Okay, so it's a little on the early side but if you come to think about it and if you're like we used to be (when I had small children and not adults who are so used to BIG productions they're now blase about everything.....), you've probably already been thinking about what you're going to be doing for the holidays, right?
Most foodies really get into holidays (I'll have some really cute Halloween treats coming up too! We don't do anything about this anymore either and we'll probably head out for a night of theater and dinner instead)... look forward to them and try to outdo the previous year. I used to make a really big deal out of Xmas, from making our own designer tree decorations, table centerpieces, house decorations, porch trimmings to whole gingerbread towns and fantasy carousels, not to forget that each of my children has their own special Xmas cookie, drink and treat which I'm expected to recall and present as a holiday tradition..... but I figure I'm creating memories that they can think back on when they have their own homes and at least remember warm feelings, family get together's and great times.
Being on the OCD continuum, once I get fixated on a project, I go all out. Some of my holiday projects would last all day and the final touches would take weeks before everything was perfect. Don't get freaked out about all this as I've relaxed over the years and have toned it down, we're a pretty relaxed group now and holidays are still a fabulous opportunity to create some new memories for everyone! Now I choose a different theme every year and do gourmet food for all. From an elaborate Chinese Appetizer Buffet (a BIG favorite and easy on the hostess affair since people mill around serving themselves, set up a beverage and dessert table too and let them sit around, watch holiday specials, movies or sports and relax.... to rustic Italian Tuscan fare served family style to Classic French Favorites.... of course, there are always the inevitable Family Classics we never miss, like: Bacalao a la Vizcaina (Cod Spanish Style), Flan Napolitano (heavy duty flan), Sangria Navidena (full of fruit and wine), etc.
Share with me some great recipes you can all make and share and whether you make them for your own family or decide to turn these into holiday gifts, they're all wonderful and you'll be surprised how easy they are and how professional they look. i.e: the snowflakes shown at the beginning look stunning yet are just thin cardboard brushed with white glue and sprinkled with colored glitter yet when put around the house or hung from the tree look so lovely - or how about these Snowy Balloon Ornaments that you make with string wound around a small balloon, brushed with watered down white glue (let dry overnight, pop balloon) paint with glue again and sprinkle glitter and that's it! Look for a dramatic branch, set it on sand or pebbles from a painted bucket, paint the branch silver or leave as is.... you can wind Xmas lights and leave with lights only too (these look wonderful) or go ahead and hang the balloons from the branches too! Really great!
Then you have the more involved projects like Gingerbread Houses if you decide to do it right and bake your own cookie dough and icing, but if you don't want something so detailed, you can buy cookies and use them with store bought icing and candies too or use Graham Crackers. Cuts preparation time down a lot and still gives you a lovely decoration and if you make them small and place on a long tray, can be a spectacular tabletop centerpiece which you can eat later. Remember, your glue will be icing, use your favorite candies and edible glitter (look in the cake/baking isle) and use whatever you think will look good, licorice, gum balls, look at candy as construction materials and you'll be surprised how many can work! This is a great foul weather project to keep kids entertained indoors or get some friends together and everyone make their own cottage (have plenty of grogg available and the houses will get more creative as the night progresses...lol...)
Here's a Gingerbread Xmas Carousel (a toned down version. My original one took 12 hours to complete, had stained glass roof panels, candy cane posts, galloping reindeer with silver decorations and so much icing in intricate snowflake patterns to make you dizzy. It was fabulous and I would make 3-4 over the weekend and sell them at the Church bazaar every year). But you don't have to get so involved, you can make small ones which will still be lovely! For those of you with architects, designers or engineers at home (you know who you are!) get them to make the drawings for the gingerbread and design the house, it'll be awesome!
Here's some treats you can make to give your little ones or use as gifts! You'll love them....
NO BAKE CHOCOLATE BON BON POPS.- Really, no bake, easy and yummy!
18 chocolate sandwich cookies with cream filling (like Oreos)
1-1/2 cups pecans, toasted
2 tbl orange liqueur or orange juice
1 tbl light corn syrup (Karo or make your own)
2 tbl unsweetened cocoa powder (like Hershey's in the tin)
20 lollipop sticks
1 12-oz. pkg. milk chocolate or semisweet chocolate pieces (chips....)
1 tbl shortening
1. In food processor bowl combine cookies and 3/4 cup of the nuts; pulse until cookies are crushed. Add orange liqueur, corn syrup, and cocoa powder; process until combined. Add remaining nuts; pulse until coarsely chopped.
2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Shape cookie mixture in 1-inch balls. Place on baking sheet, insert a lollipop stick, and freeze for 30 minutes.
3. In a small saucepan combine chocolate pieces and shortening. Cook and stir over medium-low heat just until melted. Remove from heat. Dip pops in chocolate. Return to baking sheet. Loosely cover and refrigerate 1 hour or until chocolate is set. If using liqueur, flavor will mellow after a day or two. Makes 20 pops.
SANTA MADELEINE COOKIES.- Tasty Madeleines with Xmas style...so cute!
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 egg yolks
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
2 tsp finely shredded orange peel
2 tsp orange juice
1/2 tsp anise seed, crushed (optional)
1 recipe Decorator Frosting (see recipe below) or 2 cans vanilla frosting
Red, blue, green, pink, and/or black paste food coloring
Small round candies (optional)
1. Grease and flour twenty-four 3-inch madeleine molds; set aside. Stir together flour and baking powder; set aside.
2. In a medium mixing bowl beat egg and egg yolks with an electric mixer on high speed 5 minutes or until thick and lemon colored. Add powdered sugar; beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed about 5 minutes more or until very thick and satiny. Beat in butter with an electric mixer on low speed. Add flour mixture, beating at low speed until combined. Stir in orange peel, orange juice, and, if using, anise seed. Carefully spoon batter into the prepared molds, filling each three-fourths full.
3. Bake in a 375 degree F oven about 10 minutes or until edges are golden and tops spring back. Cool in molds on rack 1 minute. Loosen cookies with a knife. Invert cookies onto a rack and cool completely.
4. Divide frosting, leaving about half of it white; color one-third with red and/or pink food coloring and remaining with green, black, and/or blue food coloring.
5. To decorate, fill a decorating bag fitted with a small star tip with white frosting. (or you can use a small zip lock bag with one of the corners cut out to fit the decorating tip) Pipe on hat trim at an angle about a third of the way down from narrow end of cookie. Fill decorating bag fitted with a small star tip or plain tip with red or pink frosting; pipe on hat. With white frosting, pipe on mustache, beard, and pom-pom hat. Fill decorating bag fitted with a small round tip with green, black, or blue frosting; pipe on eyes. Using red frosting, pipe on mouth. Pipe on other frosting decorations. (Or, use small round candies for eyes, nose, mouth, and cheeks, attaching them with frosting.) Wrap cookies tightly to store. Makes 24 cookies.
Decorator Frosting: Beat 1 cup shortening and 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla on medium speed for 30 seconds. Slowly add 2 cups sifted powdered sugar; beat well. Beat in 2 tablespoons milk. Gradually beat in 2-1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar and enough milk to make piping consistency.
CARDAMON SNAP COOKIES.- YUM!
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup mild-flavored molasses
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1. In a mixing bowl beat shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the brown sugar, baking soda, 1-1/2 tsp of the cardamom, and the cinnamon. Beat on medium to high speed until combined. Beat in molasses and egg. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in remaining flour.
2. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in mixture of granulated sugar and remaining 1/2 tsp cardamom to coat. Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
3. Bake in 375 F oven about 10 min or until edges are set and tops are slightly cracked. Cool on wire rack. Package 6 cookies in a small glass tumbler; seal with waxed paper; tie with string. Makes about 48 cookies.
You might like to try this Popcorn Wreath (use dental floss with a needle, you make strings that you can also use around the Xmas Tree, but then you wind the strings around a foam ring, put a lovely bow and hang it up.
Or how about these Stained Glass Cookies which you can use as a gift or decorations around the house and on the tree. You can also make them for other holidays, make hearts for Valentine's, pine trees, animals, people, whatever you want... the trick is to make the cookies as outlines only so you can fill them up with crushed hard candies (lifesavers or whatever you like). On a cookie sheet with foil and non-stick spray, lay the cookie outlines and fill with the crushed hard candies (put in a baggie and hit with a rolling pin so they break, put into the cookies carefully so you're "inside the lines". Don't forget to make a hole to hang them from too. Bake in the oven where they'll melt and turn into lovely "stained glass", you can even put several colors together, get creative and you'll see how lovely these are. They make edible designer decorations too!
Impressive Gingerbread or Sugar Cookies, then you go OCD with the icing to make intricate patterns like lace or snowflakes. You can add candy details, silver balls or sprinkle edible glitter on them too. Your imagination is the only limitation you have, plus all these projects make great keep-the-kids-busy afternoon projects that will give you great results to share and eat. Or turn them into gifts, look for the prettiest jars and boxes, believe me anyone would love to receive these tasty little tidbits custom made from your kitchen!
For an incredible finish I'm including one of my all-time-favorite-munchies:
NUTELLA SWIRL POUND CAKE.- An absolutely fantastic take on an old classic...OMG!
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 stick unsalted butter, softened or 16 tbl or 2 cups
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 jar (13-oz) Nutella
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Lightly grease and flour a 9-by-5 loaf pan, tapping out any excess flour. In a glass measuring cup, lightly beat the eggs with the vanilla. In a medium bowl, whisk the 1 1/2 cups of flour with the baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, using a mixer, beat the butter with the sugar at med-high speed until fluffy, about 3 min. With the mixer at medium-low speed, gradually beat in the egg mixture until fully incorporated. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, beating at low speed between additions until just incorporated. Continue to beat for 30 sec longer.
Spread one-third of the batter in the prepared pan, then spread half of the Nutella on top. Repeat with another third of the batter and the remaining Nutella. Top with the remaining batter. Lightly swirl the Nutella into the batter with a butter knife. Do not overmix. (you stick the knife into the batter and make an "S" pattern so you swirl the Nutella around).
Bake the cake for about 1 hour and 15 min, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 min. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, turn it right side up, and let cool completely, about 2 hours. Cut the cake into slices and serve. Great with Coffee Ice Cream.
NOTE: For gifts: I make this in foil loaf pans and leave them in there. I also use small loaf pans as individual treats. Wrap with colored transparent papers and tie with ribbons.
How about it? Will you give these a try and amaze your family and friends? Saving money making your holiday gifts doesn't have to mean giving out tacky things either, on the contrary, during these times when time is our most valuable resource and almost nothing is home or hand-made, receiving something like this means the ultimate gift- then add the awesome flavor, richness and luxury these treats represent and this is truly an upscale gift! Who would have thunk it! So try some of these and you too can become a star for the holidays.... you'll save money, you'll stay home so you can make these in your jammies, save gas driving around, avoid crowds and get your Xmas gifts done, have munchies and have fun!
PS.- If you need more detailed instructions or clarification on any of these projects, please drop me a note and I'll make sure you've got all the steps covered, ok? Love to hear from you!