Gifts, Goodies and Greatest Hits

I have some new recipes, really I do! And some travels and adventures to share as well. And I have pictures, too. But as I am still in high gear work mode right now with some deadlines looming before the Christmas holiday, I think I’ll first take this opportunity to share these “greatest hits” of the season with you. May these favorites of mine inspire some holiday food and gift ideas for you to try until I can get back to the regularly scheduled programming.

I hope you all have enjoyed the holiday season so far, and may your days be merry and bright…and filled with good food, friends and family.

Cookies! For the cookie monster in us all.

Who doesn’t love cookies any time of year, but during the holidays they are a mandatory make and give. Starting from the top with these biscotti…this is the one thing I will try to get made before Christmas!

biscottiA-1Chocolate Hazelnut and Ginger Biscotti are perhaps the most addictive cookies ever known to man or woman. These truly decadent biscotti have the perfect dry texture combined with savory hazelnuts, spicy candied ginger and melty semi-sweet chocolate surprises in every bite. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…if I don’t make these for my husband every Christmas, I might as well find another place to live. I kid you not!

cookies smOld Fashioned Drop Sugar Cookies are a recipe that my mom used to make every year. They are the best I’ve ever had and fun to make by yourself, or with some little elves helping you to decorate! They have the added advantage of keeping well for a week or more in an airtight container.

crinkles2Chocolate Espresso Crinkle Cookies. I knew I had to try them the moment I saw Eva’s original recipe, and then Sawsan’s adaptation of Eva’s recipe that added some warm spices. They did not disappoint! Continue reading

Gifts a Go-Go: Homemade Chai Tea Mix and So Much More

Zooming. That’s what it feels like right now. Zooming towards the holiday at record breaking speed. Here’s a little slideshow of what I’ve been doing the last two weeks instead of posting sooner!

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So you see, I really haven’t been ignoring anyone, just kinda busy…honestly. But then, who isn’t? So you deserve a new recipe and here it is.

I have a new gift item literally in the “mix” this year. It’s a wonderful smelling and tasting Chai Tea Mix to make and give to friends, or as a great hostess gift. It’s really an easy gift to put together, makes a seasonally colorful mixture and is endlessly customizable to suit your tastes. I’ve used a warming blend of spices that I’m particularly fond of, along with some fresh orange zest and candied ginger. Simply toast your spices, crush them to release their essence and toss with caffeinated or decaf black tea leaves and chopped candied ginger. Or you can try using an herbal tea leaf of your choice—the experimenting is up to you. I like to tie on a pretty little tea ball for brewing, or some tea bags to be filled as desired by the recipient. Here are the steps and recipe, and you can click on any image for a step by step slideshow.

Chai Tea Mix
Makes 4 pint jars full, about 12 cups of tea per jar

56 green cardamom pods, split in half with sharp knife, use pods and seeds
2 teaspoons whole red peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
4 Tablespoons whole fennel seeds
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
2 teaspoons whole cloves
9 – 5 inch cinnamon sticks
4 teaspoons fresh orange zest, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped candied ginger
2 cups loose leaf black tea, I used English Breakfast

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the cardamom pods and seeds, red peppercorns, black peppercorns, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon sticks and orange zest into two pie tins or on a cookie sheet, and toast them in the oven until they become fragrant and lightly toasted, about 5-8 minutes. Watch them carefully after 5 minutes. Remove the spices from the oven. Crush the cinnamon stick with a mortar and pestle or in a plastic bag with a rolling pin, until you have small bits but not powder, and add to a large mixing bowl. Lightly crush the remaining spices to release their essence either by mortar and pestle or rolling pin…again, you don’t want powder, just smaller pieces. Add the spices to the cinnamon, along with the candied ginger and tea, and mix well to blend. Transfer the tea mix to your jars or decorative bags.

Directions: To brew one cup of tea (and I put these brewing instructions on my tags on the jars), place one heaping tablespoon of the mix into a tea ball or empty tea bag (these can be purchased at cooking specialty stores or online, or you can make them out of coffee filters), and place into a mug. Add 1 cup of boiling water and steep for 5 minutes. Add warm milk (about 1/4 cup or to taste to start) then sweeten with sugar or honey, if desired. Enjoy!

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I’ll have some more great gift ideas and new items before the big holiday, at which point I will take a rest for a week to enjoy the season and spend time with family and friends.

In the mean time, please check out these links below to find the recipes for items in the slideshow that I’ve made already, and for more food gift ideas that I’ve made and previously posted on this blog. And be sure to take the time to have a cup of tea, de-stress and enjoy the season.

These are a classic!

These are a classic!

Drop Sugar Cookies and

IMG_20111224_170012_edit0Old Fashioned Ice Box Cookies
are two old tried and true recipes I love.

Then I had to make some of those addictive red pepper and fennel glazed almonds.

Then I had to make some of those addictive red pepper and fennel glazed almonds.

Red Pepper and Fennel Glazed Almonds

biscottiA-1Chocolate, Hazelnut and Ginger Biscotti
(If I make nothing else, I make these every year and I’d be in the doghouse if I didn’t!)

wholeplateRetro Cheese Olive Bites
These are great to make ahead and freeze and so are the
Bacon Wrapped Dates with Apricots and Pistachios!

bottles2Cranberry Liqueur

olives4Provençal Olives

All dressed up and ready to give!

All dressed up and ready to give!

Walnut Thyme Honey

Maamool 4Ma’amool Cookies 

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A is for Apples: A Savory Bread Pudding and an Apple Oat Walnut Bar

Fall isn’t Fall without apple bars, breads, cakes, cookies, crisps, bread puddings, salads and soups!

Do you have seasonal favorite dishes that you like to make? As each year rolls around, I look forward with great anticipation to tasting some favorite dishes once more, and it seems like periodically they are due for a wee makeover. Not that there was anything wrong with them the first time around, but just because I think…’Wow, wouldn’t this be good with this or that added to it?’ Or, ‘What if I tried making that into something else?’ Here are two new dishes, not quite the same as the old dishes—and both involve one of my favorite seasonal ingredients, apples! Continue reading

Final Approach Weekend

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been so busy that perhaps you may have missed a few of those clever posts around with wonderful tips and ideas on making your own gifts or tasty foods for the holidays. It’s really hard to keep up, and especially the closer we get to the big festivities.

As I spend this weekend finishing off my gifts for friends and family, and attending a few parties in between, I’d like to just quickly recap some of the foods I’ve made this season for gifts and holiday entertaining. I’m hoping these might offers some inspiration when seen all together and be of help in choosing a recipe for those “what can I make?” moments ahead! Continue reading

Holiday Cordials and Cocktails

The first of my Cranberry Liqueur was ready on Sunday and I was very excited to see how my spice experiment worked out, plus try some new and old cocktail recipes featuring the liqueur that you can make or share with your gift. Here’s how it all went: Continue reading

Cranberry Cordial

The four amigos, all sealed up and ready for the cure.

It’s that time of year again…time to start the gift making in earnest, and for the past 2 years I’ve made batches of homemade liqueurs for friends and family, namely Cranberry and Orangecello. Decoratively bottled, handmade liqueurs make wonderful gifts, will keep at least a year (if not used up well before that) and are really fun to make. Continue reading