Thursday, May 31, 2007

Spritz Chocolate Sandwich Cookies


This is not a cookie I've traditionally made for Christmas, but it's such a wonderful spritz cookie recipe I really wanted to share it!

SPRITZ CHOCOLATE SANDWICHES

1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt

Buttery Chocolate Frosting:
3 Tblsp. butter, softened
4 1/2 Tblsp. unsweetened baking cocoa
3/4 tsp. vanilla
Dash of salt
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
About 6 Tblsp. light cream or evaporated milk

1 cup chopped walnuts

For dough, beat butter until light; gradually add sugar, beating after
each addition. Beat until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla to
blend well. Sift together flour and salt; gradually add to creamed
mixture, mixing well.

Put star plate in cookie press. Working with one-fourth of the dough
in the press at a time, press out strips of dough about 2 1/2 inches long
about an inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 400° for 6 to 8 minutes or until very delicately browned.
Remove cookies to cooling rack at once.

For Buttery Chocolate Frosting,
combine the butter and cocoa. Beat in vanilla, salt, sugar, and enough
light cream to make frosting of spreading consistency. When cookies are
cool, put them together in pairs with frosting between. Dip ends of
sandwiches in the frosting and then in the chopped nuts. Allow frosting
to set before packaging or storing cookies. Makes about 5 dozen
sandwich cookies.

For years I made these for the piano recitals of all three children. They were a great favorite on the refreshment table! In fact, they became such a favorite of the kids' piano teacher that I frequently presented her with a tin of these as an end-of-the year gift. These cookies are quite a bit of work, but the impressively delicious results are worth it!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Christmas Wreath Spritz Cookies


Here's another good recipe for pressed cookies:

CHRISTMAS WREATH COOKIES

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
Candied cherries, diced
Green decorating sugar

Heat oven to 400°. Cream butter and sugar together. Blend in
remaining ingredients. Place star plate in cookie press Working with
one-fourth of the dough at a time, press dough out into strips on
ungreased cookie sheet. Form the strips into circles (wreaths) and
pinch ends together to seal.

Decorate with pieces of candied cherries to resemble holly berries; sprinkle with green decorating sugar.

Bake 6 to 9 minutes, or until set but not brown. Remove to cooling racks.

Makes 4 to 5 dozen.

These resemble the spritz wreath cookies I always admired at the
Methodist church Christmas fair as a child. They add a lovely touch to a cookie
tray, but tend to be very fragile. Broken wreaths still taste good, however.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Christmas Tree Spritz



Here's another of my favorite recipes for spritz cookies:

CHRISTMAS TREE SPRITZ

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. almond extract
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/4 cups flour
Green paste food coloring
Colored candy sprinkles

Heat oven to 400°.

Cream butter and sugar. Blend in egg and extract, then flour and salt. Blend in small amount of green coloring to tint dough a light green.

Place tree plate in cookie press. Fill press with 1/4 of dough at a time. Form cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheet. Sprinkle cookies with colored candy sprinkles.

Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until set but not brown. Remove to racks to cool. Makes about 9 dozen.

This is a favorite on our cookie trays because it adds a note of lively color. If you do not care for almond flavoring, substitute vanilla.

Lemon Spritz


Aren't cookie presses wonderful? I love the way they produce many beautiful cookies so quickly. I don't remember ever making pressed cookies in my childhood or teen years, although I often helped my mother with baking, especially at Christmas. She probably owned a cookie press, but I don't remember it ever being used, if so.

When I had a kitchen of my own, I did acquire a cookie press -- if I remember right, as a gift from my mother. I have been through several cookie presses -- at least four that I can recall.

This lemon spritz recipe is a favorite of mine because it is very different. It has a lovely flavor from the fresh lemon juice and rind.

LEMON SPRITZ
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
1 Tblsp. lemon juice
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt

Beat butter until light; beat in sugars until light and fluffy. Beat
in lemon peel and juice and egg to blend thoroughly. Sift together
flour, baking soda and salt. Add to creamed mixture, blending well.

Fill the cookie press with one-fourth of the dough at a time. Use the
plates of your choice to press out cookies about 1 inch apart on ungreased
baking sheet. (I often use the camel plate for these cookies, but they are good in any shape.)

Bake at 375° for 10 to 12 minutes, or until light brown on edges.

Remove from baking sheets to cooling racks. Makes about 8 dozen cookies.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Recipes from an old magazine...


As I've mentioned before, every year I plan to try at least one or two new Christmas cookie recipes. These don't have to be newly developed recipes from a recent cookbook, newspaper, or magazine -- although they may be. These recipes just have to be new ones for me. They might come from a friend or from an old newspaper clipping -- just about any source. One year, I found two "keeper" recipes in an old Early American Life magazine which had been discarded by the local library. Here they are:

MACAROON KISS COOKIES
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 pkg. (3 oz.) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk

2 tsp. almond extract
2 tsp. orange juice
1 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
5 cups flaked coconut, divided use
9 oz. Hershey milk chocolate kisses, unwrapped (about 54)

Cream butter, cream cheese and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk, extract, and orange juice; beat well. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture until well blended. Stir in 3 cups coconut. Cover dough and chill it for about 1 hour.

Shape the dough in 1-inch balls. Roll balls in remaining coconut; place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned on bottom. Remove from oven and press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet, then carefully remove to racks to cool until chocolate is firm.

Makes 4 1/2
dozen.

These cookies are delicious and very festive-looking.

Here's the second recipe:

CHOCOLATE NUTTERS
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar, divided
1/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
1 3/4 cups flour
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 Tblsp. unsweetened baking cocoa
1 egg, separated
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
Candied cherry halves OR red and green M&Ms

Cream butter with 1 cup confectioners' sugar until well blended. Mix in 1/4 cup cocoa; gradually beat in flour, mixing until smooth. Chill dough for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, for filling, beat cream cheese in small mixer bowl; add remaining 1 cup confectioners' sugar, 2 T. cocoa, egg yolk, and vanilla, beating until smooth. Set aside. Slightly beat the egg white in a custard cup; set it aside.

Shape cookie dough into 1-inch balls; dip in egg white, then roll in chopped pecans. Place balls 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Gently press thumb into center of each cookie to make indentation; fill each with about 1 tsp. filling mixture.

Bake for 12 minutes at 350° or
until filling appears set. Cool slightly on cookie sheet; top each cookie with a cherry half or an M&M candy. Remove to racks; cool completely. Store in refrigerator due to the cream cheese filling.

Makes 40.

These cookies are really pretty and delicious. The M&Ms are my
own variation. If you would like vanilla filling rather than chocolate
(even prettier!), just leave out the 2 T. cocoa in the filling mixture.


Maybe one of these recipes will become a favorite for you at Christmas 2007! At the very least, maybe this thought will inspire you to search for a new recipe or two to try for your family and friends this Christmas.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Rudolph Day


I just noticed that this is my 50th post on this blog! It's been so much fun, and I expect it will become even more fun the closer we get to Christmas.

As it happens, today is also Rudolph Day for May. Over at Organized Christmas, the 25th of every month is Rudolph Day. Each 25th, there's a "meeting of the Rudolph Club" and suggestions are shared as to how we can plan and prepare ahead right now, for this Christmas.

A couple of suggestions for ongoing planning -- on the 25th of each month, set aside a sum of money, no matter how small, and by Christmas you'll have accumulated quite a fund. I set aside only $20 a month, but it was neat to have that "extra" money to work with last year.

Another thought they share is to open up a word processing document in January, label it "Christmas letter" or something similar, and every month type in the highlights from that month. When it comes time to send your holiday letter, you'll be ready.

There are many, many more great ideas, so I suggest you head over to Organized Christmas and see what's happening with today's Rudolph Club meeting!

Christmas Heirlooms


CHRISTMAS HEIRLOOMS

I was extremely fortunate to have some special Christmas things handed down to me. Oh, they weren't big, expensive, valuable items. Some would probably call them "trinkets" or even "junk". But to me they are very precious -- part of my heritage.

Many years ago my great-aunt gave me some old glass ornaments that had belonged to her and her late husband. Even though they are faded now and some are chipped, I continue to put them on the tree each year, along with some antique felt snowmen and elves.


There were also some of those heavy foil reflectors for use with the old-time Christmas lights. I still use the reflectors even though our modern lights are much smaller and they have to be put on just so to make them fit. You can see at least one reflector, a blue one, in the photo above.

The same great-aunt also gave me some wonderful vintage Christmas fabric and a box full of Christmas candles. There were carolers and a lamp post, angels, and other things. I always loved seeing such candles around when I was a child, but it's hard to imagine actually lighting one of them.

As I've said before, my grandmother was a real lover of Christmas, and she kept a good stock of
whatever was needed to make the holiday special. She gave me a whole box once of things she was getting rid of -- mostly paper goods -- and in it were some real treasures. I had always marveled that there were actually such things as paper doilies done in Christmas prints. Gram
had lots of them -- with holly, poinsettias, and so on. I felt extremely fortunate to find some of those -- several different sizes and prints -- in that box, and for years I used them very sparingly.

In the past few years I have found some lovely Christmas paper doilies in the dollar stores and in Target, so they're still out there. The above photo shows a scan of one of my grandmother's paper doilies.

Gram also gave me a box full of wrapping paper, ribbon, and tags. I have had a wonderful time using these things over the years. I still have some of the ribbon and tags, and included some in the memory books I made for my family.
Here's a Christmas tag from Gram.

She also gave me a few of the old hard plastic ornaments which we kids used to admire so much.

These ornaments seemed to usually be hung on the tree with red satin ribbons. Ever since then, red satin ribbon has just said "Christmas" to me. I always assumed it was out of my price range, but in recent years I've found it in mail order catalogs and used it to my heart's content.

By way of Mr. T's grandfather and also from a former neighbor of his, I came into the possession of many old Christmas cards from the 1930‚s and 40‚s. Many of these had had the signatures cut out, so the cards are not particularly valuable, but they are beautiful, nostalgic images. I love to display these at holiday time; it gives a connection to the past and also reminds me of the many cards Gram would have taped up everywhere at Christmas. Some of them I display under the glass of a glass-topped desk, but when I needed a way to display more I made a red and green ribbon board out of fabric, ribbon, and foam core.

This holds and displays these treasures beautifully in the front hallway.

So those are some of my Christmas heirlooms. What Christmas heirlooms do you have?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Helpful ideas for kitchen gifts to make



As everyone surely knows by now, gifts from the kitchen are some of my favorite things to make and give -- for Christmas, birthdays, or any occasion. I’ve found over the years a number of different cookbooks that have given me many good ideas for this type of recipe.

Some of the newer cookbooks in my collection along this line are written by Jackie Gannaway. I believe she has written over 40 cookbooks. These are small, booklet-style cookbooks, about 32 pages each. But they are packed with ideas. I’ve bought most of mine through Current. But they can also be found in local shops -- I got two of mine at Cherished Friends, one of my favorite shops in Elko, Nevada, while visiting my daughter. Or you can browse through the titles and purchase the books at www.cookbookcupboard. com.

Here are the books I have: Cookie Cones, The Cup Collection, Gift Mixes, Many More Mixes, Cookies in a Jar, and Muffins in a Jar.

Cookie Cones is full of innovative recipes for giving cookie mixes in disposable cake decorating bags. In addition to the yummy-sounding recipes, Jackie also includes dozens of ideas for packaging and decorating the cookie cones to make them look irresistibly cute. I have not yet found time to try any of these recipes, but I intend to soon.

The Cup Collection is filled with gift mix recipes of all sorts -- cake, soup, fudge, pudding, cobblers, and beverages -- which the recipient microwaves right in the gift mug you package the mix in. The only one I’ve tried so far is the Chocolate Fun Fudge in a Cup, but I hope to try more very soon. I have 4 cute new mugs on hand to use with these recipes for this Christmas.

Gift Mixes is a collection of all different sorts of mixes, from pilafs to nut breads to cookies and cakes, that would be nice in gift baskets. Jackie adds at the bottom of each page suggestions for other items to include in a basket with that particular mix. At the end of the book she has wonderful ideas for making other little things to tuck in each basket -- things like mulling spices, roasted nuts, candies, etc.

Many More Mixes is just that -- lots of recipes for different mixes packaged either in cups or in quart jars. Again, the recipes are for all different sorts of mixes, including pancake mix, bar cookie mixes, cornbread mixes, cake mixes, etc. Jackie gives great ideas for decorating the jars and for what to include in gift baskets with each recipe.

Cookies in a Jar contains just what you’d expect -- recipes (26 of them) for layered cookie mixes to give in quart jars. Butterscotch Brownie Mix in a Jar and Almond Joy Brownie Mix in a Jar sound particularly appealing.

Muffins in a Jar -- again, muffin mixes layered in jars for gift-giving. Some of these include glaze mixes as well. These delicious-sounding muffins can also simply be made up as muffins in your own kitchen -- skip the jars and just go directly to baking. Orange Date Muffins, Pina Colada Muffins, Trail Mix Muffins, Glazed Caramel Muffins -- and many more -- all sound so good. No Bake Mini Fruitcakes in a Jar sound like fun for Christmas.

Hope someone else will find these little books as useful and inspiring as I have!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

HOMESPUN CHRISTMAS


Product photo from Amazon.com
This morning I’m going to share some thoughts about another of my favorite Christmas books from Gooseberry Patch. I think Homespun Christmas is the second such book I bought, and I’ve used it a lot over the years.

Homespun Christmas is divided into 6 sections: Memories, Festive Foods, Goodies, Gifts from your Kitchen, Crafts, and Home for the Holidays.

Memories
-- just what the name implies. It’s composed of Christmas memories shared by different folks from around the country. Fun and inspiring Christmastime reading. You may pick up some neat ideas to start as traditions with your own family.


Festive Foods -- “A bountiful collection of holiday feasts and treats”, this section has three categories: Great Beginnings, Scrumptious Sideboard, and Bountiful Banquet.

From Great Beginnings, I highly recommend Crab Quiche Appetizers and Yuletide Crab Puffs. I’ve made both of these numerous times and they are very good, especially when you need a large amount of appetizers to feed a group or to take to a potluck.


From Scrumptious Sideboard, I’ve made Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes (Version #1) dozens of times and given out the recipe more times than I can count. This section and Bountiful Banquet both contain loads of other wonderful-sounding recipes.

Goodies -- “We fill your pantry with desserts & sweets from simple to the sublime”.

Mom’s Candy Apple Walnut Pie, from this section, is deliciously different. Pumpkin Dutch Apple Pie is a terrific combination of pumpkin and apple pies which I’ve often made for Thanksgiving. Apricot-Nut Supreme Brownies may be made with either chocolate or white chips -- so the brownies may be blond brownies OR chocolate ones, filled with apricots and almonds. They make a wonderful gift! Fancy Flower Biscuits, made with refrigerated biscuits, are a fun breakfast treat for kids to help with. Chocolate Malt Cookies are another favorite of ours. I could go on and on!

Gifts from Your Kitchen -- “Creative holiday treats from the heart of your home”.This section is full of fun ideas for creating and packaging kitchen gifts.

Crafts -- “That special homemade touch that only you can give”

I’ve used lots of the creative gift ideas from this section. The ideas for fabric gift bags and for making your own gift tags from bits and pieces of Christmas fabric, gift wrap, or cards are very helpful. I’ve adapted the idea for a Gingerbread Recipe Wall Hanging to use for all four seasons. The Holiday Candles are a fun, easy idea as well -- you start with plain pillar candles or votives. The Christmas Fire Starters are a fun project that makes a super gift for anyone with a fireplace or woodstove or anyone who enjoys camping.


Home for the Holidays -- “Helpful little how-to’s for all around the house”

This is a nice assortment of little decorating, entertaining, and gift ideas. I’ll be surprised if you don’t find several ideas here that you want to try.

If you are interested in purchasing this book, you can find it here: Homespun Christmas.  Used copies are readily available on Amazon for only a few dollars.  
Have fun with this book!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Planning for holiday baking and candy making




A really neat tool for planning your holiday baking can be found at OrganizedChristmas.com. It's a special form you can print out to keep track of what you plan to bake -- I use it to keep track of fruitcakes,cookies, breads and candies I make for Christmas giving.

There's a column for listing the name of the item, and one for noting down where the recipe is located -- in a specific cookbook, say, or in your recipe file. A third column is for listing down any special ingredients that you might not ordinarily have on hand. For example...

ITEM | RECIPE LOCATION | EXTRA INGREDIENTS

Pepparkakor| recipe notebook | 1 orange

Whipped | recipe notebook | real butter; cornstarch
Shortbread

Chocolate | Cook & Tell Dec. '91 | 2 7-ounce Hershey bars,
Fruitcake maraschino cherries, dates

And so on. There's also a column to check off when you've made the item, and others for when you've wrapped and sent the goodies. Another printable sheet titled Holiday Freezer Inventory helps you stay on top of what goodies you've stashed in your freezer.

I also keep a master list of items I generally cook and bake at Christmas time, and a long-term shopping list of ingredients needed for all of those items. That way I can start buying a few ingredients ahead each week starting as early as October. Since I start baking for the freezer in November, the ingredients are already on hand and the expense is spread out rather than being a huge outlay of funds in early or mid-December.

Hope these ideas are helpful to someone else! They sure have been a help to me.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Brief Christmas Devotional


At our church the Ladies' Christmas Fellowship is one of the highlights of the Christmas season. We have a lovely service, festive refreshments, and an activity such as a craft or Yankee Swap. Ladies invite their friends and loved ones. It's always a really nice time, and is held usually at the beginning of December. This timing helps us all to focus on what the holiday is really all about. This past Christmas, we did somethig a bit different for a devotional. We asked three different ladies to each share a Christmas memory and to give it a spiritual application if they wished. I was one of those who shared, and so I'm going to post my devotional here. Maybe someone else would like to use this idea during the coming season. As you will see, I incorporated my Christmas memory book into this devotional.

A CHRISTMAS MEMORY

I have so many wonderful Christmas memories, both from my own childhood and from my children's growing-up years, that it was hard to think about choosing just one. Two years ago, I spent quite a bit of time thinking back on my memories of Christmas past. I did something that some of you with grown children or with grandchildren might like to consider doing, if you haven't already. I wrote down every Christmas memory I could think of and typed them up. Then I made copies of family Christmas photos and other memorabilia, and gathered up all of the recipes I use at Christmas, along with recipes my mother and grandmother used. What I ended up with was a wonderful Christmas memory book to give to each of our children and their families. (Show the book.)

In fact, when I lent my copy to my parents for them to look through, they were so taken with this book that last year I made them one of their own. Then two of my aunts saw the book and enjoyed it so much that I ended up making each of them a copy, too.

It was interesting when I really started to think about Christmas memories, how many things came back to me that I thought I had forgotten. The memory I'm about to share with you tonight, however, has stayed sharp and clear.

Before I do that, though, I should give you a little background. Christmas cookie baking was a BIG tradition for us. I had grown up in a home where lots of baking went on, especially at holiday time. My mother would be in the kitchen for days before Christmas -- not making just cookies, but yeast breads and fudge and other treats -- and she would make up goodie trays for all of our neighbors and friends. So when I had a home of my own, I very naturally carried that on. (Turn to page in book) Let me read to you from my memory book:

HOLIDAY BAKING

I had always seen my parents' holiday gifts of baked goods to friends and neighbors as a very important part of Christmas. So early on, I began doing the same sort of thing by baking dozens and dozens of cookies and then freezing them for later use on cookie trays to give away and also for our own enjoyment. I started by baking the ones I was familiar with from my own childhood, like Russian Teacakes, Molasses Crinkles, Date-Oatmeal Cookies and Chocolate Spritz. Then, gradually, I
began branching out and trying different recipes. I made a point each year of trying at least one or two different cookies. Many of these recipes would become favorites and go into the file of "must-make" cookies for each year.

When the kids were young, we always, always set aside a day to bake cut-out cookies. We didn't go the route of icing the baked cookies, but did things the easier, possibly less messy way by sprinkling on colored sugars, nonpareils, silver dragees, and the like before baking. I had these marvelously detailed red plastic cutters that produced wonderful designs. I was also fortunate to inherit some of my grandmother's aluminum cookie cutters with the faded green metal handles. For a couple of years our elderly friends Sue and Margaret would join us to make cutout cookies. I think they may have had more fun than the kids! I will never forget how Sue invariably perched on a creaky old
wooden youth chair that we had. I held my breath every time, but it never gave way.

So that gives you a little background into how much of a tradition cookie-baking was at our house. You need to know that to really appreciate the memory I'm about to share with you. (Turn to page in book)

In my book, I've titled it:

HOW THE THIRD-GRADER SAVED CHRISTMAS
(The cookie tradition part of it, anyway.)

It was a busy year. Our kids had changed schools. Sean was away at boarding school for his first year; Carrie and Joanna were at a small local Christian school. And so was I.  I was working at the school as a teachers' aide. I enjoyed the work and it was great being able to be with the kids all day. But oh, it was a long day and often meant not getting home until nearly 5 p.m. I was doing well to get a meal prepared each evening -- and sometimes I would start that the minute I came in the door, still wearing hat, coat, and boots. (I did take my mittens off.)

It really looked as if no cookie baking would take place at our house that Christmas. There were going to be two disappointed little girls who had grown to love the cookie tradition. I don't know who came up with the solution in the end, but it was decided that Carrie could make all the dough and we could bake the cookies in the evenings. She was in 3rd grade and could easily read and follow a recipe. Being in an ACE curriculum, she easily finished her schoolwork each day and seldom had homework. She could do this! So we looked over the recipes and decided which ones we simply had to make. Carrie made up a batch or two of dough each evening and we would bake as many cookies as we had time to before bedtime. I have never forgotten and never will forget the sacrifice of time and effort on this little girl's part. The tradition went on! (Close book)

As I thought again about this memory, and how this little girl gave up hours of after-school play time to make sure a family tradition could go on, it reminded me of the attitude that God wants each of us to have toward one another in His family.

In this, as in all things, Jesus is our example. At this wondrous season, when we consider how Jesus left His home in glory and came to earth to be born as a Baby in a manger, we are again reminded of why He came. As the Ron Hamilton song so clearly puts it, He was "Born to Die" --  to pay for the sins of each of us. Listen to Jesus' own words in Mark 10:45 -- "For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." Someone has written, "Think of it! He came at His miraculous birth. He ministered throughout His life. And in His vicarious death He gave His life."

When we accept Jesus as our personal Savior from sin, then we become part of His family and are expected to live accordingly. There are many verses in God's Word that remind us we are not to live our lives selfishly, but to be willing to sacrifice our time and talents to serve God and minister to others.

Proverbs 3:27 says, "Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it."

Romans 15:1 reads: "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves." This is so contrary to the world's thinking! But as Christians, we are not to live to please ourselves. We are here to serve God and others.

Galatians 6:10 instructs us: "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." John Wesley had a saying: "Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can."

2 Corinthians 12:15a shows us the heart of the apostle Paul toward his fellow believers in Corinth. He wrote: "And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you..." . Paul was not only willing but glad to give of himself in tireless service and sacrifice for these believers in order to help them grow and prosper spiritually. Paul's attitude can and should be our attitude as well -- not just in a burst of good will at Christmas time, but all the time!

As we conclude this special time of sharing our Christmas memories, I'd like us to think for just a moment about the special memories of another mother -- Mary, the mother of Jesus. At the end of what we refer to as the Christmas story in the book of Luke, chapter 2, we read in verse 19: "But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."

Yes, the Bible says that Mary “kept” the words the shepherds shared about this wondrous, miraculous night and “pondered them in her heart”.

As with all good things, the story of the Savior’s birth grew dim in the minds of people with the passing of the years. But Mary did not forget. In fact, many scholars attribute Luke’s Gospel account to Mary’s memories.

May Mary’s response be true of our lives as well! May we continue to humbly “ponder” the things of God and to respond with adoration and wonder God's unspeakable gift of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Creamsicle Cookies in a Jar


Here's another jar cookie mix that people seem to really enjoy receiving.

CREAMSICLE COOKIES IN A JAR

1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
Dash of salt
1/2 cup powdered orange drink mix (like Tang® -- store brand works fine)
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups vanilla baking chips

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together onto wax paper. Set aside. In a wide-mouth quart jar, layer the orange drink mix, then the sugar, then the vanilla baking chips, pressing each layer firmly as you go. Roll up the wax paper gently and use it as a funnel to transfer the flour mixture to the jar. Cover.

Make a tag for the jar with the following instructions: Empty contents of jar into large mixing bowl. Add 1/2 cup softened butter or real margarine, 1 egg, and 1 tsp. vanilla. Mix until completely blended. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 375º for 12 to 14 minutes.

As mentioned previously, I have found that the large instant coffee jars work as well as canning jars for this, and they often have festive-looking red lids as well. A jar filler type of wide-mouth funnel (the type used in canning) works really well for putting ingredients for mixes neatly into jars. For the tag, I usually write the information on a 4x6 file card and tape it directly to the jar (like a label) with clear packaging tape, covering the label completely to make it moisture-resistant. I think taping it on works better than tying a tag to the jar, because that way there's no chance of the instructions getting lost or thrown away.



Friday, May 18, 2007

Christmas Eve in the Neighborhood


As I've mentioned before, a few years ago I compiled a book of Christmas memories for my family. Someday when I have the time, I'll share just how I did this in case others would like to do the same. But for today, I'll just share one section of my childhood memories here. I've titled it

CHRISTMAS EVE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

As Christmas approached, my mother enlisted the help of us kids in
baking dozens of festive cookies. There were white-frosted brownies
decorated with candied-cherry poinsettias, gingery molasses crinkles
sparkling with red and green sugar, crunchy oatmeal cookies filled with
dates and walnuts and topped off with cherries. I clearly remember
cutting up dates for these -- I don't suppose there were ready-chopped
dates available in those days, and they would have been expensive. I
remember turning the handle of a nut chopper to chop the walnuts, and
pressing the cookies down with a floury glass before topping them with
half of a candied cherry. Sometimes we made mincemeat squares, with the
mincemeat filling sandwiched between two layers of a brown-sugary
crust. Our beloved "chocolate spritz" cookies were not made with a
cookie press, but formed into small round balls and dipped in
multicolored candy sprinkles before baking. We always made, in
addition, cut-out cookies of nutmeg-flavored dough rolled thin, cut in
various shapes and trimmed with raisins, silver dragees, and colored
sprinkles. Mom would often make the cookie doughs ahead and store them
in the cold front entry. It wouldn't be considered safe or healthy
today, but we loved tasting the dough. The chilled dough for the
chocolate spritz tasted exactly like chocolate ice cream.

My mother also baked loaves of cinnamon-swirled white bread and dressed
them up with a drizzle of white frosting and decorations of candied
cherries and sliced almonds. They looked beautiful and smelled even
better.

On Christmas Eve or a few nights before, Santa and his sleigh had
nothing on my dad, us kids, and the family station wagon. We were out
making holiday deliveries of our own. All of us would beg for the
privilege of accompanying Dad on his appointed rounds. We would drive
around the neighborhood, delivering cookies and visiting for a while at
each house. I remember that during the day a tray of treats would be
delivered to our family doctor. But in the evening Dad would go out
with the goodies for the neighbors and nearby relatives.

One of my favorite stops was at the Geisslers'. They were a German family who
lived in the neighborhood. They owned a local business, but they
also had hens, and Mr. Geissler had an egg route. We were among his
customers. It was my first inkling of a couple of things -- one, that
there were people actually living in our town who did not have a
traditional New England background like ours; and two, that everyone has
a different dimension to them that the average person might not be aware
of. Until I visited the Geisslers' home with Dad, I saw Mr. Geissler as sort of a peddler -- "the egg man", as we called him. Imagine my surprise that their home was very nice -- nicer than ours. When we went there with the goodies on Christmas Eve, they would invite us in and bring out eggnog for Dad and glasses of icy ginger ale for us kids. I remember being wide-eyed at their tree and noticing shopping bags full of gifts from fancy New York City stores. I'm not sure if they were gifts from faraway relatives, or gifts from the family to one another. Even the bags and boxes were impressive, however! I would try and make the ginger ale last as long as possible so I could keep looking around at everything.

Mrs. Geissler would always send Christmas cookies to our house, too, usually dropped off along with the eggs. My mother kept them in a certain cupboard, and that cupboard always retained a festive, spicy aroma for as long as the cookies lasted. I remember one kind of cookie in particular -- looking back on it now, I think it must have been pfefferneuse. They were perfectly round, dark-colored cookies which were liberally coated in confectioners' sugar. They smelled and looked absolutely wonderful. Unfortunately, anise is a flavor I still haven't acquired a taste for! But having those truly German cookies in our very American kitchen sure broadened our horizons.

When I was a child, this sharing of holiday treats was one of the most meaningful parts of our Christmas. It made a big impression on me that at this busy time of the year, my parents took the time and went to the effort to do something special for their neighbors.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cocoa-Molasses Cookies


Over the years, I've always been on the lookout for easy, tasty recipes for cut-out cookies. This is the best chocolate one I've ever found.

COCOA-MOLASSES COOKIES
1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup baking cocoa

Vanilla glaze, optional

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses, egg
and vanilla to mix well. Sift together flour, cocoa and salt; stir into
creamed mixture. Chill dough until easy to handle.

Roll dough rather thick, about 1/4 inch, and cut into rectangles with a
clean empty luncheon meat can, or use cookie cutters of your choice.
Place cookies 1/2 inch apart on lightly greased baking sheet.

Bake at 350° about 10 minutes.

Remove from sheets and cool on racks,
then frost with vanilla glaze if desired. Makes about 3 dozen.

I found this recipe in the Farm Journal Cookie Cookbook. The little blurb above the recipe says that these cocoa-molasses cookies are "long-time favorites in Dutch neighborhoods in the Hudson River Valley." Years ago I read the Trixie Belden series (set in the Hudson River Valley) to the kids, and later they enjoyed reading the books on their own as well. In one of the books a Dutch lady named Mrs. Vanderpoel served Trixie and her friends some cookies, and I've always wondered if these were the ones.

These cookies are yummy with a vanilla glaze but just as tasty without it. In fact, I almost never use it.

Moose and pine trees cut from this dough are really good!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

WELCOME HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS


Here's another "review" of a Christmas book I enjoy. Over the years, I've acquired many Gooseberry Patch books. Some, I've bought through their catalog or website; some, I've bought locally in a shop I enjoy; some, I've bought in various Cracker Barrel locations while traveling. Most fun of all, I've received several of the books for free when recipes or craft ideas of mine have been published in them.

Welcome Home for the Holidays, published in 1994, is the very first Gooseberry Patch book I purchased, and it's a very good one. In general, I think the older books may be a better value, because they seem to have more recipes and ideas per page. However, let me quickly add that this would not keep me from buying the newer books! They are all good -- full of helpful ideas for decorating, gifts, and crafts and yummy recipes too.

Welcome Home for the Holidays is an especially practical volume because it covers holidays from harvest time right through Christmas. It's divided into two basic sections: Celebration of Harvest and Celebration of Christmas.

The Harvest section has two parts: The Homecoming: Tips, Traditions, & Seasonal Gifts to Make; and Grand Harvest Buffet, which consists of recipes for Main Dishes to Warm the Soul, Bountiful Sides, Chowders, Soups, Stews & Breads, and Old-Fashioned Sweets. One of our traditional Thanksgiving desserts comes from this latter category -- Pumpkin Layered Dessert. It's truly delicious!

The Christmas section has four parts: A Cozy Country Christmas: Making Magic all Through the House; Easy Holiday How-To's: Homemade Gifts from the Heart; 'Tis the Season: Favorite Memories and Traditions; and Festive Food & Drinks, which includes recipes in the categories of Holiday Gathering, Yuletide Breakfast, Main Feast, Sensational Sides, Visions of Sugarplums, and Gifts from the Kitchen.

There are lovely decorating ideas -- I've made a number of the Homespun Rag Garlands. The recipes are super -- I've tried many -- and the memories/traditions section contains some wonderful ideas for festive get-togethers.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who loves holidays and country-style decorating!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Date & Nut Balls


As mentioned in the previous post, my aunt frequently made these confections (known in our family as "Dot's Oddballs") for Christmas, as well as for Thanksgiving and other family gatherings. (Mr. T's side of the family enjoyed these as well, since his sister made a similar recipe for sharing at family get-togethers.)

I was fortunate enough to run across the recipe in my grandmother's handwriting, so I'll share it just as she wrote it:

Date & Nut Balls

1 cup sugar
1 cup chopped dates
1 egg beaten
1/2 cup oleo

Melt oleo in saucepan; add beaten egg, sugar, and dates; cook 10 min. only. Add 2 cups rice crispies, 1/2 cup nuts, vanilla. Cool. Make into balls and roll in cocoanut, chill in refrig.

This doesn't say how many it will make, but that's part of the charm of an old, handwritten recipe! "Oleo", for those who might wonder, is margarine. No quantity is given for vanilla -- I'd guess between a half teaspoon and a teaspoon -- or for coconut. I'd say you'd need at least a cup of coconut for rolling the balls in, maybe more. If you want to try this and are nervous about the quantities, I imagine you can find a similar, more specific recipe in an online search.

Have fun!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Christmas on the Farm


A few years ago, I attempted to get some of my childhood Christmas memories down on paper. I wanted to share them with my children and grandchildren while I still remembered them somewhat clearly. I'll share in another post about how I made the memory books and how much they've been enjoyed. But for today, I'm just going to post a few of my memories here.

CHRISTMAS ON THE FARM

How privileged I was to be a child in the 1950s! Today Christmas has
lost so much of its meaning and magic. We are desperately trying to get
it. back. Notice the catalogs full of such nostalgic products as Radio
Flyer wagons and bubbling Christmas tree lights, if you don't believe
it. I've hung on to many a faded glass ornament from those days, so
I'm doing my bit for nostalgia, too. But my memories haven't all
faded. Many of them are as clear and bright as they ever were.

We were fortunate to live just down the road from my grandmother's
farmhouse, so I got to see her Christmas preparations before the big
day. My grandmother loved holidays, and Christmas was her top
favorite. She decorated the big farmhouse to the hilt! Fluffy red
honeycombed paper bells hung from ceilings; shiny red letters spelling
out M-E-R-R-Y C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S were strung across the fireplace
mantel. There were birch logs in the fireplace and a crackling electric
"fire". Colorful electric candoliers glowed in every window. A green
ceramic tree with glowing colored lights lit up an upstairs hallway.
Around the house in different areas were taped the many Christmas cards
she'd received so far. Christmas candles abounded, especially the kind
in shapes like an angel choir, Santa and Mrs. Claus, or a group of
carolers gathered under a wax lamppost. Christmas music like White
Christmas and Winter Wonderland stood ready on the piano. The sideboard
in the back hallway held candy dishes filled with glistening ribbon
candy and peach blossoms, chocolates, mixed nuts, and stuffed dates.

In the front room, the Christmas tree would be set up at one end. I
liked nothing better than to go in and just look at all the gifts under
that tree. It didn't even matter if they weren't all for me! The
wrappings were so beautiful, and each package seemed to be different.
One gift might be wrapped in midnight-blue paper with a scene depicting
Bethlehem and the manger, even the shepherds out in the fields. Another
gift might be papered with glittering Christmas ornaments and pine
needles. A little boy's package might be wrapped in paper showing small
cowboys and their horses. And the tags always matched the paper!
Gram's artistic eye wouldn't have settled for anything less!
It wasn't just that a snowman package carried a tag with a snowman on
it. No, the snowman tag would exactly match the snowman paper!

Of course, the contents of the packages were special also. We always knew
they would contain something we really wanted ( a pre-holiday
consultation with the Sears Roebuck Christmas catalog saw to that),
which had been thoughtfully picked out and then carefully wrapped, just
for us.

I was very, very fortunate that in the early lean years of our
marriage, Gram realized I could probably use some Christmas paper,
ribbons, and tags -- and she passed her "leftovers" on to me. I still
have some of the tags and ribbon!

Gram's Christmas tree was beautiful, too. All of my cousins recollect
her tree as being really special. Shirley said it best: "I recall how in awe I always was of her tree in the living room -- so bright and warming." The ornaments were very special. Some of them were sparkly and white and looked as if they had been formed out of
sugar. The shapes I remember for these "sugar" ornaments were bells and
angels. The white plastic reindeer tied with red satin ribbons were
also favorites of mine. But my best-loved ornaments were the faces of
angels -- which, years before, my mother and some of her sisters had cut
from paper, colored beautifully with crayons, and sprinkled with
glitter.

One special memory of Christmas for me is the red corduroy vest that my
Dad would always wear when we went to Gram's for Christmas dinner and
the tree. He and my uncles would all be particularly jovial on that
special day, joking with all of the kids and with one another. I had
forgotten this, but it seems there was always a lot of joking about how
much food my dad was able to eat. One year someone took a picture of
him with the turkey directly in front of him, as if the whole thing was
for him to eat!

My cousin Wayne remembers: "There were always a lot of
grownups and oodles of kids around with a constant level of voices and
laughter." Sometimes it seemed that there was more excitement in that
one day than in a week or a month of ordinary days. We would have the
tree and presents at home in the morning and then go to Gram's for
dinner and her tree in the afternoon. Often we cousins would bring
along one or more of our new Christmas gifts to show the others --
dolls, trucks, games, or whatever.

Gram would be dressed to suit the holiday in a bright red dress or
jumper, with plenty of sparkly holiday jewelry in the shape of holly or
poinsettias. Her earrings and pins always matched her dress on any day,
but she pulled out all the stops when dressing up on Christmas day.

Christmas dinner was always a festive affair, with the tables carefully
set for the younger children in the kitchen and the adults and older
kids in the dining room. The smaller cousins always had special little
Santa mugs to drink from. The dining room table would be set with
Gram's set of ivy-trimmed white dishes. It seemed to me that food just
looked and tasted better on those plates. Equally impressive to me was
the fact that all of the serving dishes matched! She would have a snowy
white cloth on the table, and all the glassware and silver sparkled.

Often we would all start off with a juice glass full of tomato juice or
V-8. I'm sure the meat we had for that meal varied; I seem to remember
roast beef, turkey, or roast pork at different times. Somehow I
remember the vegetables best: the fluffy mashed potatoes, the squash
with lots of pepper; the green peas which I seldom wanted to take any of
so there would be more room for other things. There was also a tossed
green salad with Wish-Bone Italian dressing, always. This was a huge
treat to me because we never had bottled dressing at home. Sometimes my
mother would make Parker House rolls to contribute to the meal, or Aunt Dot
would make her famous oatmeal rolls. It's funny, but I really don't
remember at all what our Christmas desserts were. I do remember that we
didn't eat dessert until after the present-opening in the front room.

After everyone was gathered and seated in the front room, Gram would
have the cousins pass out the gifts. We would end up with everyone
having a gift from Gram, and sometimes I think there were family gifts
which the aunts and uncles had brought for their siblings' families.
And then there would be a huge pile of gifts next to Gram's chair. It
would take forever for her to open them! But we didn't have dessert
until she was finished with the task, unless she decided the rest of us
needed dessert and took a break from opening her gifts.

I remember, too, that the Christmas music was all out on the piano or in the bench
and sometimes one of the aunts would play Christmas songs. When some of
the cousins grew old enough to take piano lessons, there would often be
"recitals" taking place in the front room as well. I think that
sometimes Christmas music would be playing on the record player in the
corner. The songs I associate with Christmas at Gram's are "Silver
Bells" and "Winter Wonderland."

I seem to remember ice cream for dessert, and usually there was some of
Grammie Wallace's date cake around. This dark-colored loaf cake,
frosted on top with a thick white frosting and trimmed with walnut
halves, was a tradition in Gram's family, but I never liked it very
much. I think Gram may have baked a sheet cake of some sort as well --
she was a big fan of cake mixes and liked the unusual flavors such as
butter pecan or cherry chip. Aunt Dot usually brought some of her famous
date balls, which early on earned the nickname "Dot's Oddballs". (I am
not sure if it was my dad or Dot's husband Howard who gave them this
name. They share the same quirky sense of humor, so it could have been
either one of them.) But my major "sweet" memories of Christmas were
the candy dishes on the sideboard -- especially the chocolates and the
thin, fragile, bright-colored ribbon candy.

As wonderful as Christmases on the farm were, you can easily imagine
how cruelly disappointed we kids were whenever we had to miss one. With
four kids in the family, there were the inevitable times when one or
more of us was sick. If it was only one or two of us, one parent would
stay home with the invalid(s) while the other parent and siblings joined
the fun at the farm. But mostly I remember the times when all of us had
to stay home so we wouldn't infect the other cousins with whatever we
had. How sad we felt to watch the arriving cars of the fortunate
relatives who were not sick!


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Chocolate-Peanut Morsels


Here’s a wonderful recipe for homemade chocolate-covered peanut candies. I think it’s the corn syrup that makes this coating work so beautifully -- because, you know, ordinarily trying to add water to melting chocolate chips doesn’t work very well. The chocolate seizes up. But have no fear -- that won’t happen with this recipe!

MARVELOUS CHOCOLATE-PEANUT MORSELS

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup light corn syrup (Karo®)
Dash of salt
1 Tbslp. water
1 1/2 cups salted peanuts

Combine the chocolate chips, corn syrup, salt, and water in a 2-cup microwave-safe container. Heat 1 minute on High, stir until completely melted. Add the peanuts and stir until they are coated with the chocolate mixture. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto baking sheets lined with wax paper. Chill in refrigerator until firm. Makes about 3 dozen candies. When candies are firm, transfer them to tins for gift-giving.

This great recipe is from Cook & Tell, the December 2001 issue.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Planning ahead for Christmas crafting



One of the best resources to help with planning ahead for Christmas is OrganizedChristmas.com. I have a link over in the sidebar. Go there and take a look at all the helps they have available. There's everything from printed forms for a Christmas notebook, to recipes, to ideas and instructions for gifts, to forums on everything from decorating to cooking, crafting, making gift baskets, etc. Later on, I'll share my Christmas notebook here. It is extremely helpful in planning our Christmas gifts, activities, etc.

The craft forum has been particularly helpful to me. They offer a crafting challenge every week. I haven't been able to take part while busy with my writing project, but hope I can get back into it soon. One thing they urge, which I tried to do last year and am doing slightly better with this year, is to make a list of craft projects you want to do for Christmas and a timeline for finishing them. Here's what I've done:

1) Made a list of gifts to craft for 2007 (also includes any gifts I want to make for birthdays or other occasions)

2) Made a list of materials I still need to buy for these projects (this list is very short, thanks to my practice of thinking I can make more gifts than I have time for -- in other words, I bought the materials a year or two ago!)

3) Made a timeline for finishing these projects. I looked at all of the projects I had to do and divided the list up into 2 or 3 projects per month. This works well except that I've already missed my first 2 deadlines of March 25 and April 25. These particular projects were quick, easy ones, so I can lump them in with another month. I've set my timeline up to end on November 25, so I can maybe have the month of December free. Maybe... !

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Happiest Season of All


From time to time I intend to share "reviews" of Christmas books that have been a blessing or a help to me over the years. Probably some will be out of print, but I imagine most can be found used through different online sources.

Today I want to recommend The Happiest Season of All, a Holly Pond Hill book written by Paul Kortepeter and illustrated beautifully by Susan Wheeler. This book was an early Christmas gift from my younger daughter in 2002. She thought I would get more fun out of this gift if I opened it at the beginning of December, so that's when she sent it to me. What a wonderful book it is! I get this book out every year right after Thanksgiving, for it offers ideas and helps from then on.

The Introduction ("Joy to the World") is a wonderful way to set your heart in tune for the coming holiday.

The first section, "Tis the Season/Welcoming the Holidays", offers many ideas for Advent and other pre-Christmas activities and a delicious-sounding recipe for Yuletide Punch, which I really must try this year.

The second section, "Draw 'Round the Fire/Making Hearts Ready" has lovely ideas for keeping Christmas, a Christmas cookie exchange, the scents of Christmas, and a batch of wonderful Christmas cookie recipes.

The third section is called "O Holy Night/Enjoying the Wonders of Christmas Eve". It has among other things an assortment of yummy-sounding recipes for Hot Chocolate and Hot Vanilla. The one for Hot Butterscotch Chocolate sounds fantastic.
The final section is "God Bless Us, Everyone!/Celebrating Christmas Day, filled with ideas for that day. It includes some Victorian Christmas games to play and some projects to make for feeding the birds, as well as a special eggnog recipe.

The illustrations alone are so beautiful, I would enjoy this book even if it had no words. But the stories and essays are lovely too. It's a special part of Christmas at my house.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mulled Cranberry Orange Juice


MULLED CRANBERRY ORANGE JUICE

1 orange
12 whole cloves
a cinnamon stick
1 cup water
2 quarts cranberry juice cocktail
1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
3 Tblsp. fresh lemon juice (bottled will work)
3 Tblsp. brown sugar

Use a vegetable peeler to peel off thin strips of orange peel from the orange. Set the orange aside. Put the peel in a small saucepan with the cloves, cinnamon stick and water. Bring this mixture to a simmer; cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.

In a larger saucepan combine all of the remaining ingredients. Cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice into this larger saucepan. Using a strainer, strain the liquid from the spice/peel mixture into the larger saucepan as well. Heat the mixture in the large saucepan over low heat until it is hot. May be kept simmering over very low heat and ladled out as needed.

If you want to be fancy, pour the mixture into mugs and top each one with an orange slice with a whole clove or two stuck in the rind.

This recipe came from Cook & Tell, my favorite cooking newsletter. I discovered this beverage recipe a couple of years ago and it became an instant favorite of mine to serve to guests at holiday time.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sunset Orchard Spiced Tea Mix


Here’s another favorite kitchen gift of mine. It works well in a gift basket of teatime goodies, or just tucked in a brown paper bag with a half-dozen scones or muffins.


SUNSET ORCHARD SPICED TEA MIX

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup dry orange drink mix (like Tang®)
2/3 cup dry unsweetened instant tea
2 envelopes instant spiced cider mix

Combine all ingredients thoroughly in a bowl. I use a slotted spoon for mixing -- makes it easier to see how well the ingredients are blending. Place in jars or tins for gift-giving.

Include these directions: In a mug, place a heaping tablespoon of tea mix. Fill mug with boiling water and stir well; let steep 2 minutes.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"Pail Full of Muffins"


It can be especially challenging to find good, useful gifts for older folks. For the past several years, I’ve done something very different for my mother-in-law. I make up a batch of this muffin batter and place it in one of those covered plastic Christmas buckets from Wal*Mart. I give her this along with a jar of homemade hot chocolate mix and a box of clementines. (The first year, I also gave her a silicone muffin pan.) She absolutely loves this gift and often returns the bucket and the jar for refills later on.

PAIL FULL OF MUFFINS

Combine the following in a very large bowl:

4 cups bran buds
2 cups all-bran
1 quart buttermilk
2 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon salt

Let mixture cool until it’s lukewarm.

In another bowl, cream together:

1 cup shortening
3 cups sugar
4 eggs

Add the creamed ingredients to the bran mixture.

Sift together:

5 cups flour
5 teaspoons baking soda

Stir the sifted ingredients into the bran mixture.

Muffins may be baked right away, but keep in mind that this recipe produces at least 5 dozen muffins! The idea is to store the batter in a covered container, like a Tupperware® bowl or a covered plastic pail, in the refrigerator, then bake the muffins a few at a time as needed. The batter will keep for at least a month in the fridge.

When ready to bake, fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups only half full. Bake at 375º for 20-25 minutes, until the muffins test done.

Monday, May 07, 2007

My Mother's Maple Fudge




Here's a recipe I can't exactly recommend that you try -- unless you are the sort who loves a challenge and doesn't mind wasting some expensive ingredients.

My mother was locally famous for this fudge. All during my growing-up years, she made batch after batch of it at Christmas time. In earlier years she often made pounds of this fudge for the Methodist church's Christmas fair. In later years the fudge production was for the benefit of family and friends, some of whom expected to receive maple fudge every year and would have been cruelly disappointed not to receive it.

My mother had been given the recipe by a neighbor lady. Over the years, many people asked my mother for the recipe, and she happily shared it. However, it was a very tricky recipe and no matter how good a cook she gave the recipe to, the fudge would seldom come out right. Boiling, candy thermometers, cooling to the exact right point and then what seemed to be hours of beating were all involved in the proper preparation of this delicacy. Yes, it was delicious, and it certainly was a triumph to be able to produce something so difficult that no
other living woman (other than the neighbor lady who gave her the recipe) had been able to do. But it always looked like a lot of trouble to me! My siblings and I used to enjoy scraping the fudge kettle, but none of us had much interest in learning to make the candy ourselves.

My mother hasn't made fudge for a number of years now, and the secret of the maple fudge will die when she does. Even though I have the recipe, I can't imagine going to that much trouble. I will share it here, just for old time's sake. But I make no guarantees! If you try it and it comes out well, pat yourself on the back. You've achieved something very few cooks have been able to do. If you try it and it doesn't work, don't blame me -- I did warn you! (Incidentally, failed fudge may work well as a sauce over ice cream.)

MAPLE FUDGE

2 cups dark maple syrup
5 cups white sugar
2 cups cream

Mix together in heavy pan. Cook (keeping a steady boil) to 238º on candy thermometer. Cool to lukewarm. Beat until mixture loses gloss. Add (coarsely chopped) walnuts and pour quickly into a buttered roasting pan (13x9-inch pan works fine). Cut immediately into small squares.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Orange Sugared Pecans


Here is another easy, lovely kitchen gift to make. These pecans have a brown-sugary orange coating that is just delightful. Put in tins or in zip-top bags (inside of a fabric bag or a brown paper bag if you like) for small gifts, stocking stuffers, or a tasty addition to gift baskets. Have fun!

ORANGE SUGARED PECANS

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3 tablespoons evaporated milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange peel
2 cups pecan halves
In small heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and evaporated milk. Cook
over medium heat to 234° (soft-ball stage), stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Add butter and orange peel; stir to blend. Add pecan halves; stir until all
are coated.

Spread the pecans on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper or parchment paper. When candy coating is firm, gently break pecans apart. Store in covered containers.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Coffee Walnuts


Here's another wonderful kitchen gift for people who love walnuts and/or coffee. This is a great addition to a gift basket (especially a coffee-themed basket) and would also make a nice stocking stuffer.

COFFEE WALNUTS
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
Combine ingredients in a saucepan and cook to the soft-ball stage.

Remove from heat and toss in: 3 cups broken walnuts.

Spread on wax-paper-lined cookie sheets to dry. The nuts should be
fairly separate, not in large clumps.


When dry, I suggest you store the nuts in tins for gift-giving. Obviously, this recipe makes about 3 cups of coffee walnuts, so you could use 3 1-cup tins or a number of smaller ones. Enjoy!

Friday, May 04, 2007

A Cookie Mix in a Jar


Jar mixes have become a very popular kitchen gift item. This recipe, which I adapted from one I found in the Gooseberry Patch book Holidays at Home, is the first one I tried and has been well liked by everyone I've shared it with. I think the little extra touch of the chocolate drink mix makes this cookie especially good.

I have found that the large instant coffee jars work as well as canning jars for this, and they often have festive-looking red lids as well. A jar filler type of wide-mouth funnel (the type used in canning) works really well for putting ingredients for mixes neatly into jars.

CHOCOLATE CHIP OAT COOKIES IN A JAR

1/4 cup instant chocolate drink mix (like Quik®)
3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups quick oats
1 cup chocolate chips

Place the chocolate drink mix in the bottom of a quart-size jar. Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together onto wax paper. Gently roll up the wax paper and use it as a funnel to pour the flour mixture into the jar. Pack this layer down on top of the chocolate drink mix layer. Layer in: brown sugar; granulated sugar; oats; and chocolate chips, packing each layer down firmly. Tighten the jar lid securely.

Make a label for the cookie mix with the following instructions: In a large mixing bowl, blend 1/2 cup softened butter or real margarine, 1 egg, 1 Tblsp. milk and 1 tsp. vanilla. Add contents of jar and blend well. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto an ungreased or parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 375º for 10 minutes for chewy cookies, or 13 minutes for a crispy cookie.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Mulled Cider Mix



Mulled Cider Mix

It's fun and easy to make little packets of mulling spices for gifts. They produce some very yummy cider and make wonderful small gifts. I often include them in gift baskets for our neighbors or in care packages to faraway family and friends. Here's what you'll need to make these:

* Cinnamon sticks

* Whole cloves

* Allspice berries

* Coffee filters (I like to use the natural unbleached kind)

* Plain white string

Break the cinnamon sticks in 1-inch pieces. For each packet of spices, place 1 tsp. of cinnamon sticks, 1 tsp. of whole cloves and 1 tsp. of allspice berries in the center of a coffee filter. Gather the filter up into a little bundle and tie securely with string.

To package these, I use an idea I found in a Gooseberry Patch book -- Place each bundle of spices in a small brown paper bag. Fold the top of the bag down securely.

Make a tag on card stock or half of a file card with these instructions: "Mulled Cider Mix. Place spice bag in large saucepan with 1 quart to 1 gallon of cider. Heat through and enjoy." If you like, you can draw and color an apple on the tag, or add an apple sticker.

Then position the tag at the top of the bag and use your sewing machine, threaded with red thread, to sew the tag to the bag, sewing the bag closed in the process. These look so cute and festive!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Creamsicle Fudge


Here is a kitchen gift that's welcome any time of year! This is a delicious fudge with the classic flavor combination of vanilla and orange.


CREAMSICLE FUDGE

3/4 cup real butter
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup whipping cream
1 pkg. (10 to 12 oz.) vanilla or white chips
1 jar (7 oz.) marshmallow fluff
3 teaspoons orange extract
12 drops yellow food coloring
5 drops red food coloring

Butter a 13X9" pan. In a heavy saucepan, combine butter, sugar and cream. Cook & stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 4 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in chips and fluff until smooth.

Remove 1 cup of mixture to a bowl and set aside. Add extract and colorings to remaining mixture in saucepan; stir until well blended. Pour this mixture (this is the orange part) into the prepared 13X9" pan. Drop the reserved (white) mixture over the top by tablespoonfuls. Cut through mixture with a knife to swirl. Cover and refrigerate until set.

Cut into squares. Makes about 2 1/2 pounds of fudge.

In northern New Hampshire there is a wonderful old general store called the Brick Store. This store is a favorite destination for tourists and locals alike, and one of the reasons is the incredible fudge that they make. This recipe tastes remarkably like the Creamsicle fudge sold at the Brick Store.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Peanut Butter Balls


Here's another kitcheny gift that's fun to make and always well received. I have 2 recipes. My family always seems to prefer the one with the rice krispies -- and it is delicious -- but I really like the second recipe better myself. It just seems easier. So take your choice -- and have fun!

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER BALLS (Recipe #1)

1 cup butter or margarine
1 1/4 cups peanut butter
3 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
3 1/2 cups rice krispies cereal
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 of an 8-ounce milk chocolate candy bar
A 2-inch square of paraffin wax, cut up

Melt butter in 2-quart heavy saucepan over low heat. Add peanut
butter; stir until blended. Remove from heat.

Combine confectioners sugar and rice krispies in mixing bowl. Pour hot
peanut butter mixture over all; mix thoroughly, using hands. Shape
mixture into 1-inch balls. Place on wax paper-lined cookie sheet.

Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

In top of double boiler, combine remaining ingredients. Place over
simmering hot water until melted. Dip chilled peanut butter balls in
chocolate mixture to coat. Return to wax paper-lined cookie sheets.
Chill until set.

Store in covered tin in refrigerator. Makes about 6 dozen candies.


THE BEST PEANUT BUTTER BALLS (Recipe #2)

2 c. confectioners sugar
2 Tblsp. butter, room temperature
1 Tblsp. milk
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
1 c. chocolate OR vanilla chips
1 Tblsp. crisco
For decoration: colored sugar or candy sprinkles

In a medium bowl, mix the first 5 ingredients, using your hands or a mixer until blended. Mix in peanut butter.

Line a jelly-roll pan or cookie sheet with wax paper. Roll sugar mixture (about 1 heaping teaspoon each) into 3/4” balls. Place these on the lined pan. Chill at least 2 hours until firm.

Melt the chocolate and shortening together on the stovetop or in the microwave (my preference). One at a time, spear the peanut butter balls with a toothpick. Dip in melted chocolate; lift out and let the excess chocolate drip off. Return each dipped ball to the lined pan. Remove toothpick. Before chocolate sets up, sprinkle each ball with colored sugar or candy sprinkles.

Chill candy for 10-15 minutes to firm up chocolate. Remove from pan. Store airtight in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Makes 40.

These are to my mind the best and easiest peanut butter balls. I have sent many of these in college care packages over the years!