I’m not sure I even have the evidence of last year’s holiday season properly stored away and here it is time to drag all that stuff out again! Well, the spiral notebook is coming out and my holiday lists begin. Over the last few months, my tidy table in the workplace has been piliing up with completed gift projects, books for avid reader friends, Post-It notes to remind me where the Post-It notes are stored, ingredients for holiday menus, piles of ‘gotta try this’ on Thanksgiving/Christmas, and a bouquet of artificial flowers. I do not care for artificial flowers but my cats are afraid of them so that is my cat repellant of of choice.
I do have most of my shopping done as I started the week after Christmas last year. I never see something and think, “Remember to get one of those for whoever,” but always purchase it at time of sighting because I will either forget to put in on the list . . . or lose the list!
My freezer is ready for holiday baking . . . mostly. Butter is expensive so I’ve been stockpiling it in the freezer since June along with chocolate chips and baking chocolate. I have way too much Christmas wrap so don’t NEED to buy any but probably will if it is a.) unique and different, b.) on sale or c.)both.
I just finished packing my Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Shoeboxes and ended up packing two more than planned . . .overpurchased as I can’t resist buying for little children since mine are all grown up.
Hopefully and happily looking forward to Thanksgiving, my favorite meal to prepare of the year. I’ve been doing it since I was twelve years old and look foreward to it every year especially if I have a crowd around the table. And, that gives me the opportunity to start another list. My Thanksgiving list turns into the plural as I need the shopping list, the prep list for timing the food preparation, and the timing list for the actual day as my husband and I have some differences of opinion on who gets the oven first.
Times do be a changing, however, when it comes to holiday meals as one of our guests is a vegetarian, one is a total vegan, and my husband doesn’t eat sugar or gluten. My family and guests, however, are not overall picky eaters and you will find the carnivores enjoying some of the vegan/vegetarian options, too.
My daughter and I finished off making the last of the Christmas cookies yesterday. We have been watching way too many baking shows so attempted, with a bit of success, to make some better than average versions of the experts’ cookies. We put on Christmas music and spent four hours noting that the first six or seven cookies we decorated were not all that great while one could see our expertise grow with the middle group. The last twenty or so ended up much simpler as we got tired of all the sticky frosting joy. Anyway, this batch along with the 15 other kinds I baked during the week will easily fill up our cookies gift plates for our friends.
HOWEVER, when I say I’m done, I’m talking about the ‘normal’ cookies. My younger son in adamantly vegan so I still have five cookie recipes to bake for his Christmas treats. I asked him once if his three roommates were vegan, too, and he said, “Only when I’m doing the cooking!” I guess that will be the same situation if they want one of his Christmas cookies!
My kitchen is beginning to smell a lot like Christmas but it was only a preliminary baking session for an event at my husband’s office. When I’m only doing small batches, I often try some new recipes. This morning, I tried a new one that might be a keeper for the future. They are called Gooey Butter Cookies but are not all that gooey but smelled really good. Very easy and adaptable recipe. The version I tried today:
Gooey Butter Cookies
1/2 cup softened butter
8 ounces of cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon
1 box of yellow cake mix
1/2 cup powdered sugar (for rolling the cookies in before baking)
Cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add in the egg, vanilla, zest and spices. Mix in the cake mix and refrigerate the dough until cold. It will still be sticky but somewhat easier to work with!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. It’s a good idea to use parchment paper on your baking sheets.
If you have a cookie scoop, it would be handy but basically roll balls of dough into 1-1 1/2-inch. Roll in the powdered sugar. Place two inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.
Bake for 12-15 minutes but keep an eye on the cookies after around ten to determine how hot your often might run. Cookies should still be somewhat pale with golden edges. Let rest on the baking sheets a few minutes before putting them on the cooling racks.
After I finished these cookies, I realized it could end up being a real timesaver when I’m suddenly informed that someone in the family needs cookies for work! Also, what’s to stop the cookie creation at a yellow cake mix? I’m thinking chocolate, carrot, lemon . . . Adding some chopped nuts or chocolate chips might be an interesting addition . . . By the way, the gooey ones are the light ones in the middle of the picture with the patches of powdered sugar.
I don’t think there is a mother who has never been informed ten minutes before bedtime that their child just remembered they were supposed to bring cookies to school the next day. My favorite and a popular solution that’s been around for awhile follows! The nice thing about this recipe is that you can use any flavor cake mix you like or have in the house. You can add chocolate chips, nuts, coconut to the mixture and come up with some ‘homemade’ (hey! you DID make them at HOME!) cookies in a minimum of time and effort. Remember an extra drop of vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spices for a spice cake mix and such would work well.
1 package (18.25 ounces) favorite cake mix
½ cup butter (1 stick) melted
2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cookies sheets should be greased or sprayed with vegetable spray.
In a medium bowl, stir in all ingredients until well combined. Drop by tablespoons onto prepared cookie sheets, about 3 inches apart to allow for spreading. Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes until edges are brown. Let cool on cookie sheet a few minutes before transferring to racks to finish cooling.
Although we always called this a holiday cheesecake, I think it appeared many times at dessert time on ordinary days of the week. Naturally, any time cheesecake showed up after dinner, could be declared a holiday!
EASY HOLIDAY CHEESECAKE
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
⅓ cup granulated sugar
½ cup melted butter or margarine
Combine above ingredients and press into a spring-form pan. The crust should come more than halfway to the top of the pan. Refrigerate until ready to use. Pan requirement: seven to nine-inch spring form pan.*
3 8-oz. packages of cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups granulated sugar
Place softened cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. using an electric mixer, beat at medium speed until cream cheese is thoroughly creamed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is well combined. Add vanilla. While running the mixer gradually add sugar, beating well. Mixture should be thick and smooth. Carefully spoon mixture into crust. smoothing evenly.
Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 50 minutes. Top will brown and crack. Cool and refrigerate eight hours or overnight before serving.
You can strike a festive note by spooning a puree of strawberries over each serving and garnishing with a mint sprig. Crushed pineapple also compliments cheesecake. Prepare about an hour ahead, a cup and a half of crushed pineapple combined with the zest of a lemon. Spoon over individual slices just before serving.
*A spring form pan is pictured above. Walmart usually sells them, three to a set for a budget-friendly price considering how often you will be baking cheesecake now!
Yes, there are some times that you actually need to have a cake ready within hours for unexpected company, a birthday cake, a gift for a friend, etc. Unfortunately, we find the rest of the day crowding in on us and have no idea what to do except head over to the store bakery for something that will taste and look store bought!
This has been a favorite recipe in my family for years. My mother came across it over 40 years ago and it has saved the day many events since. I like the fact that it is open to interpretation in that you can use whatever flavor cake or pudding mix you like for the perfect end result. Don’t care for the sherry, use water or juice.
Don’t have a bundt pan? Make cupcakes or use a loaf pan.
Easy Bundt Cake
1 yellow cake mix
1 small package instant vanilla pudding
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sherry
Combine all ingredients and mix just until well incorporated. Smooth into a well-greased and floured bundt or tube cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees approximately 35-40 minutes. Cool ten minutes in pan and invert onto serving plate. Dust with powdered sugar.
Add ½ cup ground walnuts or pecans to the cake batter before baking.
Add 3/4 cup toasted coconut to the cake batter before baking.
The clock is definitely ticking down to Christmas. It really seems to sneak up on a person the last week when you realize that you do NOT have another week to shop, you do NOT have another week to buy groceries, and you do NOT have some great Christmas cookies stocked away in the cupboards and freezer. There is also the concern for people who have to avoid gluten. It wasn’t stated in my marriage vows, but after thirty-plus years of marriage, I seem to have acquired a husband who is very sensitive to gluten.
Around Christmas time, Christmas cookies would make life sad for my husband until I discovered ‘flour’ blends that can turn out rather great cookies and still be safe for him to eat.
My latest discovery is Pamela’s All Purpose Flour, Gluten-Free Artisan Blend, Non-Dairy. It doesn’t work well for yeast-raised goodies but some people think it makes better cookies than wheat flour. It is pretty much cup to cup for measurements so you can use some of your old favorites still. I found the best deal on Amazon.com.
BetterBatter is a standby in my cupboard for making quick biscuits, egg noodles, tortillas and such. Their computer site has a lot of recipes to cover just about any need you have for baking during the holiday and throughout the year. Sometimes, the best deal is on Amazon and other times directly from BetterBatter.
King Arthur’s Flour is almost the same as Pamela’s and BetterBatter but, probably best for cookies and cakes. They, too, offer recipes for the asking and just surfing for a particular recipe on the internet with their name in the search will bring up a lot of recipes from individuals, too. Just make sure to read the ratings for hints to avoid disasters.
Before my husband had to omit gluten from his diet, my specialty was bread and most any yeast-raised recipe. Although I have managed to produce some reasonable outcomes, to date, nothing was exactly what I wanted. I just discovered Steve’s Gluten-Free Bread flour blend by Authentic Foods. The first baguette turned out amazingly well with a crust and a ‘bread interior’ that was springy and didn’t ‘melt’ down exposing it’s gluten-free origins. I purchased 25 pounds and bread baking is back in my schedule. It looks, acts, and tastes like the real deal.
Crispy Coconut Chews
My husband doesn’t like coconut but, for some reason, he likes these cookies! They are easy to make and a nice contrast to all the chocolate and spice cookies that show up at Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against chocolate and spice cookies but don’t mind chomping down on an extra coconut cookie in addition to the rest! Sometimes, I use bran flakes for the called-for crushed flake cereal in the ingredients. I’m always sneaking in extra vitamins and fiber even with treats.
½ cup butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup crushed flake cereal
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup coconut
½ cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream the butter and sugars until smooth and fluffy. Stir in egg, extract, and lemon zest. Add the flour, baking soda, and baking powder to the butter mixture. Add the oatmeal, cereal, coconut, and walnuts. Mix gently until well combined.
Drop dough by tablespoons onto greased baking sheet, keeping them about 2 inches apart to allow for spreading. Bake for approximately ten minutes or until cookies are lightly browned at the edges. Cool on wire racks. Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies depending on size.
Apple Oatmeal Bars
When Fall approaches, apples are in abundance. Nothing like a spicy apple and cinnamon concoction to put the scent of holidays into the air just a bit! This is a cookie-type bar cookie with a lot of taste and goes well as a snack or dressed up for dessert.
½ cup shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup rolled oats
2-3 green or tart apples, peeled and diced (about 2 cups total)
Juice and zest of one, small lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking pan (approximately 12x9x2-inches) with parchment paper or use vegetable oil spray.
Cream together the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. In a small bowl, mix together the lemon juice, zest, vanilla extract, and the apples. Now stir in the rolled oats, apple mixture and nuts into the flour/butter mixture. Spread the batter in the prepared baking pan.
Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes. Cool in the pan on a cooling rack. Cut into desired-sized bars and either sprinkle with powdered sugar or drizzle with a lemon glaze. Goes well with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a generous portion of freshly-whipped cream.