Cookies for Santa and a Merry Christmas to All!

Did someone say "Catfoodie"???

Jingle…jingle…jingle. I hear those sleigh bells jing-a-ling, ring-ting ting-a-ling, too! Christmas is almost here and you know what that means, right? You’ll be needing some cookies for Santa and his reindeer on Christmas Eve this Thursday. Here are some ideas for last minute Christmas cookies that are sure to please even the pickiest elf or reindeer.

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Chocolate, Ginger and Hazelnut Biscotti

These are a classic!

Mom’s Drop Sugar Cookies

Mmmm. These Glazed Apple, Walnut and Oatmeal cookies are to die for! Mmmmuuuuaaaah ha ha ha ha!

Fresh Apple and Walnut Oatmeal Cookies with Sweet Cider Glaze

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Ma’amool Cookies

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Chocolate Espresso Crinkle Cookies

Yes, may I have another?

Toffee Bars

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Spiced Oat and Chocolate Chip Blondies

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Waiting for Santa…

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Need more holiday entertaining or food and beverage gift inspiration? Check out this previous post: Gifts, Goodies and Greatest Hits

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To all of those who celebrate, I wish you a joyful and Merry Christmas!
See you in 2016!

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

Snow Day Sweet Tooth

This is a magnificent shot of my thumb, don't you think?

This is a magnificent shot of my thumb, don’t you think?

You may or may not have heard on the American news that we had 2 – 2 1/2 inches of snow here this week, resulting in ice, resulting in 4 million folks all heading home in the middle of a minor snow storm, compacting more ice and ending in a massive traffic gridlock…and stranded motorists. This event is now not-so-affectionately known as “Snowpocalypse 2014.” I still feel so badly for anyone who went through the stress and frightening strain of being stuck in traffic or stranded for hours—and in some cases days—on our roads and interstates here in Atlanta as well as in Birmingham, Alabama. Hopefully everyone is home, safe and sound by now.

This is what our Southern felines thought of the snow.

This is what our Southern felines thought of the snow.

In addition to a stiff single-malt scotch, there’s nothing that can take away the sting of enduring such an event quite so well as these easy, chewy and toffee-covered Heath Bar Blondies. And hey, they’d be a good choice for the Superbowl festivities, too.

Not a fan of toffee? Use the same amount of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips instead, and lightly press them into the top of the batter before baking.

Heath Bar (or Chocolate Chip) Blondies
Makes 3 dozen rich bars, plenty to soothe your raw nerves and some to share, too!

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup melted butter, unsalted, plus extra to grease the pan
1 egg
2 teaspoons good quality pure vanilla extract (I use Madagascar bourbon vanilla)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup English toffee bits in milk chocolate such as Heath, or you can sub an equal amount of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Grease an 8 x 8 inch square baking pan with butter and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the sugar, butter, egg and vanilla in a medium-sized bowl with a whisk. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt, then pour it into the butter mixture. Stir with a spoon to combine, until the mixture is moist and just blended. Spread the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing evenly. Scatter the toffee bits or the chips evenly over the top of the batter and press lightly to adhere. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-22 minutes, until the blondies start to pull away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out mostly clean. Remove from the oven and cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into 36 small squares. Relax.

Hard to believe such a beautiful little snow could wreak so much chaos.

Hard to believe such a beautiful little snow could wreak so much havoc.

Toffee Bars and Gratitude

Yes, may I have another?

Yes, may I have another?

I fully intended to post this before Christmas, which is when I actually made these and delivered them…but you know, it’s a busy time! Even so, I think this is a great idea for any time of the year, so this post is timely.

It all started with reading about Cooking Light magazine’s “Bake a Second Batch” challenge in the December 2013 issue. The idea was to make a second batch of whatever your holiday baking entailed and give it to your favorite teacher, worker, policeman, etc. This brought to mind that I really wanted to do something to say thanks to the firemen and first responders that came to our home when lightning struck last summer. So in the midst of holiday preparations, I decided to make these Turtle Bars from a recipe I wanted to try that I’d saved in my files from the 2003 issue of Bon Appétit magazine.

The bars came out well, but not like Turtle Bars at all really, in that the caramel wasn’t soft. Yet in spite of being really hard to cut, the bars had a wonderful dark chocolate coating with a hard toffee and pecan layer on top of a delicious crust. We loved them, so I packaged them up and got them ready to go to the fire station.

Now I’m going to digress and tell you a little story, because there are a few things I learned that one must consider when attempting to deliver goodies to a fire station. First and foremost, these guys are really busy. They not only respond to fires, but also are first responders to 911 calls to aid in any emergency. And as a result, they are very hard to catch.

Our first attempt to deliver the goods was met with an open, but completely empty, fire station. Not wishing to enter uninvited or leave the plate, we decided to come back the next morning. Fortunately, these bars keep well when wrapped well.

The next day around lunch time, we decided to try, try again, piled into the car and headed back to the station. (This particular fire station is about 1 mile from our house, and they actually heard the explosion when the lighting hit our home.) As we rounded the first corner on our way, I heard a siren, looked at my husband and said “surely that isn’t our firemen on their way somewhere.” And in the very next moment, they passed us in a huge ladder truck followed by an emergency vehicle and sped down the road in the opposite direction. Not deterred, we drove on to the station to see if anyone stayed behind to mind the store. Foiled again.

So on to the grocery we went, being halfway there already. Thirty minutes later, we had to drive back past the station to go home, since it is along our most traveled route.

We stopped a third time, knocked on the back door and a charming young man answered, hurrah! The smell of something good to eat for lunch was wafting out of the doorway from behind him, and he was still chewing as he came the door. (These guys cook regularly for themselves, you know, and must eat quickly before the next call.)

We stated who we were, where we lived and that we were there because they’d come to our aid in a time of need, and we wanted to say thank you again by dropping off a goodie, and wish them a happy holiday. The young man called out towards the back room for his Superior to come forth, and out came…the very guy who lead the team that responded to our call in June! He remembered us, shook our hands and said how very lucky we were that our house didn’t catch on fire (and we know it). He was also quite the charmer, and seemed so profusely pleased and grateful to be remembered. We were assured that firemen always LOVE sweets and they are welcome any time, and at that very moment he was finishing up lunch, so this would be dessert. Perfect timing.

All-in-all it was just a great feeling to reconnect, reach out and do something nice for someone as a surprise.

And more importantly in some ways, it reminded me that very few of us—certainly I am guilty of this—think about finding ways to do something nice for someone, just because. We get so wrapped up in our day to day lives, or the holidays, or whatever…that we just don’t think of it. I, for one, plan to do this again. In fact, I’d like to start with resolving to do it twice a year at least, and am already thinking on who my next recipient (victim) of kindness might be. It’s a good thing.

So on to this easy recipe for toffee bars and a few tips on making them. You can read the original recipe from the link by name in bold above, and I’m going to reprint it below with my judgement calls and the rename of “Toffee Bars,” because that’s what they were. Do enjoy these if you make them…they are addictive, so perhaps best made for a party or a crowd—or even better, your next intended kindness victim! Have a happy weekend.

Toffee Bars, Slightly Adapted from Bon Appétit
Makes about 70

2 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups light brown sugar (packed), or a mix of 3/4 dark brown and 1 cup light brown
(Note: I used the mix because that is what I had. Many commenters like the light brown only because it doesn’t get so dark, especially the crust)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

3 tablespoons whipping cream

1 cup pecan halves, toasted
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
(Note: the original recipe calls for 3/4 cup chips which won’t begin to spread and cover this. If you need more than I’ve recommended, add it, but keep in mind the extra sweet factor.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Mix flour, 1 cup of the brown sugar and 3/4 cup of the butter in a processor until well blended and crumbly. Press mixture evenly into an ungreased 9 x 13 x 2 inch metal baking dish. Bake until the crust is light golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and maintain oven temperature.

Meanwhile, bring remaining 3/4 cup brown sugar, 3/4 cup butter and cream to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Remove caramel from heat.

Sprinkle the pecans over the crust, then pour the caramel evenly over the pecans. Bake until bubbles form and color darkens, about 20 minutes. (Note: here is where you go from Turtle to Toffee. At the full 20 minutes recommended in the original recipe, the caramel will be hard crack stage…which I liked. For a softer version, only bake for 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over. Let stand until the chocolate melts, about 5 minutes. Using an offset spatula, spread the chocolate evenly over top. Chill bars until the chocolate sets, about 20 minutes. (I didn’t have to do this because the house was so cool at the time.) Cut into 1 inch squares. (Note: If you take this to the full toffee stage, as I did, these will be hard to cut. Use a very sharp knife and take your time, and you’ll be rewarded. The cut squares will be a little jagged, as toffee is when you break it. If you do the “Turtle” route, your squares should cut more cleanly and the caramel with be softer.)