Holiday Special – Baking Christmas Cookies

bakingAre you a holiday baker? Looking for a change to the same old-same old. If yes, then I’ve got some suggestions that can easily fill your Saturday and/or afternoon this weekend.

Start with a twist on tradition! You’ll love my Citrus & Spice Sugar Cookies. Or try my Peppermint Bark Cookies for a chocolaty treat.

Shortbread is great for the holidays, so how about my Ginger Shortbread or Macadamia Nut Shortbread. And for buttery deliciousness, you can’t beat my Snowy Pecan Balls.

You also might like to add a few savory bites for cocktail hour. Gorgonzola & Walnut Shortbread with Savory Fig Jam or Savory Parmesan Shortbread with Tomato Jam.

For a couple of years I did a baking party with my mom and her buddies at our local assisted living facility. Favorites included Root ‘n’ Tooty Good ‘n’ Fruity Oatmeal Cookies and Peanut-y Chocolate Chip Cookies. Both are the perfect cookies to help Santa keep up his strength on his long route. Want a more grownup cookie? How about Cherry-Pistachio Biscotti.

If you are feeling rushed (and who isn’t), Sweet Dream Bars are quick and easy. Chocolate lovers can’t miss with my Triple Threat Brownies or Cheesecake Brownies.

Then there are lovely homemade chocolates and candies! I need to get my act together and send off a batch of my Chocolate Almond Buttery Brittle to my niece in California. Be careful with this one, it is positively addictive. No less delicious, are my Chocolate Dipped Orange Caramels. For a luxurious treat, try my Chocolate Truffles. Christmas candies are a wonderful addition to your holiday buffet table and make great gifts.

If you are thinking of something sweet as a hostess gift or stocking stuffer, don’t forget my Death by Chocolate Sauce, luscious Maple Sauce or Caramel Sauce.

Just be sure to save some time for yourself! Enjoy everything the holiday season has to offer and bon appétit!

For a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog Click Here!!

What sweet treats will you be making during the holidays? I’d love to hear from you. Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? Click here for more seasonal menus! © Susan W. Nye, 2015

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Escalade & Chocolate Truffles

Living in Geneva for almost two decades was a wonderful experience. It is a beautiful lakeside city and I have many fond memories of my time there. Among them is the Escalade. A cross between Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Halloween, Geneva celebrates the Escalade in early December.

While most of the ancient walls surrounding the city have disappeared, in1602 they protected the town from invasion. That’s when the dastardly Duke of Savoy laid siege on the city. Throughout the night of December 11th and 12th the Savoyards attacked, attempting to scale the walls and take over the city. The attempt to scale the walls gave the battle, and later the holiday, the name Escalade.

All seemed lost until Mother Royaume, defending the lives and liberty of her fourteen children, threw a cauldron of boiling soup over the wall and onto the invading soldiers. Burned and bruised by the steaming soup and heavy iron pot, the Savoyards realized they were no match for la Mère and the fearless Genevois patriots. They turned tail and headed back to Savoy.

Every year, Geneva takes a week to celebrate the Escalade. It is a great time to explore the Old Town. Wandering through the narrow streets and alleys, you will very likely bump into some of the descendents Geneva’s early citizens. Dressed in 17th century garb, they lead the festivities and turn the Old Town into a living museum. On the final evening of the celebration, a torchlight procession with fifes and drums winds through Geneva’s ancient cobbled streets to Cathedral Square for a bonfire. There are no fireworks but canons are fired and proclamations are read.

Since Switzerland is renowned for its wonderful chocolate, it’s only natural that Mère Royaume’s infamous soup kettle be immortalized in sweet, creamy goodness. There are lovely, little chocolate shops on every street corner. During December their windows are all filled with beautiful chocolate soup kettles or marmites. They come in all sizes and are crammed full of marzipan vegetables and other sweets.

Many Swiss families celebrate the Escalade with a dinner. The traditional menu includes soup, of course, plus turkey, cardoons, a relative of the artichoke, and a giant chocolate marmite. At the end of the dinner, the oldest and youngest at the party take a rolling pin and smash the chocolate marmite. Chocolate and marzipan fly and everyone scrambles to collect the sweets.

I don’t know why, I’m not sure if anyone knows why but Escalade celebrations include a sort of Trick or Treat. Children dress in costume, ride the tram, go door-to-door and even wander through a café or two singing the Escalade song. This song has a seemingly endless supply of verses but my sources tell me there are really only sixty-eight. In appreciation friends, neighbors and as well as hapless bystanders hand out coins and candies. Or maybe it’s a desperate attempt to stop all that singing. I did discover on more than one occasion that the young Genevois will continue to sing and sing, and sing some more, until you give them a treat.

Enjoy the holiday season with a big cauldron of soup or maybe some Swiss inspired chocolates!

Bon appétit!

Chocolate Truffles

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Use good quality chocolate, preferably Swiss, to make luscious truffles for the holidays. Enjoy!

Makes about 4 dozen truffles
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16 ounces dark chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons cognac (optional)
2 tablespoons brewed espresso or very strong coffee
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
16 ounces milk or white chocolate

Chop the semisweet chocolate and put it in a heavy sauce pan with the cream and cinnamon. Cook over very low heat, carefully whisking the cream and chocolate together, until the chocolate melts.

Transfer the chocolate cream to a bowl and whisk in the cognac, espresso and vanilla. Chill in the refrigerator, stirring a few times, for 2 hours or until the chocolate mixture is thick and firm enough to scoop.

Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper. With a mini ice cream scoop or 2 teaspoons, make dollops of chocolate and place them on the baking sheet. Refrigerate for 30-45 minutes or until firm enough to roll into rough balls.

Place the chocolate balls in the freezer for about one hour or until very cold.

Chop the milk (or white) chocolate and melt half of it over very low heat in a heavy sauce pan. Remove from the heat and add the remaining chocolate. Let the chocolate sit for a few minutes to melt. Stir to combine.

Dip the cold chocolate balls in the melted chocolate until completely covered. Place them on the silicon lined baking sheet. Let the truffles set for a couple of hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

About a half hour before serving, remove the truffles from the refrigerator and let them sit uncovered. Serve at room temperature.

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One Year Ago – Smoked Salmon Mousse
Two Years Ago – Roasted Beans
Three Years Ago – Winter Soup with Pasta, Beans & Greens

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new stories and recipes.

Want more? Feel free to visit my photoblog Susan Nye 365 or click here for more recipes and magazine articles or here to watch me cook! I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good.

© Susan W. Nye, 2011

Time for Cookies!

Christmas Eve is just one week away. You’ll want to set out a plate of cookies for Santa … here are a few suggestions!

Traditional Christmas cookies… with a twist!
Citrus & Spice Sugar Cookies on Parenting NH’s website
Peppermint Bark Cookies deep in my website archives
Macadamia Nut Shortbread
Root ‘n’ Tooty Good ‘n’ Fruity Oatmeal Cookies

Or maybe you prefer homemade candies!
Chocolate Dipped Orange Caramels
Chocolate Almond Buttery Brittle

Fast & easy … nothing beats a brownie!
Black & White Brownies
Triple Threat Brownies
Peanut Butter Brownies
Sweet Dream Bars

Sweet & spicy gingerbread … a holiday must-have!
Gingerbread cupcakes with cream cheese frosting … you can even transform those cupcakes into snowmen!

Want more? Click here for fun and festive seasonal menus! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2011

Making Christmas & Chocolate Dipped Orange Caramels

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love Christmas. From start to finish, I love the whole nine yards, the whole darn season. I confess I rarely leap into the fray on Black Friday. I like to savor Thanksgiving for a few days, make turkey noodle soup and relax.

However, by the first of December, I am hopelessly in the spirit. I start tunelessly humming Christmas carols and don’t stop until after New Year’s. More important, I channel my inner decorator. There’s nothing like a few decorations and a house filled with greenery to get into the spirit.

If I don’t get my dates mixed up, I buy a tree from the Boy Scouts. Otherwise, I visit the farm stand. Next, I scavenge the woods behind my house for greens, branches of bright red winterberry and pinecones. Finally, I lug in four big boxes of decorations from the garage.

To set the perfect mood, I track down my collection of Christmas CD’s and load them up. Nat King Cole, Andrea Bocelli and Michael Bublé fill the house with song while I deck the halls. Bunches of greens, holly and juniper provide a bit of cheer at the front door and back. More greens are slung onto the mantle. Candles go in the windows. Festive grapevine wreaths are hung inside and out. I wrestle the tree into its stand, string it with lights and cover it with ornaments. The house sparkles with lights and color and is filled with the wonderful scent of pine and spruce.

Every year I come up with a couple of clever projects and homemade gifts for the holidays. I bake cookies or make candy and pack them up in tins or shiny bags. Sometimes I make chocolate sauce by the gallon or tapenade by the quart. One year, I knitted nonstop until late Christmas Eve to give scarves to all the girls. Another time I spent hours and hours decorating grapevine wreaths with greens, pinecones, birds, baubles and bows. Pass me a pinecone and I’ll figure out something to do with it. My sister claims I am a frustrated pre-school teacher. She could be right.

None of this festive homemaking and crafting is new. It started when I was just a kid. My teachers and Girl Scout leaders conspired to get me hooked on pipe cleaners and glitter. Throughout December art classes and troop meetings were devoted to making glittery decorations and gifts. We glued strip after strip of construction paper into colorful chains. We could have wrapped the globe ten or fifteen times. Well not quite, but our festive paper chains ran up and down the halls, in and out of every classroom and around the gym. Our class pictures were pasted onto glittery Popsicle stick frames to hang on the tree. Wreaths were fashioned out of penny candies. Our hands and feet were immortalized in plaster of Paris.

My mom even joined the conspiracy. My sister and I helped her make sugar cookies and string popcorn with cranberries for the tree. I suspect more popcorn was eaten than strung. As got we older, Mom found projects to keep the two of us busy and make the house beautiful. I remember spending an afternoon gluing macaroni onto cardboard circles. Wary that we would spray each other instead of the pasta, Mom then took over. She gave our little creations a coat of gold spray paint, stuck a candle in the center and set them on the dining room table. I was convinced that it was pure decorating genius.

Enjoy the holiday season with a little music, some baking and a few baubles, bows and pinecones!

Bon appétit!

Chocolate Dipped Orange Caramels
Make up a batch and keep handy for a mid afternoon pick-me-up or hostess gift. Enjoy!
Makes 36 pieces

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
3-4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken in pieces*
3-4 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken in pieces*

Line the bottom of an 8×8 inch baking pan with nonstick foil or parchment paper brushed lightly with oil.

Combine the sugar, orange juice and salt in a 3 quart pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil, swirling the pan from time to time, until the caramel is golden brown.

While the caramel is bubbling, cut the butter into small pieces and heat the cream to a simmer.

When the caramelized sugar is the right color, add the butter and whisk to combine. Be careful, it will bubble up. When the butter is well combined, add the cream and whisk to combine.

Continue to boil the caramel cream until it reaches 255 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and Grand Marnier. Carefully pour the hot caramel into the prepared pan, cool to room temperature and refrigerate until firm.

When the caramel is cool, use the foil or parchment paper to lift the caramel out of the pan. Cut the slab of caramel into 36 pieces.

Put 3/4 of the chocolate in a small glass bowl and zap in the microwave for 1 minute. Give the chocolate a stir. Assuming it has not melted completely, return the chocolate to the microwave and zap for 10-15 seconds. Continue to zap and stir until the chocolate reaches 110-115 degrees. I use an instant read thermometer to check the temperature. Stir in the remaining chocolate and let it sit for 1 minute. Give it a stir. It should be nice and shiny.

Dip one end of each caramel in the melted chocolate. Transfer the dipped chocolate to a tray lined with parchment paper to cool and harden. Store in the refrigerator. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving.

* If you prefer, you can use all bittersweet, all semisweet or all milk chocolate.

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What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Feel free to visit my photoblog, Susan Nye 365 or my cleverly named other blog, Susan Nye’s Other Blog, or website www.susannye.com. You can find more than 200 recipes, links to magazine articles and lots more. I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2010

Happy Halloween & Buttery Chocolate Almond Brittle

English_Toffee_01There are many wonderful things about living in the country. Fresh air. Easy access to the mountains for skiing and hiking. A beautiful lake just around the corner. Still the country is not for everyone. If you’ve spent most of your life in the city or a sprawling suburb, the peace and quiet can be a bit unsettling. And then there are a whole bunch of new sights, sounds and smells that can be even more unnerving. Take for instance, a bear investigating the bird feeder on your deck, a coyote howling at the moon or a skunk wandering around your garden.

Except for some great people, there is not much I miss about the hectic, hustle and bustle life I had before moving back to New England. I don’t miss working 5:00-to-9:00 (no, that’s not a typo!) or jumping on airplanes a couple of times a week. I don’t miss having a cell phone glued to my ear. And I certainly don’t miss sitting in traffic for hours (usually with a cell phone glued to my ear.)

But I do miss trick-or-treaters. I will soon celebrate my fifth Halloween in my house near Pleasant Lake. So far, I have only had one, yes only one, trick-or-treater. To be honest, I’m not really sure if he qualifies as a true trick-or-treater. As far as I could tell, he was cleverly disguised as himself. It was dark, it was raining and it’s possible he came to the door for directions or to borrow a cup of sugar. I was so happy to see him that I gave him a candy bar and wished him a Happy Halloween. He quickly left without saying much of anything.

Given my love of all things Halloween, especially the costume part, I would be delighted to have a swarm of little fairy princesses, ghosts and super heroes at my doorstep on all hallows’ eve. Unfortunately, they don’t come. It’s not like I’m one of those peculiar ladies who lives in a rickety old house, high on the top of a ghostly hill. Okay, maybe I’m a bit peculiar but I don’t live on a hill. And unless I’m having a bad hair day, I’m hardly scary. I keep telling myself, it’s not me; it’s the neighborhood. By Halloween, the summer people are long gone and most of the snow birds have taken flight and headed south. With most of the houses are empty, the pick’ens are pretty slim.

When I was little, my family lived in a busy suburban neighborhood. The yards were small and the houses close together. Not so close that you could reach out your window into your neighbor’s living room to turn down the volume on the television, but close enough. The baby boom was booming and the neighborhood was swarming with kids. Every house had two or three; some had four or more. The competition for Halloween goodies was steep and plans were not left to the last minute or to chance.

Every Halloween I joined forces with my friends Binky, Mary and Marybeth. By mid-October we were hard at work on our trick-or-treating strategies. Early on it was all about the costumes. We always made our costumes; assembled is probably a better word. We would raid each other’s dress-up boxes and before long we were ready to terrorize the neighborhood guised as witches, clowns, hobos and gypsies.

Of course we wanted to maximize our loot. So in the final days leading up to Halloween our strategizing was all about the route. Our goal was to visit as many houses as we possibly could before everyone ran out of candy. To complicate matters, we had a few favorites. We certainly didn’t want to miss out on one neighbor’s hand-dipped candy apples or another’s sticky, sweet popcorn balls.

Finally the big night arrived and outfitted in our ghoulish best we raced through the neighborhood. Whether you have a stampede of goblins and ghouls at your door or spend a quiet evening with a good mystery,

Happy Halloween and bon appétit!

Buttery Chocolate Almond Brittle
Whether you have trick-or-treaters or not, why not try your hand at a homemade sweet treat! Enjoy!

1/2 cup whole almonds, toasted
1/2 cup each – semi sweet, milk and white chocolate chips
1 cup coconut, toasted
3/4 pound (3 sticks) butter
3 cups sugar
Dash salt
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon vanilla

In a medium bowl, toss together the almonds, chocolate chips and coconut. Put them on a baking sheet lined with a silicon baking mat, spreading them out into an even single layer.English_Toffee_03

Put butter, sugar, salt and water in a heavy pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Remove the spoon and cook to 300-310 degrees on a candy thermometer. Stir in the vanilla.

Carefully pour the hot sugar over the nut mixture and let cool. Be careful not to touch the cookie sheet after the sugar has been poured. The baking sheet will be very hot; let cool completely, at least 2 hours. Break the brittle into pieces and serve.

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Pork Stew Paprika

Feel free to make a comment; I’d love to hear from you. Just click on COMMENTS below.

I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Feel free to visit my photoblog, Susan Nye 365 or my cleverly named other blog, Susan Nye’s Other Blog, or website www.susannye.com. You can find more than 200 recipes, links to magazine articles and lots more. I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good.

© Susan W. Nye, 2009