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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