of chinese food takeout containers.  We also make boxes out of scrabook paper.  It would take too long for me to describe how to do this, but it is really easy, and here's a link:

One little tip though, cut a little strip off the paper on either side after step five for the bottom of the box so that it fits nicely inside the top nicely.  I buy one of the big stacks of the scrapbook paper and it lasts us about 3 or 4 christmases.  It makes a box about 4" square, and you can fit all kinds of goodies in there.

Arrange your homemade presents nicely in your dollar store basket or a bag and head off to distribute them.  So far this year, we have given baskets to my work-study students, Rebecca's baton teachers, and at church, the Sunday school teacher, choir director, and pastor.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Candied Pecans, Maple Butterscotch, and Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Pops

Each of these is and easy quick entry and each fills a special role in my Christmas preparedness routine. 

Spicy Candied Pecans

1 Pound Pecan Halves
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4c water
3T butter
2T Old Bay Seasoning or similar crab spices

Roast the pecan halves by spreading them out on a cookie sheet and baking for 10 minutes at 350F.

Meanwhile, combine the other ingredients in a saucepan and heat until boiling.  Boil 3 minutes.  Stir in the hot pecans and mix well.   Continue to boil until most of the liquid is gone.

Spread the sugared nuts on a wax paper lined cookie sheet and put back in the oven at 350F to roast for another 10 minutes. 

When the nuts come out of the oven, use a spatula to transfer them to a fresh waxed paper lined cookie sheet. This will separate them so that they don't stick together as they cool. 

Mix 3T sugar and 1t salt then sprinkle that over top of the cooling nuts.  This gives them a nice sweet sparkle along with the shine of the candy coating.

This one appeals to the men in my life.  I made it last year for the first time and my Dad was hooked immediately.  It's really easy and it's a different taste than anything you can buy in the grocery store.

Maple Butterscotch

I'm not going to repeat my recipe for butterscotch, but if you replace the butter rum flavor with maple flavor you will end up with the richness of buttery pancakes in a candy you can pop in at any time.

My basic theory is that anything that makes a good caramel will make a good butterscotch.  My next attempt will be orange.

Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Pops

This one we made for an event called Kids Helping Kids.  At Rebeca's school every year just before Christmas they set aside a day for the kids to have a fair where they sell treats and crafts to one another and the money is donated to local charities like Children's Hospital.  I like to have the kids involved in making the treats, so this year we expanded on Rebecca's chocolate hobby to make these little guys.  I do confess I used a lower grade chocolate for these, but you can be as fancy as you want.

Lolly pop sticks
Melting chocolates
Sugar Eyes
Coating Wafers
White chocolate melted for glue

1)  We poked a lolly pop stick into each marshmallow, then dipped it into melted chocolate and placed upside down on waxed paper to cool.

2) We melted the white chocolate and used it as glue to attach a wafer hat and eyes.  Then we a attached a white sprinkle for a hat tassel. 

3) We will wrap these in pretty baggies and sell them for 50 cents.

They were originally intended to be Santa-ish but we decided they came out more like french elves.  Another case where my lack of being a perfectionist pays off!