Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2018 (III)

When I’m trying to figure out what to bake each Christmas, whether something looks like it would be tasty is always the first and most important criterion.  Once that threshold is passed, however, I’m always looking for something with color and texture that will add a little dash to the cookie tins, and I also like to try recipes that are different from what I already prepare.

This recipe, which I found on the www.dinneratthezoo.com website, meets all of those requirements.  The cookies are made with cornflakes, which sounds intriguing, they look great, and they are “no bake” cookies that supposedly can be made in 10 minutes — which is something I’ve not tried before.

Christmas Wreath Cookies

christmas-wreath-cookies-683x1024Ingredients:  1 stick of butter (1/2 cup); 30 large marshmallows; 1 and 1/4 teaspoon liquid green food coloring; 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract; 5 cups cornflakes; 1/2 cup red candy coated chocolates such as mini M&M’s; cooking spray

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Place the marshmallows and butter in a large bowl, and microwave them in 30 second increments until melted.  Add the green food coloring and vanilla and stir until the marshmallow mixture is smooth.  Add the cornflakes to the bowl and gently stir to coat the cereal evenly with the marshmallow mixture.
Pack the mixture into a greased 1/4 cup measuring cup, then turn the mixture out onto the sheet pan. Use your fingers to make a hole in the middle to form a wreath shape and decorate with red candies. (The recommendation from the website is that it’s easiest to form the wreath holes if your fingers are damp or coated in cooking spray.)  Cool completely until firm and serve.

 

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2018 (II)

Every would-be cookie baker needs a taster — that person who will sample your fare and tell you whether the batch is brilliant . . . or a bust.  I’m blessed to have the greatest taster of all under our roof, so when Kish sent along some holiday cookie recipes from the New York Times I had to pick one to try this year.  I like coconut, so this was my choice.

Toasted Coconut Shortbread

merlin_146903328_7ae9fcfc-36b5-47f1-b4da-ae60eb1a466d-articlelargeIngredients:  2 1/4 sticks cold salted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces; 1/2 cup granulated sugar; 1/4 cup light brown sugar; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour; 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (plus more for rolling); 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon; 1 large egg, well beaten; sanding sugar

Using an electric mixer and medium bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.  Use a spatula to scrape down sides of bowl, then put mixer on low speed and slowly add flour, followed by 1/2 cup coconut and beat until blended.

Divide dough in half and place each half on a piece of plastic wrap.  Sprinkle each piece of dough with half of the cinnamon, then fold plastic over to cover dough and use your hands to form dough into a log shape about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter.  Chill logs in the refrigerator for 1 1/2 hours, until they are firm.

Heat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper.  Brush outside of logs with egg wash, then roll logs in unsweetened coconut.  Slice each log into 1/4-inch rounds.  Dip each round on one side into sanding sugar and arrange on backing sheet, sugar side up, 1 inch apart.  Bake cookies 10-12 minutes, until edges are just beginning to brown.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2018

A Little Christmas Goes A Long Way

I like Christmas.  I really do.  But when you’re at a conference, a little Christmas goes a long way.

Thursday night I found myself at a reception in the obligatory open atrium space at one of those colossal hotel-conference complexes.  I was having a perfectly pleasant time, chatting with other attendees, when suddenly there was a blast of music, strobe lights, and fog machine effects, and some kind of Christmas-themed program starting playing, at bellowing volume, over the sound system.  I think it may have been called “A Christmas Wish,” or something along those lines, and it seemed to involve a boy beseeching his Grinch-like grandfather to do something for the holidays.  People who love The Hallmark Channel Christmas movies no doubt would have appreciated its saccharine sappiness.  Me?  I found the kid’s voice incredibly annoying as I was trying to carry on a conversation, and I sympathized with the beleaguered granddad who had to put up with the irritating rugrat.

Eventually the program ended, and everyone at the reception breathed a sigh of relief at the very welcome silence.  Before we knew it, however, the program started again, and we realized with grim despair that it apparently was going to be broadcast every half hour.  I wasn’t the only attendee who then decided that it was time to exit the reception and get as far away from the imploring kid’s voice as possible.

Lights, trees, other festive decorations, and a little Christmas music in the background are just fine.  But forced exposure to some maudlin tale that is supposed to illustrate “the meaning of Christmas” is where I draw the line.

Avoiding Fudge Failure

Yesterday a friend sent me a message saying that she wanted to make some peanut butter fudge for the holidays and asking if I had a recipe she could use.  She explained that she’s tried two recipes and encountered embarrassing “fudge failure” each time, with one effort coming out hard as a brick and the other a soupy mess.

219I don’t have a recipe for peanut butter fudge — if one of the readers of this blog has one they’d like to share, I’d be happy to hear about it, by the way — but I do have a recipe for “fantasy fudge” that I first published on the blog in 2009.  I’ve made the fudge as part of my Christmas cookie baking in a number of years since then, and I can say with complete confidence that it’s pretty much failure-proof, as long as you keep stirring, both as the sugar, margarine, and milk is boiling and later when the chocolate is added.  Your arm will get a workout, I can assure you!

Fantasy Fudge

Ingredients:  3 cups sugar; 3/4 cup margarine; 2/3 cup evaporated milk; 1 12 oz. package of semi-sweet chocolate chips; 1 7 oz. jar of Kraft Marshmallow creme; 1 cup chopped nuts; 1 tablespoon vanilla.

Combine sugar, margarine, and milk in heavy 2 1/2 quart saucepan.  Bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly.  Continue boiling for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until melted.  Add marshmallow creme, nuts and vanilla and beat until blended.  Pour into greased 13″ x 9″ baking pan.  Let cool and cut into 1-inch squares.

Fudge failure is no fun!  Fantasy fudge will make your holidays more flavorful and festive.  And speaking of flavorful, we’ll start our annual Christmas cookie discussion next week.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

This Thanksgiving, I’m especially thankful for:

• My wonderful wife;

• The good health and good spirits of my family and friends;

• A fine Thanksgiving meal with family that will be (hopefully) without any trace of rancorous political arguments;

• Being free from the want, worry, and oppression that troubles so much of the world;

• The many excellent books, films, and TV shows I’ve enjoyed this year, and the creative spirits who produced them;

• The opportunity to watch the Ohio State Buckeyes break more than a few Michigan Wolverine hearts this Saturday;

• The kind words I’ve received from faithful readers of this blog;

• That pre-Thanksgiving piece of pumpkin pie I snuck last night; and

• This chance to count my blessings on a chilly but peaceful Thanksgiving morning while drinking a hot cup of coffee and listening to some baroque music.

May everyone celebrate a similarly long list of things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

No Columbus Day In Columbus

Today is the day that has been pre-marked on your calendar as “Columbus Day.”  It’s a federal holiday, so federal offices and courthouses will be closed.  But here in Columbus, Ohio — named for the explorer who discovered the New World, where a huge statue of Columbus is found outside City Hall — city offices will be open, and the rest of us will head into work like it’s any other workday.

150px-columbus-ohio-christopher-columbus-statue-2006-tightColumbus city government offices traditionally closed for Columbus Day, but this year the city decided to change its approach to the holiday.  Last week the city issued a short release saying that its offices would be open today, and the offices would close, instead, when Veterans Day is celebrated next month.

By taking that action, Columbus joins a growing number of American cities and states that don’t officially celebrate Columbus Day.  Many cities and states don’t recognize the federal holiday because of Christopher Columbus’ brutal and horrific treatment of the natives he found when he reached the New World, and instead celebrate Indigenous People’s Day or Native American Day.  The City of Columbus says its decision wasn’t taken for that reason, but rather because the city just wanted to recognize and honor veterans.

Notwithstanding the City’s press release, I suspect that the changing view of Columbus and what he did played at least some role in the decision to take a new approach to the holiday.  I’ve got no problem with revisiting the approach to Columbus Day — which never has been really widely accepted as a holiday in many workplaces, including mine — just as I have no problem with the decisions in many towns and cities to remove Confederate statuary.  Columbus was initially seen as a heroic explorer who rejected the flat-earth theory and braved the unknown to discover America.  Now we take a more complete and rounded view of his record, and recognize that he knowingly committed terrible atrocities and killed and enslaved the gentle natives he found on his voyages.  A Google search on the subject will find lots of articles like this one, entitled “Top 5 Atrocities committed by Christopher Columbus.”

So why in the world should we celebrate this awful person who has his own “Top 5 Atrocities” list by giving people a day off, just because that was done in the past?  We can recognize Columbus as the historical figure who apparently reached the New World first, while also acknowledging that his treatment of the indigenous people was unconscionable — and that Columbus, the man, just isn’t worthy of a holiday.  As for celebrating heroes, I agree with the Columbus city government — let’s celebrate our veterans instead.

Guest Batch

We have family coming in for the holidays, so I’m whipping up some cookies for people to nibble while we sit around and catch up on what everyone has been up to during 2017. I’m therefore making my favorite cookie — Dutch spice cookies. I like the brown sugar/cinnamon/nutmeg/clove flavor, which says Christmas to me, but they’re also fun to decorate. You can put anything from M&Ms to decorators’ sugar to nuts on these cookies, and they all seem to go perfectly.

Treeless

I suppose you could argue that anyone living in a place called German Village should be required to have a Tannenbaum, but Kish and I have never had a tree here. My Grinch-like attitude is that, while Christmas trees smell nice, they’re really too much of a hassle to bother with unless you’ve got kids at home and lots of presents to stash under the boughs. I should add that the one memorable year when the family dog couldn’t resist trying to slurp water from the tree stand and repeatedly knocked the tree over, crushing ornaments that had been treasured heirlooms, crumpling presents underneath, and leaving the family room in our old house strewn with pine needles and glass shards, undoubtedly influenced my anti-tree sentiments.

But even if you don’t have a hulking, rapidly dried-out green object in your living room, you can still be festive around the holidays. Kish is good at adding the little touches that remind you that Christmas is just around the corner. Some snow-dappled pine cones, a Santa-themed holder for holiday cards, a few poinsettias and strategically displayed individual ornaments, and voila! –you’ve captured the Christmas mood.

And no risk of dog-related incidents, either.

Merry Christmas (Ale)!

Every year, beer lovers in the Midwest wait impatiently for the delivery of the Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale, in the same way that credulous seven-year-olds wait for Santa Claus — with a mixture of fervent belief and outright greed. Every year, Great Lakes delivers a delicious, spicy concoction that is designed to make the holidays more merry.

This year’s version, which I happily quaffed at the Olde Mohawk this afternoon, does not disappoint. Even Ebenezer Scrooge would savor this brew!

At The Holiday Pinch Point

It’s 10 days before Christmas, and it’s time to make some important decisions.

Not about shopping.  If you haven’t done your shopping by now, you may as well wait until the very last minute and become one of those pathetic, lost wretches who makes a mad dash to the stores on December 24 and hopes to find something decent for the people on your shopping list (which I can attest from personal experience can be done, mind you).  No, I’m talking about decisions about eating.

holiday2Already I can feel the clothing growing a bit, er, snug, and the holiday parties and open houses and receptions are only now beginning to appear on the calendar in earnest.  We’ve tried — really, really tried! — to be sensible and good about our consumption, but already we’ve been tempted by, and succumbed to, chocolate-covered nuts from the Pacific Northwest, and some of the very best brittle you can imagine.  Delectable home-baked cookies, and delicious trifle, and pies, and pound cake, and candied almonds, and bowls of irresistible red and green M&Ms, and God knows what else have appeared before us and vanished down the gullet.  About the only thing we’ve been able to successfully resist is fruitcake.

And now the clothing is sending us a message, and we’ve got a decision to make:  (1) get all of the Christmas goodies out of the house, immediately, defer any further confectionary consumption until the Christmas meal itself, and thereby try to stay in reasonable fighting trim until the holidays are behind us, or (2) give up the ghost entirely, have a roaring good time at the remaining parties, go all in on stuffing ourselves with the foods and drinks that make the festive times festive, and vow to really address that waistline after New Year’s Day.

You know, I’ve heard that January is really a good time for losing weight, because you end up burning calories just to stay warm.