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

It Takes a Circle & Cheesecake Brownies

John_PLeasant_LakeSharing some of the tales told around my table is a lot of fun; especially some of my childhood adventures. Except for the on-going trauma and drama of being a middle child, mine was pretty much an idyllic childhood. However, I have to admit that, from time to time, my fingers hesitate on the keyboard. Although I never ran with scissors, I worry that some readers might be horrified by the easy-going nature of my childhood.

Compared to today’s moms and dads, mine were the epitome of slap-dash. We now lovingly refer to it as the Joe and Libby Nye School of Negligent Parenting. Yes, they loved my sister, brother and I. They still do; but there was no hovering or helicoptering. They didn’t shuttle us from one play date to the next and then on to a never-ending lineup of practices and lessons. They simply told us, in no uncertain terms, to turn off the television and go out to play. And we did.

That said; we were never far from watchful, caring eyes. The moms in our neighborhood were mostly stay-at-home and all their kitchen windows faced the street. These women knew each other’s children and all our quirks. They knew who took jelly with their peanut butter and who took fluff. They even knew that I was the only kid in the United States who didn’t like peanut butter sandwiches, with or without fluff or jelly. They knew who was having trouble with math and who needed to work on the beanbag toss. They tut-tutted any mishaps and applauded our successes. They still do.

These women were more or less everywhere, or at least it seemed that way. Whenever we tried to make a break from the straight and narrow, one of them would appear to give us (and our conscience) a nudge. It didn’t matter if we were throwing crab apples at the new kid, cutting the lift line at the ski hill or hitchhiking; someone’s mother always turned up. Then, gently but firmly, she would ask, “Does your mother know what you are doing?” Except in the case of hitchhiking – then it was more like, “Get in this car this minute! Does your mother know what you’re doing!?!” When we were teenagers, we were convinced that these women were nosey busybodies, a collective pain in our you know whats. Years later, we figured out that they were just looking out for us.

In the summer on Pleasant Lake, Mom and her friends gathered every afternoon at the beach. Known as The Ladies of the Beach, they pulled their beach chairs into The Circle to chat and share ideas, large and small. Yes, even in the summer, these women followed our progress, our triumphs and mishaps. We could run, but we couldn’t hide.

These Ladies were better than Homeland Security when it came to sharing information. Much better. There were daily updates on who passed their raft test, had a wicked case of poison ivy or a troublesome earache. They knew who fell off their bicycle or into the pond. When we got older, they fretted about who we were dating or if we were dateless. They wondered and worried if we were sneaking a few beers on the beach at night. Instead of sending our dads down to check, they let us experiment and suffer that first hangover.

As time went on, the Ladies of the Beach knew where we went to college and our majors. Later, they followed job changes, moves, marriages and the blessed arrival of each other’s grandchildren. When our lives became more complex, it was harder to keep track but they did their best.

Sadly, many of them are gone but we were more than fortunate to have The Ladies of the Beach in our lives. They encouraged us, cheered us and celebrated with us. An African proverb tells us that it takes a village to raise a child. On Pleasant Lake, it takes a Circle.

I wish you all a wonderful summer surrounded by friends and family. Bon appétit!

Cheesecake Brownies
Brownies are everyone’s favorite portable dessert. Next time, swirl in cheesecake batter for a more than special treat. Enjoy!
Makes 24 brownies

Start by making the brownie layer:
14 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon espresso powder or instant coffee
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Place the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×13-inch pan.

Stirring frequently, heat the butter and chocolate in a heavy saucepan over very low heat. Remove the pan from heat when the butter and chocolate are almost melted. Whisk until completely melted and well combined. Cool for 10 minutes.

Whisk the sugar, espresso powder and salt into the chocolate. Whisking constantly, add the eggs one at a time. Whisk in the vanilla. Add the flour and stir until just combined. Spread the brownie batter in the prepared baking pan.

Now make the cheesecake batter and swirl it into the brownies:
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put the cream cheese and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy and well combined. Add the egg and vanilla and continue beating until smooth and well combined.

Drop dollops of cheesecake batter on top of the brownie batter and swirl with a knife.

Finally, garnish and bake:
1 cup your favorite chocolate chips, dark, semisweet or milk

Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the top of the cheesecake brownies.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes or until a toothpick just comes out clean. Do not over bake! Cool and cut into squares.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Swordfish with Tequila-Lime Butter
Two Years Ago – Grilled Swordfish with Olive & Caper Salsa
Three Years Ago – Grilled Red Potatoes with Lemon-Garlic-Herb Oil
Four Years Ago – Tandoori Chicken
Five Years Ago – Blueberry Muffins
Six Years Ago – Peanut Butter Brownies

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

Do you have any special summer memories? Feel free to share. Let’s start a conversation.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015

Getting Ready for the Holidays & Peppermint Bark Cookies

nutcracker_01Thanksgiving was on the late side this year. For those of you who pride yourselves on staying on top of every holiday, Christmas is coming. It’s time to get cracking. There are gifts to buy, a house to decorate and cookies to bake. What am I saying? You’ve probably done it all already!

For the rest of us, well it’s time to start dreaming of a white Christmas, checking the TV guide for old movies and more or less anything else to help us procrastinate. Sure, we pretend that we’ll make headway on our list by knitting scarves or mittens while Bing Crosby croons. Sometimes, we even manage to find the knitting needles if not the yarn we bought at a craft fair last summer.

Yes, I admit it. I’m one of those people. The kind who runs an all-day-all-night sprint of buying, wrapping, baking and decorating on December 24th. It’s particularly exciting when a nor’easter blows in. Is there anything more merry than slipping and sliding all over town on Christmas Eve? How about prepping twice-baked potatoes and baking a cheesecake until two in the morning?

Okay, maybe not. Instead of waiting until the last minute, here are a few foolproof and festive ways to get you started early on your holiday preparations.

Throw a party. Whether you opt for a potluck or cocktails, a holiday party will prompt you to hang your favorite baubles on the tree and line the nutcrackers up on the mantelpiece. If you find an extra minute or two, you might even run the vacuum cleaner around the living room. You needn’t invite a cast of thousands; your nearest and dearest or a few neighbors will do. Not only will you enjoy a fun evening but your halls will be decked sooner rather than later.

Add a Secret Santa or Yankee Swap to the party and you’ll be forced into the shops. While you’re there, you might as well pick up a few things for the family. In spite of yourself, you’ll make a dent in your holiday shopping before noon on the 24th.

Attend a cookie exchange. For some reason, Christmas has become synonymous with cookies. Not just one cookie will do; we must bake at least a dozen different kinds and the fancier the better. Now, someone, anyone, in your office or on your street must know about your fabulous Ginger Shortbread or Peppermint Bark Cookies. With a little luck, she’ll host an exchange just to get her hands on a dozen or so. Good news for you, you’ll go home with a pile of different treats. Moreover, chances are pretty good that your host will hold that swap in the next week or two. How nice to have your baking finished by mid-December. Don’t forget to throw a few cookies in the freezer to save for Santa.

And hey, if you’re in the kitchen anyway, you might as well whip up a quadruple batch of those wonderful cashews you’re famous for, some of that addictive Buttery Chocolate Almond Brittle or Death by Chocolate Sauce. These treats make great stocking stuffers and last minute hostess gifts.

Speaking of swaps, how about a Holiday Wrap & Chat? Invite some of your pals to stop by with their gifts, rolls of cheery holiday paper, bows and tags. Pool your resources, put on some festive tunes and spend a few hours wrapping and chatting. A great two-fer, you’ll be forced to move your shopping deadline up from Christmas Eve and enjoy a low-key evening with friends. Don’t forget, a sip of wine and a nibble of cheese will make the work seem to go quicker!

Enjoy the countdown to Christmas (only twenty-three more days) and bon appétit!

Peppermint Bark Cookies
Make sure to put out a plate of these delicious cookies for Santa. Enjoy!
Makes about 5 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flourbaking
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant expresso or coffee powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 ounces mini chocolate chips
White Chocolate Ganache (recipe follows)
4 ounces peppermint sticks, crushed

Put the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a bowl and whisk until combined. Add the chopped chocolate and toss to combine

Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture and beat until combined. Cover and chill the dough until firm, about 30 minutes.

Put the racks in the center of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.

Use a small scoop to grab scant tablespoons of dough, roll into 1-inch balls and flatten slightly. Arrange the cookies about 2 inches apart on sheet pans.

Switching position and turning the pans at the midpoint, bake the cookies for 8 to10 minutes. Cool the cookies on a rack, frost with White Chocolate Ganache and sprinkle with crushed peppermint.

Layer the cookies between sheets of wax or parchment paper in an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 1 week. If you are making ahead, freeze before frosting.

White Chocolate Ganache
6 ounces white chocolate
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons heavy cream
4 tablespoons sifted confectioner’s sugar

Put the chocolate, butter and cream in a heavy saucepan over low heat. When the chocolate and butter is about 1/3 melted, remove from the heat, let sit for a minute or two and whisk until melted and smooth. Add the confectioner’s sugar and whisk again until smooth. Let cool for a few minutes before frosting the cookies.

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One Year Ago – Mixed Reds & Greens Holiday Salad
Two Years Ago – Snowy Pecan Balls
Three Years Ago – Chocolate Truffles
Four Years Ago – Smoked Salmon Mousse
Five Years Ago – Roasted Beans
Six 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!

How are your holiday preparations going? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2014

A Christmas Cookie Swap & Ginger Shortbread

Baking_CookiesWhat’s not to love about a Cookie Swap? It’s not just a delightful excuse for friends to get together; a Cookie Swap has a sweet bonus. You arrive with one big batch of your favorite Christmas cookie and leave with a cornucopia of treats. That’s right; instead of spending days baking eight or ten different kinds of cookies, you bake up a big batch of one special treat and swap them for a wonderful assortment. Along with the cookies, you’ll enjoy a few hours of holiday cheer with friends. Sounds like a pretty good two-fer to me.

How to begin?

The more the merrier! Invite anyone who loves cookies; which more or less means any and every one you know. Friends, neighbors, family and co-workers. Don’t forget that nice woman you met in the library last week, the one who’s new to town.

How many cookies are too many? Silly question; you can never have too many cookies. However, it’s a good bet to ask everyone to bring six dozen cookies for swapping and maybe a few more to munch during the party.

Encourage your guests to bring copies of their recipes. That way, everyone goes home with plenty of cookies and a whole lot of know how. To avoid any added confusion during the swap, ask your guests to bring containers to carry their goodies home. Since someone always forgets, be prepared and have some extra containers or bags handy.

What’s next?

Think casual. There will be plenty of sweets, so whip up a few of your favorite savory snacks. Stick to figure food, set out small plates and let everyone help themselves. If you want to add something a bit more substantial, mugs of soup will be most welcome on a cold night. No need to worry about dessert, there will be cookies galore. Chill some wine, mull some cider and the menu is complete.

cookie_swap_card_02Clear a table, add a few candles and baubles and wait for the cookies to arrive. Both set-up and clean-up will be a whole lot easier if you ask everyone to bring their favorite holiday platter to display their cookies. Have little cards ready to label each platter. That way your guests can connect the baker and recipe with each cookie.

More than likely, the halls are already decked and there’s a Christmas mix cued in your iPod or CD player. Now all you need to do is light a fire, fluff a few pillows and take a deep breath or two before the doorbell rings.

Happy holidays and bon appétit!

Ginger Shortbread
I’ve combined two of my favorites – shortbread and ginger – in this tasty holiday treat. Enjoy!ginger_shortbread_03
Makes about 6 dozen cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup finely chopped candied ginger
2 sticks (1 cup) butter at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoon Grand Marnier
8 ounces dark or milk chocolate, chopped

Put the flour and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the orange zest and ginger and whisk again.

Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier and beat until combined.

Gradually add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined.

Divide the dough into 3 or 4 pieces. Shape each piece into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, wrap in parchment paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats.

Using a sharp knife, cut the logs into 1/3-inch thick slices. Arrange the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake until the edges are golden, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Put the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and zap in the microwave for 15 seconds. Remove from the microwave and stir. Continue to zap in 10 second intervals and stir until the chocolate has almost melted. Let the chocolate sit for a minute or two and stir until smooth.

Dip the cookies in the chocolate or spread chocolate on each cookie. Let the cookies sit for about 30 minutes to set.

The cookies can be stored for up to 1 week in an airtight container.

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Print-friendly Cookie Swap Card Template to label all the cookies.

One Year Ago – Baked French Toast
Two Years Ago – Braised Lamb with Artichokes and Mushrooms and Creamy Polenta
Three Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Roasted Grapes
Four Years Ago – Savory Bread Pudding
Five Years Ago – Triple Chocolate Parfait
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s your favorite Christmas cookie? Feel free to share. Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2013