CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN — DECEMBER 10

With the holidays, comes an inevitable invasion of nutcrackers.  They stare blankly ahead, grinning while gracing tables and guarding doorways.

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This past week my Facebook newsfeed was filled with pictures of friends and their young children at The Nutcracker, the beloved holiday ballet with the musical score by Tchaikovsky.  When my children were young, we too took them to see The Nutcracker.  My 5-year old daughter looked beautiful in her flowing fancy dress, and my 3-year old son looked precious in his tweed blazer — I was so proud of my young family.  The sets were gorgeous, the costumes stunning, and . . . my kids were just too young to appreciate it.  They fidgeted and whispered questions (in fairness, so were half the other kids in the theater).  We could sense that the people in front of us were mildly irritated.  At intermission, the redneck sitting in front of us turned around and said something like, “Could you control your kids?  I paid $______ for these tickets.”  (Doesn’t he know it’s impolite to talk about money, and besides, he probably used a Groupon.)  We took the kids out to the lobby and got them a drink and some candy, and went back for the second act.  Unfortunately, my son was still fidgety, and as he squirmed, he dropped one of his Skittles and it rolled down the theater floor — ping ping ping.  Then he did it again — ping ping ping.  Before the redneck’s head popped off, I picked up my son to move him to my lap, and during the transfer, the entire bag of Skittles emptied out and rolled down the theater floor.  It sounded like soft rain — ch ch ch ch ch.  At which point my husband stood up and said “Get up, we’re leaving.”  Now, when my friends tell me they are going to The Nutcracker, I have to try very hard not to laugh.  Y’all have fun.

But just because I don’t enjoy The Nutcracker doesn’t mean that I don’t like cracked nuts.  Last year my neighbor brought us Swedish Nuts as a holiday treat.  We loved these nuts!  I hounded her for the recipe, and I am happy to be able share it.  (Most of the recipes for Swedish Nuts on the interwebs use regular sugar, but I think the brown sugar really helps make these special).  These are easy and really delicious (how could they not be with all that butter and sugar) — be sure to make an extra batch for yourself!

SWEDISH NUTS
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Recipe type: Appetizers, Snacks
Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ cup butter
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound pecan halves
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Beat egg whites with an electric mixture until stiff. Stir in brown sugar and salt, mixing until completely combined. Add the pecans and stir until all nuts are completely coated.
  3. Place butter on a cookie sheet, and place in oven until butter is melted. Pour nuts onto cookie sheet and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on cookie sheet, breaking up any nuts that have stuck together. Can be stored in refrigerator or freezer in an airtight container.

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Stir until all the pecans are coated

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Ready for to go in the oven

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After 15 minutes

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After 30 minutes

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Done!

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A perfect holiday treat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN — DECEMBER 2

Add a little spice to your holiday celebrations with gingersnaps.  And if you really want to experience a holiday treat, order a tin of crisp, spicy gingersnaps from The Center, a private not-for-profit agency serving persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities (Houston readers can usually purchase these at the Eastside Farmers Market as well).  The sale of the gingersnaps began as a volunteer effort led by Alicia Lee, whose son and nephew were residents at The Center’s Willow River Farms.  According to the website, the request for gingersnaps came from Barbara Bush, and Ms. Lee set about testing recipes for months in her quest for a crisp, crunchy, spicy cookie.  After many test batches, they sent a sample to Barbara Bush, who loved them, and the rest is gingersnap history.  Each gold tin is decorated with a hand-pressed and gilded ornament, made by one of the Center’s clients.

If you’d like to make your own gingersnaps or ginger cookies, there are a million recipes out there.  My personal favorite recipe is this one, and I bake tons of them every year.

The Center also has a traditional fruitcake that we adore.  It is loaded with red cherries, pecans, dates, walnuts, and coconut, and is more of a confection than a cake.  They are not kidding when they say that this is “the best you have ever tasted! EVER!”  (At the suggestion of one of The Center’s volunteers, we now freeze one of these fruitcakes every year to enjoy as a special treat in the summer months.)

fruitcakesAlthough the gingersnaps are wonderful all by themselves, they are even better served with Amazing Pumpkin Dip.  We discovered this years ago at a small grocery store that had samples out of various products you could order for the holidays.  They called it Amazing Pumpkin Dip and had copies of the recipe printed for anyone who wanted one.  What was truly amazing was that we were not asked to leave, because my young son ate at least half of the bowl of dip while I was shopping.  (He tended to view free samples as his own personal buffet.)

If you need to bring a dish to a holiday party, or are looking for something to serve at one of your own, gingersnaps and pumpkin dip are a crowd-pleaser.

 

AMAZING PUMPKIN DIP
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Recipe type: Appetizers, Snacks, Desserts
Author:
Ingredients
  • 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 10 ounces pumpkin butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 8-ounce container frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • Gingersnaps, for serving
Instructions
  1. Place cream cheese in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Add pumpkin butter, sugar, and vanilla, and beat until well-blended. Gently fold in whipped topping. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Serve with gingersnaps for dipping.

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CHEX PUMPKIN PIE SPICE CRUNCH

Welcome to day 10 of Tag Sale Tastes’ Pumpkinpalooza!

Today I took pumpkin spice matters into my own hands and made a batch of Chex Pumpkin Pie Spice Crunch.  This was a big hit here — in fact, I’ve already made a second (double) batch.  Crunchy, sweet, and lightly spiced, it makes a welcome snack.

The Chex varieties used in this mix are Honey Nut, Cinnamon, and Wheat (it was hard to resist eating the Cinnamon Chex straight out of the box):

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Mixing up a batch takes only a few minutes.  There are microwave versions out there, but in my opinion, the mix really benefits from conventional baking.  Use any kind of nuts you like — pictured below is a batch made with a honey-roasted nut mix from Costco that was really great.  Pecans and peanuts also work well.  (My family didn’t care for almonds, though — they were too hard.)

CHEX PUMPKIN PIE SPICE CRUNCH
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Recipe type: Snacks
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 cups Cinnamon Chex cereal
  • 2 cups Honey Nut Chex cereal
  • 2 cups Wheat Chex cereal
  • 1 cup nuts of your choice
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Place cereals and nuts in a large bowl. In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, butter, and vanilla, stirring until thoroughly combined. Drizzle over cereal mixture, stirring to coat cereal and nuts.
  3. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool before serving.

 

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Snack time!

NORA’S GRANOLA

There’s a young lady I used to work with, who holds a special place in our family’s hearts.  In addition to being a friend and coworker, she also would happily house-sit our dogs (and in later years, sometimes our children), and love them almost as much as we did.  We were able to take an occasional vacation knowing that our pets and children were in good hands.  We’ve both moved on to different (and better) jobs, but still stay in touch.

She wrote to me last month to let me know that her mother, Nora, had lost her battle with colon cancer at the age of 74.  Her obituary mentioned her love of gardening and antiques, and that her entire life’s purpose was serving Christ and others.  When I saw Nora’s photo, I was struck by the resemblance my friend bore to her beloved Mom — the same big eyes and pretty smile.

Nora

What my friend didn’t know, is that I had actually had a conversation with Nora a while back.  One day, completely out of the blue, she emailed me at work.  She was worried about her daughter in that irrational way that only moms are.  She wanted to feel me out and ask me to kind of keep an eye on her daughter, since she couldn’t be there with her.  I told her how well-liked her daughter was, as evidenced by how the firm had created a position for her at a time when they were letting others go.  I told her she looked happy and healthy and that she should take great pride in what a lovely young woman she was.  We chatted online a little longer, and satisfied, she was ready to sign off.  But you didn’t really think I was going to let Nora off the hook that easily did you?  I told her in closing — “By the way, if my mother had contacted one of my coworkers, I would have KILLED her!  BUT — having now walked in parent shoes, I completely understand,” and assured her that I would keep her secret.  And I did.  I only told my friend about our conversation after Nora passed away.

I asked my friend if Nora had a recipe that she might like to share.  She responded with Nora’s recipe for Granola, a family favorite:

recipe

If only our parents knew how much those stained, hand-written 3 x 5 recipe cards would mean to us some day.  I treasure the recipes in my Mom’s hand.  I type my recipes now, but perhaps I should make an effort to annotate them by hand, so that they will reflect something of my personality and being for my children to treasure down the road.

I was intrigued by the granola recipe.  I hadn’t previously seen one calling for skim milk, wheat germ, and soy flour (I think you could probably substitute whatever kind of flour you have on hand, if you don’t have soy flour).  Well, according to the Adelle Davis Foundation, Adelle Davis “invented” granola in the 1940s, and it was popularized by the hippie movement in the 1960s.  Sure enough, the recipe for Adelle Davis’s Grandaddy of Granolas calls for powdered milk, soy flour, and wheat germ, along with the oats, honey, and oil that are also in Nora’s recipe.

My first attempt at the recipe yielded a very dry granola.  I checked with my friend, and she said Nora’s varied from batch to batch, but was usually stickier and clumpier, so I added an additional 2 tablespoons of oil and 1/4 cup of honey to the mixture and put it back in the oven for 15 minutes or so, and it came out really delicious, like can’t-stop-eating delicious.  For optional mix-ins I used 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup sesame seeds, 1/2 cup chopped red walnuts, 1/2 cup chopped pecans, and 1/2 cup chopped dried apples.

In loving memory of Nora, beloved mother and friend, may she rest in peace.

NORA'S GRANOLA
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Recipe type: Snacks
Author:
Ingredients
  • ⅓ cup oil (I used canola oil) (plus up to 2 tablespoons, if too dry)
  • ½ cup honey (plus up to ¼ cup, if too dry)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 cups oats (I used Quaker old-fashioned oats)
  • 1 cup wheat germ
  • 1 cup coconut (I used flaked unsweetened coconut)
  • 1-2 tablespoons cinnamon (I used 1-1/2 tablespoons)
  • ¼ cup powdered nonfat milk
  • 3 tablespoons soy flour
  • Optional add-ins
  • Nuts (cashews, peanuts, almonds, pecans)
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Raisins
  • Apple bits
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. (I found 300 degrees worked better)
  2. Place oil, honey, and vanilla in a small saucepan, and heat over medium heat, stirring until combined.
  3. Place remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Pour honey mixture over and stir until combined and all ingredients are sticky. Transfer to a long shallow baking pan, and bake for 30 minutes (I baked my batch for 45 minutes), stirring every 10 minutes, until granola is toasted and fragrant. Allow to cool, then store in airtight container.

IMG_5362 Mix together dry ingredients

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MIx in warm honey mixture

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Toasted to “I-can’t-stop-eating” perfection

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In loving memory of Nora and in honor of her precious daughter Jenni

TRUFFLED POPCORN

This weekend was the Texas/OU game — also known as the Red River Rivalry.  This is serious football.  When I was in law school at the University of Texas, I remember getting the schedule for on-campus interviews, and at the bottom it noted that there would be no interviews on “Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Texas/OU game.”  Yep — the Texas/OU game is right up there with the Jewish high holy days.

OU beat Texas this year, as happens from time to time.  But even though I’m not celebrating a victory for my alma mater, I am celebrating this recipe for Truffled Popcorn, which is a great football party snack.  Truffles, however, are an acquired taste, and if you have not yet acquired that taste, then don’t bother with this recipe.  In fact, I first bought truffle oil a few years ago, and threw the bottle out because I thought it had gone bad.  Silly girl.  But if you are a truffle lover, this popcorn is a special treat.  I used Roland White Truffle Oil, which is carried at my local grocery store.  Truffle oils tend to vary in intensity and flavor, so you might want to add the oil a bit at a time and taste as you go, to make sure the truffle flavor does not become overwhelming.

TRUFFLED POPCORN
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Recipe type: Snack
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon truffle oil
  • ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon rotisserie chicken seasoning, herbes de provence, or other rosemary spice blend
Instructions
  1. Pour vegetable oil into a heavy large pot with a lid. Place 3 kernels in the oil, cover pot, and heat over medium high heat. When the first kernel pops, immediately add the popcorn kernels. Shake the pot gently to distribute kernels evenly, and leave lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape. When the popping slows to 2-3 seconds apart, remove from heat and pour popcorn into a large mixing bowl. Drizzle truffle oil over popcorn, sprinkle pepper, salt, and seasoning blend over popcorn, and mix until combined.

 

BEER NUTS

I found this mustard-colored celluloid vase at a local charity thrift shop.  I initially passed it over, because after all, it’s kind of ugly, but then I saw the two deer on the front:

As best I can tell, the buck is yelling at the doe, and the doe is saying, “I can’t hear you.”  Seeing these two deer reminded me of an old joke.

What’s the difference between beer nuts and deer nuts?

Beer nuts are about $1.39, and deer nuts are under a buck.

Looking at the doe’s expression here, I’m guessing that if this buck doesn’t get out of her face, he is going to wind up with no nuts.

I love deer.  The nursing school I attended was located near Steuben County in upstate New York.  Steuben County has more deer per square mile than any other county in New York, and is upstate New York’s premier deer hunting destination.  My friends and I loved to pull off the road suddenly at night and shine the headlights into a field to see the proverbial deer in the headlights.  I always dreaded the bus ride home for Thanksgiving, however, because looking out the windows on the cars below, I would see countless hunters driving home with their prize splayed out on top of their vehicle.  It’s not that I’m anti-hunting, it just wasn’t a very pleasant sight.

As a result of seeing one too many dead deer, I’m not a big fan of venison.  But this ugly vase with its two deer, which reminded me of one of my favorite old jokes, inspired me to try my hand at making beer nuts.  They were surprisingly easy and surprisingly good.  And they would go extremely well with beer.  (Incidentally, my husband recently bought some beer, and came home laughing because the cashier carded him.  I hated to tell him, but the cashier was probably just checking to see if he was eligible for the senior discount.) The next time I make them I might try adding a pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes at the end.

The key to this recipe is to use raw peanuts.  Rather than hunt all over town for raw peanuts, I ordered Super Jumbo Blanched Peanuts from Nuts.com, which I highly recommend.  They are big and fresh and reasonably priced.

Super Jumbo Blanched Peanuts 

BEER NUTS
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Recipe type: Snack
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 pound raw blanched peanuts (shelled and skinned)
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus extra for seasoning, to taste
  • 1 cup water
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cover a large baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil, and lightly spray with cooking spray.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and continue to boil for 15 to 20 minutes, until most of the water is absorbed. (There will still be some thick sugar solution.) Spread nuts onto prepared baking sheet, sprinkle with additional salt, to taste, and bake for 20 minutes. Stir peanuts, sprinkle with additional salt, if desired, and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Nuts should be lightly golden brown.
  3. Allow to cool on baking sheet, breaking up any nuts that have stuck together. Store nuts in an air-tight container until ready to serve.

 

Boiling in their sugar bath. 

I’m only here for the beer!

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL (SNACKS)?

I noticed the other day that the oak trees are full of baby acorns, one of the first signs of fall here.  (Technically, the Halloween decorations at Michaels in July herald the start of fall.)

The acorns also signal the start of football season.  It’s no secret that football is big in Texas.  I didn’t used to pay much attention to high school football, but now my daughter plays the clarinet in her high school’s marching band, and it’s fun to go watch the football games.  Being a band mom, I especially enjoy the pageantry of the half-time shows.

Can you see my kid?  There she is, 3rd row, 2nd from the left.  No wait, 4th row, 3rd from the left.  Or is that her in the second row?  Got to remember to bring binoculars to the next game!

Both my husband and I went to the University of Texas.  Although we don’t get to a game very often, we enjoy watching the games on TV (him, more than me). Occasionally I’ll get inspired and try to make something football-themed to serve while we watch the game.  I think football-shaped food tends to look kind of gross (Google it and you’ll see what I mean), so I generally prefer to make dishes using team colors instead.  For example, Longhorn Snack Mix is a colorful and oddly addictive salty/sweet snack mix that I have been making in some fashion since my kids’ earliest birthday parties.  It’s really good with Corn Pops, but they don’t hold up to our Gulf Coast humidity for long, so we use Honey Nut Cheerios instead, which are equally tasty.

Longhorn Snack Mix
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Recipe type: Snack
Author:
Ingredients
  • 8 cups Honey Nut or Multi Grain Cheerios
  • 1 cup yogurt raisins
  • 2 cups Original Goldfish Crackers
  • 2 cups orange-coated candies (such as Reese's Pieces or M&Ms)
  • 2 cups mini marshmallows
  • 1 cup salted peanuts
Instructions
  1. Put all ingredients in a large bowl and mix together. Store in an airtight container.

 

 Hook ’em Horns!