PISTACHIO CRANBERRY ICEBOX COOKIES

With the red and green from the cranberries and pistachios, this is an obvious choice for Christmas cookies.  The dough is a little bit of a hassle to work with — very crumbly — but the end result is worth it because these are wonderful.  The recipe is slightly adapted from Liz The Chef, who in turn, adapted the recipe from Gourmet.

PISTACHIO CRANBERRY ICEBOX COOKIES
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Recipe type: Cookies
Author:
Ingredients
  • ¾ cup butter (1-1/2 sticks), softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup sweetened dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • ½ cup coarse or sparkling sugar
Instructions
  1. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, orange juice, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the flour and salt, and continue to beat on low speed until the dough comes together in clumps. Mix in pistachios and cranberries.
  2. Gather the dough together and divide into 2 pieces. Shape each piece into a log approximately 1-1/2 inches thick. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour the coarse or sparkling sugar onto a plate. Brush each log with the beaten egg, then roll in the sugar. Using a sharp knife, slice the dough into ¼-inch slices, and place on cookie sheet at least 1 inch apart. Bake until edges of the cookies are lightly golden, approximately 12-15 minutes. Remove to racks to cool.

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN #8 — DIPS

A tasty dip comes in handy this time of year (really, any time of year), whether to set out for friends and family, or to bring to a holiday party.  One dip that is a surefire hit is Baked Artichoke Parmesan Dip. And if you’re short on time, don’t hesitate to whip up a batch of Hidden Valley Party Dip — all you need is a packet of the party dip and an 8-ounce container of sour cream — and serve it with veggie sticks and Fritos.  Trust me, no one will complain.

This year, I tried a new dip, and it’s a keeper.  Smoked Salmon Dip, adapted from The English Kitchen, is wonderfully smoky, salty, and savory, owing to the lemon juice, green onions, capers, and dill.  It comes together quickly in the food processor.  One tip from the English Kitchen that I found interesting was: “You don’t need to use best quality smoked salmon . . . I usually use the smoked salmon scraps you can buy in the shops.  You are going to chop it coarsely anyways, and the scraps are already chopped for you.”  I had no idea I could buy smoked salmon scraps, but when I went to buy the smoked salmon at Kroger, sure enough, there they were.  And they worked perfectly.

Smoked salmon scraps

SMOKED SALMON DIP
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Recipe type: Appetizer
Author:
Ingredients
  • 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • ⅓ cup sour cream
  • ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 green onion, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 4-5 ounces smoked salmon, coarsely chopped, any gray areas removed
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Fresh dill sprig, for garnish
  • Bagel chips, for serving
Instructions
  1. Put the cream cheese, sour cream, Tabasco sauce, and lemon juice in a food processor, and process until smooth. Add the green onion, capers, salmon, dill, and pepper, and pulse to blend.
  2. Transfer to serving bowl, and refrigerate until ready to use. Garnish with dill sprig and serve with bagel chips.

 

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN #7 — NUTCRACKERS AND SWEDISH NUTS

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

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When my children were young, we took them to see the Houston Ballet’s annual production of 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.  A few years ago 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 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 #6 — CARE PACKAGES

Care packages are a welcome way to spread cheer this holiday season.  College students studying for finals are obvious recipients.  Military personnel stationed far from home are another excellent choice.  Wounded warriors shouldn’t be forgotten this time of year, or ever for that matter, and a surprise care package would be a great way to let one know that they remain in your thoughts.  Know anyone hospitalized this season?  A care package would surely brighten their day.  Perhaps you have friends that recently moved, and would appreciate a care package of goodies to remind them of home.  Think  of them as random acts of kindness.

Care packages can be as simple or elaborate as you decide to make them — it really is about the thought.  Try to make them personal, and add in some holiday items.  I just finished preparing few for college students getting ready for finals, and assembling them definitely put me in a holiday mood.  Included among the goodies in the various packages are snacks, peppermint-striped socks, light up ski caps, hot cocoa mix and mini marshmallows, mugs, pens, and a holiday movie.  Other ideas are paperback books, holiday window clings, fleece throw blankets, holiday t-shirts or leggings, and of course, homemade cookies.

IMG_5518An assortment of snacks and holiday-themed goodies

IMG_5519Ready to be shipped

Surely you know someone who would be surprised and delighted to receive a care package this holiday season.  Have fun putting one together, and bring an unexpected smile to someone’s face.

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN #5 — REINDEER

Most people are not aware that Santa actually has 12 reindeer.  If you listen carefully to the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” you’ll hear them all named.  As the song goes, “there’s Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen.”  That’s 8.  Then there’s ol’ Rudolph — that makes 9.   Next is Olive, who is the bitchiest of the reindeer — “Olive the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names.”  That makes 10.  Howe is number 11 — “Then Howe the reindeer loved him.”  Finally, there’s Andy — “Andy shouted out with glee.”  🙂

I found loads of cute and easy ideas for making reindeer cookies and other holiday treats.  I haven’t included the many beautiful iced ones I saw, because those require a fair amount of skill and patience, and well, ’nuff said.  Perhaps one of these might inspire you to get all reindeer crafty this season.

These reindeer cookies made using an upside down gingerbread man cookie cutter are so clever:

A sweet and simple sugar cookie reindeer (and other cute ideas) from Sarah’s Sweets & Treats: cookies2Chubby little peanut butter reindeer cookies, from the now defunct Ladies Home Journal (RIP print media): cookies3 And another idea for peanut butter reindeer from Bakergirl: cookies5 Nutter Butter reindeer from Edesia’s Notebook: cookies4Take those Nutter Butter reindeer to the next level with a dip in chocolate, from Candiquik: cookies7 How about these clever chocolate-covered biscuit reindeer with Teddy Graham antlers, from Smart Party Planning: cookies12 These gingerbread and sugar cookie pieced reindeer cookies from The Bearfoot Baker are a little more work, but worth the effort, don’t you think? cookies11

Meringue reindeer from I Heart Kitchen are almost too cute to eat (I said almost):

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Oreos can be used to create adorable reindeer cookie pops, like these from Easybaked:

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But reindeer imagination isn’t limited to cookies.  For example, you could make chocolate-dipped marshmallow reindeer pops, like these from Just a Taste:

Or reindeer Rice Krispie treats:

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Savory little reindeer cheese snacks will get a few grins:

Cute Food for Kids

And finally, the piece de resistance, the reindeer bacon cheeseball (posted, unfortunately, without attribution on Pinterest):

Seeing these reindeer goodies definitely made me smile, and I’m sure the family would love to find any of these at our Christmas gathering.

I’ll leave you with one more Christmas joke — this one will “sleigh” you.  🙂

Q:  What does Christmas have in common with your job?

A:  You do all the work and the fat guy in the suit gets all the credit.

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN #4 — SOCIAL MEDIA

To spread a little digital cheer this holiday season, try being social on social media.  In the coming days you’ll be seeing LOTS of photos on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. of kids with Santa, Christmas trees and holiday decorations, family celebrations, holiday foods, pets with antlers and jingle bells, and the Elf on the Shelf doing all kinds of naughty things.  Go ahead and “like” or “favorite” them.  It doesn’t cost a thing, and it brings a little joy to the person that posted the photo.  If you’re really feeling charitable, go ahead and leave a comment.  Ditch the political rants, the obscenities, the challenges to post something “for just 1 hour,” the inane quizzes (“what Christmas cookie are you?  I’m gingersnaps!!”), and other such negativity this season, and post some of your own holiday photos.

Here’s one of my holiday posts — what’s not to “like”?  🙂

nicemaisy

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN #3 — CRANBERRIES

Cranberries!  Big, bouncy, bright red cranberries!

cranberry harvest  oceanspray.com

Harvested between mid-September and mid-November, cranberries are at their peak right now for color and flavor.  Their ruby red color makes them a favorite for holiday decorating, cooking, and baking.

A cranberry wreath looks stunning anywhere you hang it.  I originally saw the idea about 20 years ago in a Martha Stewart publication, and you can see her making one here.  (Spoiler alert:  the video is really boring, and her wreath turns out beautifully.  Doh.).  Mindy at Our Humble Abode declares making a cranberry wreath “the dumbest idea ever,” but I think her wreath is gorgeous and entirely worth the 1-1/2 hours she spent making it:cranberry wreathIn a similar vein (i.e., styrofoam and cranberries), you could also create striking cranberry topiaries:

Adding cranberries to floral arrangements and glass candleholders adds a brilliant splash of holiday color at very little cost:

Kids will love stringing cranberries (well, maybe not my kids) to create gorgeous garlands (use waxed dental floss to make stringing easy):

It takes no time to sugar cranberries, and they make a beautiful garnish for holiday dishes, especially with a few mint leaves tucked in around them.

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 Find directions for making them at ourbestbites.com

Look at some of the elegant ways you can use sugared cranberries:

This year I’m once again baking loaves of cranberry orange bread to share.  The recipe has both fresh and dried cranberries, orange juice and zest, and pecans.  It’s just sweet enough to balance the tartness of the cranberries, and the buttermilk keeps it moist.  The recipe makes 6 mini loaves or 2 regular loaves, which makes it a great recipe for sharing.

CRANBERRY ORANGE QUICK BREAD
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Recipe type: Breads and Muffins
Author:
Ingredients
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup pecan halves, coarsely chopped
  • ⅔ cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 6 mini loaf pans, or 2 regular loaf pans, or 1 bundt pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, orange juice, zest, and melted butter. Whisk in eggs until thoroughly combined.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir just until combined. Gently fold in cranberries and nuts.
  5. Divide batter among prepared pans, filling each approximately ¾ full.
  6. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The top of the bread will be golden, and the bread will have risen and the edges will be just pulling away from the sides of the pan.
  7. Allow to cool, then wrap in plastic and let sit at room temperature several hours (preferably overnight) before slicing and serving.

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Hot out of the oven, and they smell so good!

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Delicious giving