Monthly Archives: November 2012

MAKING CHRISTMAS COOKIES FROM A CAKE MIX!

(Photo: white cake mix cookie dough tinted with food coloring).

You might think it’s a new idea, but actually – it’s been around a long time! I found at least one cake mix cookie recipe dating back to the early 1970s.

Maybe it’s that everything old is new again—or maybe, more likely, it’s because of the Internet—you can find virtually everything you are looking for on Google or Bing.  I typed in “cake mix cookie recipes” on Google and got over three million hits.  I went to Bing and typed in the same search information and was rewarded with over eleven million hits.

Well, we don’t need that many recipes (although my family & friends would swear that I am out to collect a few million recipes). I have no idea, anymore, how many cookbooks I have, let alone how many recipes – thousands are in 3 ring binders and there are over 50 of those. I have over 200 recipe boxes, all filled (My favorites are boxes we find with someone else’s recipe collection inside). That’s a treasure, almost as good as finding someone’s manuscript cookbook. My girlfriend, Mary Jaynne, was here a few days ago and brought me four filled recipe boxes she had found. Two were from an estate sale and it’s plain to see that the previous owner treasured her collection; all are carefully indexed. Ok, so I have a lot of recipes – but the one you want is often the one you can’t find.  But back in 1991, my close friend, Connie, gave me a red-check blank recipe book. I didn’t do anything with it at first – and then had one of those “aha!” moments and began writing all of my favorite Christmas recipes inside the book. Then someone gave me two more of these very same red-check blank recipe books (it reads I’M WRITING MY OWN COOKBOOK” on the cover, and now I have three of these filled. Two are all different kinds of Christmas recipes and one is entirely cookies).

Well, I really started taking off with cake mix cookies a few years ago, when making large cookies for the grandkids to decorate. The white or yellow cake mixes are really good for this—whether it’s making oversize Christmas tree cookies or egg shapes for Easter. The cookies do tend to spread a little but that’s not a problem with cookies that small fry are going to spread with frosting and decorate lavishly, to their heart’s content.

So, I am going to share with you some of my favorite cake mix cookie recipes. By the way, no one ever guesses your secret—that a cake mix and a few other ingredients can produce so many different and tasty cookies.

First, let me share with you A BASIC CAKE MIX COOKIE RECIPE—

1 box, (18.25 oz) any flavor cake mix (I prefer the Betty Crocker cake mixes but  any kind will work)

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter or solid stick margarine, melted and cooled

2 TBSP milk (I like using evaporated milk for this)

2 eggs

Mix together all ingredients. Divide the dough into several balls and pack it into zip lock bags. Chill overnight or as long as you need—the dough will keep for at least a month. Now you are ready to roll the dough out for cutout cookies, or shape into balls. You can roll the balls into finely chopped nuts or glaze them after they’ve baked.

Next, is Chocolate Fudge Cookies – you can use any kind of chocolate cake mix with this recipe and you can change it around a bit by using white chocolate chips instead of semi sweet chocolate chips.  To make Chocolate Fudge Cookies you will need:

1 PACKAGE (18.25 OZ) chocolate cake mix or devil’s food cake mix

2 eggs

½ cup vegetable oil or melted and cooled butter (1 stick = ½ cup)

1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips.

In a medium size bowl, stir together the cake mix, eggs, and oil until well blended. Then mix in the chocolate chips. Shape the dough into walnut-size balls; place the cookie dough 2” apart on the cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven. Let the cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

To make the cookies look more Christmassy, make up a thin glaze out of powdered sugar and a little water – drizzle over the cookies on the wire racks.

KEARA’S FAVORITE CRISP LITTLE LEMON COOKIES

To make Keara’s Favorite Crisp Little Lemon cookies you will need:

1 package lemon cake mix (18.25 oz)

1 cup rice krispies cereal

½ cup margarine or butter, melted and cooled (1 stick)

1 egg slightly beaten

1 tsp lemon extract or lemon juice

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl; mix well. Shape into 1” balls and place 2” apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake in preheated oven 350 degrees 9-12 minutes. Cool 1 minute then transfer to wire racks to cool.

If you make up a lemon glaze with powdered sugar and lemon juice, and drizzle it over the cookies, you will have a more festive cookie. I like to add a little lemon peel to the cookie batter, too.

RED VELVET CHRISTMAS COOKIES

1 box (18.25) Red Velvet cake mix

½ cup cooking oil

2 TBSP evaporated milk

2 eggs

1 12-oz bag white chocolate chips

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Drop by tablespoonful on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  A white glaze is nice with these.

CHCOLATE CARAMEL BROWNIES

1 PKG (18.25 oz) chocolate cake mix

1 cup chopped nuts

1 cup evaporated milk, divided

½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, melted

35 (10 oz pkg) caramels, unwrapped

2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips

Combine cake mix and nuts in large bowl. Stir in 2/3 cup evaporated milk and butter (batter will be thick). Spread half of the batter into ungreased 13×9” baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes.

Heat caramels and remaining evaporated milk in small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until caramels are melted. Sprinkled morsels over brownie; drizzle with caramel mixture.  Drop remaining batter by heaping teaspoon over caramel mixture. Bake 25 to 30 minutes in preheated 350 degree oven or until center is set.  Cool in pan on wire rack. Cut in 24 squares.

LEMON CRUMB BARS

1 (18.25 OZ) package lemon or yellow cake mix

½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened

1 egg

2 cups finely crushed saltine crackers

1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)

½ cup lemon juice

3 egg yolks

Combine cake mix, butter, and 1 egg with mixer until crumbly. Stir in cracker crumbs. Reserve 2 cups crumb mixture. Press remaining crumb mixture on bottom of 13×9” greased baking pan.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden. With mixer or wire whisk, beat  condensed milk, lemon juice and 3 egg yolks. Spread over prepared crust. Top with reserved crumb mixture. Bake 20 minutes longer or until set and top is golden. Cool. Cut into bars. Store leftovers in refrigerator.

QUICK & EASY CAKE MIX COOKIES

1 (18-1/2 OZ your favorite flavor cake mix  (Funfetti is a good one to make with kids)

1 egg, beaten

8 oz container frozen whipped topping, thawed

½ cup powdered sugar

Mix all ingredients except powdered sugar; form into 1” balls. Roll in powdered sugar; place on ungreased baking sheets (or parchment lined cookie sheets!) bake at 350 degrees 12-15 minutes. Cool. Makes about 6 dozen.

Now you know how to make cake mix cookies. I stock up on the boxes of cake mix when they are on sale.

Happy Holidays from my kitchen to yours!

Sandy

EVERYBODY’S FAVORITE CUTOUT CHRISTMAS COOKIES

For the past two weeks I have been mixing cookie dough almost every day. Most of the recipes are “ice box cookie”* recipes; the dough is shaped into logs and wrapped in wax paper and then I wrap them again in aluminum foil and write on the outside with a Sharpie pen the name of the cookie and the oven temperature and baking time (so I don’t have to look up the recipe again). Some of the cookie dough recipes are just family favorites, such as the original chocolate chip cookie “without ingredients” which means chocolate chips are just fine, don’t add nuts or raisins or anything that might be interpreted by my sons as ingredients. I have packed most of the drop cookie dough into zip lock freezer bags; some is in the freezer and some in the refrigerator. I have doubled most recipes.

A lot of my cookie recipes have to be made up within a few weeks of Christmas – such as a favorite and often requested little lemon crisps that are made with lemon cake mix and – of all things – Rice Krispies.  I love all the cookie recipes made with cake mixes! Dress them up with glaze and sprinkles and no one ever guesses it started with a box of cake mix. (I will feature these in a blog post by themselves).

Some cookies need to be made well in advance of Christmas, such as the Amaretto Bon Bons which will improve with aging. Ditto a cookie called Leckerli that is aging in a big cookie tin with a piece of apple to help them mellow. I’m not going to share the Leckerli recipe although it LOOKS very pretty and festive with a European flair—but it was the most difficult dough I have ever worked with & I kept adding liquid to make the dough hold together. As a matter of fact, several of my very old recipes were difficult to work with—it makes me wonder if the processing of the basic ingredients, such as flour, has changed in the past few decades?  And, you know, a basic drop cookie can change dramatically depending on the kind of shortening you use (it took me a lot of trial and error to figure that out). I like to use butter in most of my cookie recipes but in most instances it really needs to be at room temperature when you start mixing it with other ingredients.

Making cutout cookies is probably the most work of all holiday cookies. I have been collecting cookie cutters for about 40 years and one thing I’ve discovered is that “open” cookie cutters work a lot better than “closed ones”. What do I mean by open or closed cutters? The metal ones are open and you can push the dough off the cutter if it sticks. Closed cutters are ones like the red cookie cutters from the 40s or 50s—I’ll have to see if I can find some pictures to post with this to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. And regardless of the type of cutters, the dough needs to be pretty stiff to work well. You don’t want a dough that is going to raise or spread and make the cookie lose its definition. You’ll want to chill the dough thoroughly before attempting to roll it out. When I make up a batch of cutout cookie dough, I shape it into balls and then put the balls of dough into plastic ziplock bags to chill. Just take one ball of dough out of the refrigerator at a time. I roll the dough out between two sheets of wax paper that have been dusted with flour. Save scraps for re-rolling. It’s a good idea to cut out the shapes as close together as you can, to avoid having a lot of leftover dough to re-roll.   I’ve been coaching two of my grandchildren in making cutout cookies since Savannah was two and Ethan about five, and they are both fairly proficient at making cutout cookies now (She is now 18, he is 10½) – if you or the children you are working with insist on using closed cutters, it’s a good idea to slip the cookie cutter into a bowl of flour every time you are about to cut out a cookie. Otherwise, they will stick inside the cookie cutter. (if you Google red cookie cutters, you will see what I am talking about,  with closed cutters.)

We like decorating cutout cookies with frosting – royal icing or glazes or butter cream frosting. If you spread butter cream frosting on a cookie and then hand it to a child to decorate – they will be delighted. I have a wall rack filled with bottles and jars of different kinds of sprinkles (bought when they are on sale after a holiday) so there is always plenty of jars of sprinkles for them from which to choose. I have a couple of old wooden lazy susans on the dining room table and we put a lot of the bottles and jars of sprinkles  on those for my budding artists to work with.

Well, all this being said – here are some of my favorite cut out cookie recipes:

WHITE CHRISTMAS COOKIES

I think I have been making this cookie recipe for over 30 years. It’s a good, trustworthy cutout cookie dough.

1 cup butter

2 cups sugar

4 eggs, well beaten

4 cups all purpose flour-sifted

1/8 tsp each nutmeg & cinnamon

Cream butter, gradually add sugar; beat with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Sift   together dry ingredients and stir into creamed mixture. Store overnight in covered container (I now use plastic ziplock bags). Roll dough very thin (I roll it out between 2 sheets of wax paper). Cut into shapes. Bake at 350 degrees 10 to13 minutes. Makes a lot of small cut out cookies.

*I always use parchment paper on the cookie sheets; this eliminates ever needing to butter  or grease the cookie sheets. Always cool cookies on wire racks. When completely cool, they can be stacked in plastic storage containers or  you can start decorating them.

You can also spread the raw cut out cookies with egg white and then sprinkle on some colored sprinkles (what the British and my Canadian friends call Hundreds & Thousands, a name that I love). Bake the cookies and they are already decorated. And from my grandmother I learned how to make cutout cookies (she usually made diamond shapes); brush one side of the cookie with egg white and then dip it into a mixture of granulated sugar and finely ground walnuts. Then bake—your decorating is done and the cookies will be delicious!

SPICY MOLASSES COOKIES

1 CUP soft butter

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup molasses

2 tsp baking soda

5 cups sifted flour

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp salt

½ cup strong tea

1 tsp vanilla

Split almonds

Cream butter and sugar until light. Beat in molasses. Add sift dry ingredients alternately with tea. Mix well. Add vanilla. Chill dough at least 24 hours and then roll very thin and cut into desired shapes. Decorate with almonds.  Can poke a hole into each unbaked cookie (use a straw) to hang them up. Bake at   375 degrees in a preheated oven, 8 to 10 minutes. Makes 8 to 10 dozen cookies.

GINGERBREAD COOKIES

½ C. Crisco solid shortening

1 cup brown sugar, packed

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp salt

1 tsp EACH ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and allspice

1½ cups molasses

2/3 cup water

6½ cups sifted flour

Cream Crisco, sugar, baking soda, salt, and spices until fluffy. Beat in molasses and water. Gradually add flour to make a stiff dough.  Chill overnight.  Roll out dough and cut into gingerbread boys and girls. Bake on lightly greased baking sheets (or on parchment lined cookie sheets) at 350 degrees 10-12 minutes. Makes 12 dozen small gingerbread boys.

Merry Christmas from my kitchen to yours!

Sandy

 

IN THE KITCHEN BAKING COOKIES

PHOTO: ETHAN, GRAMMY’S SOUS CHEF

What’s Christmas without cookies ? Christmas cookies to share with family, friends, and coworkers—perhaps some cookies for the mailman.  I also give cookies to my manicurist.  Each of my sons receives a tin of his very own cookies—chocolate chip, no “ingredients” (ingredients are nuts, raisins, coconut or any of those other yucky things that I love so much. When my sons were children, they took containers of cookies to their teachers.

One year, I bought Disney-theme cookie jars and filled them with different kinds of cookies. Along with my sons and their families, one of the cookie jars went to my younger sister and her family, who also live in California. Other cookies are wrapped in baskets or tins—or whatever suitable containers I find (I search for cookie containers throughout the year. Some of our best bargains have been containers bought at Target, after the holidays, for 90% off).

When I got married in 1958, I had one Betty Crocker cookbook and a boxful of recipe pamphlets. That Christmas, General Mills published a small booklet called “Betty Crocker’s Holiday Almanac” – I kept it, and began saving the Christmas recipe sections in my December magazines; Woman’s Day always published a tear-out cookie/candy recipe section—the earliest I have was published in1962. These are in 3-ring binders that have somehow grown to 5 thick binders, just with cookie recipes.

What I had, in 1958, was a start – enough recipes to bake some cookies and a few batches of fudge. When we moved to California in 1961 we had little more than a car-trunk full of clothing and the baby’s bed—but I somehow managed to do some holiday baking.

In 1963 – after moving back to Ohio in March, returning to California in December-We didn’t even have furniture (much less a tree)…but I baked cookies; we invited friends over and everyone sat on the floor drinking coffee and eating Christmas cookies.

From these austere beginnings, my holiday cookie baking grew until it began to reach mammoth proportions. In the mid 60s, a girlfriend and I began making cookie dough in September, and freezing the batches. When we thought we had a goodly amount of cookie dough (I think about ten or twelve batches each) we’d embark on a cookie-baking-marathon. We did our baking late at night at her house, around the corner from me, because her husband worked nights and it was the only time I could get out of the house—when all four of my children were asleep. When we finished, we had filled all of our Tupperware containers and anything else we could find to use for storage. We’d divvy up the cookies, giving burnt ones to our husbands and children to eat and were ready to pack our own cookies into smaller containers for gift-giving.

We were purists, in those days—everything was made from scratch, with real butter and only the best of all ingredients—no imitation vanilla for us! I think there was one frightful year (1975?) when sugar was $5.00 for a 5-lb bag and we had to search for cookie recipes using honey or molasses.

In the 80s, along came cookie exchanges—frankly, these don’t always work out the way you’d like; someone always shows up with store-bought cookies (“I didn’t have time to bake”) or cookies with burned bottoms that no one wants. In theory or in the women’s magazines, cookie exchanges are always fantastic. Take it from me; it doesn’t always happen.

In the 90s, along came grandchildren and my niece and two nephews, children of my younger sister who herself is young enough to be one of my children (I was 21 when she was born). The arrival of these children opened new vistas for cookie baking. We have baked cookies (children love to make cut-out cookies) which are wildly decorated with sprinkles (children believe that more is better). We also began a new family tradition of having a cookie-and-craft day sometime before Christmas, but also for Valentine’s Day and Easter. I make large cookies for them to decorate and we do some kind of craft project that “goes with” the cookie—for instance, when they decorated big tree-shaped cookies, they also decorated small artificial Christmas trees to take home). This has turned into a big event not only for my grandchildren and my sister’s children, but for my godson, and some of my friends’ children. (The big cookie idea actually has its roots back when my two younger sons were in first and second grades, and I would make enough large cookies—and plenty of frosting—for all the children in their classes to decorate a cookie to take home).

Nowadays, I admit—I’ve learned a lot of short-cuts, such as making cookies from cake mixes. There are entire cookbooks dedicated to teaching you how to bake wonderful tasty cookies from a cake mix!  I still search all year long for sales on tins and other containers, for sprinkles and jimmies when they are on sale after a holiday, or for cookie cutters on sale half price after Christmas.

And even though I have retired, former coworkers know they can expect to receive a tin of cookies from me. I also take large containers of cookies to the Claims Department, where I worked. My friend Tina says that whenever she takes some cookies home, her husband asks, “Are these from the cookie lady?”  It’s a good title. I think I’ll keep it.

Happy Holidays from my house to yours!

Sandy

MAKING REALLY GREAT COOKIES – EVERY TIME!

My new issue of a magazine came in today’s mail & the cover advertised hints for making great cookies – but the teaser turned out to be just a very small block on a page with only a few suggestions for making really great cookies, every time.  I thought to myself “huh! I can come up with a lot more ideas than this!” – and so here I am.

First of all – I’ll make this:

Tip #1 – buy yourself some good cookie sheets. Blackened cookie sheets, even if you cover them with aluminum foil, will not bake as well as nice shiny new cookie sheets. Girlfriends, cookie sheets don’t need to be expensive (I’ve priced them–they CAN be expensive but they don’t need to be. And if you don’t spend a lot on them, you can afford to replace them every few years). And while you are at it, buy some cooling racks. Not expensive! And if you buy parchment paper to line your cookie sheets – and don’t use them for anything else – they will stay nice. You want to invest in about 6 cookie sheets (to be able to have 2 in the oven at one time, one set cooling, one set being covered with cookie dough while the first batch is in the oven). Another thing I treasure is about 6 restaurant-size Bake-lite trays that Kelly’s godfather bought for me years ago at a restaurant supply house. I put the cooling racks on these trays and it eliminates mess from crumbs. When the kids are doing their cookie-and-craft projects, they each have one of these trays to work on – when sprinkles spill (and they usually do), its an easy clean up if you have all the mess contained on a plastic tray.  Roger bought these trays for me back in the day (1970s!) when we made shishkabobs almost every weekend—the prepared shishkabobs would be piled up on one of these restaurant size trays, ready to go to the grill. Probably one of my all-time-all-favorite kitchen utensils.

So tip #2 is, don’t ever put cookie dough on hot (or even warm) cookie sheets. Let them cool down completely. If you are in a big hurry and only have two cookie sheets – run cold water over the ones you want to cool down fast. And I have made a curious discovery–Some cookie dough (like chocolate chip and oatmeal raisins) works BEST at room temperature. Lots of times I like making up cookie dough in the evening & then refrigerating it to start baking the next day. Sometimes you need to let it come back up to room temperature. And when there were just two of us in the house, I often made up the dough and baked them maybe a dozen at a time. Most cookie dough will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. Label it something like “turnip puree” so the kids don’t get into it and eat raw cookie dough.

Tip #3 is – buy a TIMER and USE it for every single batch. I have been notorious for burning the last batch of cookies over the years – because I would get distracted, start cleaning up the kitchen, answer the telephone & whoops, when I could smell them I knew they would be burnt. Now I use a timer. Actually I have three timers. I could use one of those I could wear around my neck.

Tip #4 Most cookies can be removed from the oven before they are really brown. Most sugar cookies only need to be a little brown around the edges. I once asked a friend at work why her chocolate chip cookies were so soft and chewy, just perfect – she said she always took them out of the oven in less time than recommended by the cookie recipe. So I began doing that too. You can let them cool a bit on the cookie sheets–they’ll still be just right–and they’ll be easier to remove from the cookie sheets if you let them stand for a minute or two. Meantime you can be putting the next batch into the oven and setting the timer.

Tip #5 – this is my most important tip, in my opinion. When the cookies are half way through baking – if you are using two racks – switch the cookie sheets, top to bottom, bottom to top – AND turn them around the other way. If your oven (like mine) is a little off this will make the cookies all bake evenly at the same time. Wear long mitts so you don’t burn your arms (I burn myself a lot. Ok. I need new mitts). And while I am thinking of it – get yourself a couple of those handy-dandy cookie scoops. This way you can be sure to have all the cookies exactly the same size so they will bake evenly.

Tip #6 If you are making roll out sugar cookies – you want to keep the dough chilled. Take some out of the frig only what you need to roll out some of the dough, keep the rest in the frig in a plastic bag. If the dough gets too soft/warm – put it back into the refrigerator to chill some more. (or stick it into the freezer to cool down faster).

Tip #7 – also about rolled out cookies – it will be so much easier to roll out the dough and handle it – if you sprinkle wax paper with flour and then roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper. Less messy, too. Roll out the dough and remove the top sheet of wax paper, then cut out as many cookies as you can (cut them close together–have you ever seen those magazine illustrations showing cut out cookies being made with one or two cut out way apart from one another? What are they thinking?) – you want to handle the dough as little as possible, so cut OUT as many as you can each time you roll out the dough — tossing the bits of dough back into the bowl to mash back together and re-roll (re-chilling if necessary). If I am baking something like all hearts (Valentine’s Day) – I will cut out as many heart-shaped cookies with one size cutter, and then use a smaller heart-shaped cookie cutter on some of the remaining dough-space…but use different cookie sheets for the different sized hearts. (You want to bake same-size cookies together, too. Don’t put small cutout cookies with large ones – the little ones will be burnt before the large ones are finished baking.

Tip #8 BUTTER. If you are going to all the work of making butter/sugar cookies – girlfriends, don’t waste your time with margarine. Buy butter when it’s on sale and keep it in the freezer. You can keep it for a year in the freezer (OK, I have been known to keep it longer than that but I doubt the butter manufacturers recommend it). And you should also consider buying unsalted butter when you find it on sale. Most cookie recipes have salt as an ingredient anyway. Since I first wrote this article, I have switched almost entirely to unsalted butter.

Tip #9 – GOOD UNSWEETENED CHOCOLATE – that’s another item I stock up on when I find it on sale. I keep it in a tight fitting plastic container (like Tupperware). And when making chocolate chip cookies – well, I guess there could be a debate over which chocolate chips are the best buy, but for my money, nothing beats Nestle’s semi sweet morsels. I watch for it to be on sale and then USE COUPONS.

Tip #10 – OTHER INGREDIENTS – if you are going to all the work of making homemade cookies, with all the little rug rats underfoot trying to help and people invading your kitchen eating them up as fast as you can bake them – invest in good ingredients. If you buy walnuts or pecans, store them in the freezer in plastic bags. They will last for months (ok, possibly years) in the freezer. They won’t get rancid. Buy large or extra large eggs just to use for baking. Keep flour in a tight fitting plastic container – and oh yes, if you don’t know about BAY LEAVES – let me be the first to tell you.

You can put some BAY LEAVES in any kind of flour or cornmeal or Bisquick or Pancake mix – and you will NOT get any pantry bugs. Put the flour or cornmeal into plastic containers as soon as you bring it home from the supermarket and then stick a couple of bay leaves in with it. (Remember to remove the bay leaves when you scoop out cups of flour-ok, I have found bay leaves in my cookie dough a few times). It always amazes me the number of times I have seen inquiries in magazines – what to do about pantry bugs – and no one tells them BAY LEAVES. I learned this trick from my mother years ago. It works. Bay leaves are cheap (or do as my brother Jim does and grow your own). I have taught my bay leaf trick to two of my daughters in law who have expressed surprise that it WORKS. Also under other ingredients – buy real vanilla extract. It’s worth it.

Ok, those are my ten tips.  Happy Cooking!

Sandy

MORE CHRISTMAS COOKIE RECIPES-MAKING DROP COOKIES

Drop cookies are surely the easiest of all cookies to make. Or maybe bar cookies are a tie.  I’ll leave that up to you to decide. I like drop cookies because I have learned to use different size cookie scoops and can make them all the very same size. And there are so many recipes from which to choose!

Most likely, the very most famous of all drop cookies is the Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe. I have been making the recipe printed on the back of the bag of Nestle’s semi Sweet morsels for about fifty years. Years ago, when we were strapped for cash, I made the cookies with margarine or Crisco shortening. In more recent years, I began using only unsalted butter in my cookie recipes. But you really need the semi sweet chocolate chips to get the exact right taste of chocolate chip drop cookie.

To make Toll House chocolate chip cookies you will need:

2 sticks (1 cup) butter or margarine, softened

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup brown sugar, packed

2 eggs, slightly beaten

2 ¼ cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups (or more) semi sweet chocolate chips*

Sift together flour, soda, salt, and cinnamon in a bowl, set aside.

Meanwhile beat together the softened butter and sugars. When well blended add the eggs one at a time and beat well. Then gradually beat in the flour mixture. Add vanilla extract and mix well. Then stir in 2 cups or more of chocolate chips. . (At this point you can add a cup of chopped nuts, if you wish. I have a family of purists who don’t want nuts in their chocolate chip cookies).

*For variations of this recipe, I add plain M&Ms, about a cup, OR instead of chocolate chips you can add white chips or a combination of white chips and chocolate chips.

Bake at 350 degrees in a preheated oven, about 10 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. Let cool on cookie sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling. I store all cookies in Rubbermaid Store & Go containers, between sheets of wax paper, to keep them fresh.

FAST & FANCY MACAROONS

To make Fast & Fancy Macaroons you will need:

1 14 oz bag angel flake coconut

1 can sweetened condensed milk

2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients; mix well. Drop from tsp on well greased baking sheets (I use parchment paper for all my cookies nowadays). Decorate with maraschino cherries and sprinkle with multi colored sprinkles. Bake 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove at once using moistened spatula.  Makes 5 dozen.

Can add 4 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled, or add 1 cup chopped pecans or almonds before baking.  **

My most recent discovery has been recipes using cake mixes to make different kinds of cookies. Actually, it’s not a new concept – I have found cake mix cookies dating back to the 1970s!

Here is my favorite recipe for Easy Chocolate Cookies. To make Easy Chocolate cookies you will need

1 (18.5-oz) box of devil’s food cake mix
½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 (6 oz) package of semi sweet chocolate chips

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine dry cake mix, oil and eggs. Beat with mixer until blended. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets (or cookie sheets lined with parchment paper), about 2 ½ inches apart. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven 10 minutes. Allow to rest on baking sheets 5 minutes, then remove with a thin spatula to wire racks to cool. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Sandy’s Cooknote: You can change this recipe around – use white chips instead of chocolate chips and you will have a polka-dotted cookie. Drizzle them with a thin white frosting and you can add some colored sprinkles. Use peanut butter chips and you will have chocolate peanut butter cookies. This is a versatile recipe. And it doesn’t have to be devil’s food cake mix – any kind of chocolate cake mix will work. Oops…you are out of cooking oil? Then try this recipe for Quick Chocolate Cookies.

To make Quick Chocolate cookies you will need

1 package chocolate cake mix (18.5 oz)
1 cup chocolate chips
2 eggs
½ cup Miracle Whip dressing
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Heat oven to 350 degres. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed, until blended. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets (or parchment paper lined baking sheets). Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Makes 4 dozen.

Sandy’s cooknote: No, I don’t have any stock in a parchment paper company (I wish!)—but you can line your baking sheets and use the same parchment paper over and over again. It’s my favorite kitchen tool. It doesn’t matter if the directions state to grease the cookie sheets – or not. Parchment paper covers all your bases.

One more – Snickerdoodles. I have seen a lot of versions of snickerdoodles. One of the old recipes belonged to my mother and appeared in our family cookbook. HERE is an updated version that you can make with a box of yellow cake mix. To make the 2009 version of snickerdoodles, you will need:

3 TBSP sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 package (18.25 oz) yellow cake mix
2 eggs
¼ cup cooking oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheet – or line with parchment paper! Combine sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Combine cake mix, eggs and cooking oil in a large bowl. Stir until well blended. Shape dough into 1” balls. Roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place balls 2” apart on cookie sheet. Flatten balls with bottom of glass. Bake at 375 for 8 or 9 minutes or until set. Cool for a minute, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

I hope you enjoy some of these easy-to-make recipes. Some of them are so simple, you can let a child (or in my case a grandchild) help you in the kitchen. It’s never too soon to let them start learning how to cook (and learning how to measure with measuring cups and spoons is a basic lesson in math. My mother turned me loose in the kitchen when I was about ten years old. It was the greatest gift she gave to me – the freedom to explore and try recipes by myself. She had an Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook – if you can read, you can learn how to cook. That cookbook of my mother’s is one of my most treasured cookbooks in my collection.

Another favorite drop cookie recipe in our family (since the 1970s, I think) has been M&M party cookies.  To make M&M party cookies you will need:

2 ¼ cups sifted flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 cup shortening

1 cup brown sugar, packed

½ cup granulated sugar

2 tsp vanilla

2 eggs

2 cups plain M&Ms

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In large mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugars, then add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Stir in flour mixture and mix well. Stir in M&Ms (you can also add chopped nuts, about a cupful, if you like. But you know my sons won’t eat cookies that have nuts added to them.  Drop cookie batter by teaspoonful onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper (or greased, instead, if you don’t have parchment paper). Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven about 10 minutes.

I have a confession to make about M&M party cookies – for the past couple of years, I have been mixing up chocolate chip cookie batter, then adding both chocolate chips and M&Ms to the cookie batter. The family loves them this way. It’s your call—.

CRINKLED FUDGE TRUFFLE COOKIES

3 4-OZ bars sweet baking chocolate, chopped

2 TBSP butter flavored Crisco shortening

1 tsp instant coffee granules

3 eggs

1 ¼ cups granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup chopped pecans

6 TBSP flour

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp baking powder

Nonstick spray coating

Pecan halves (optional)
Powered sugar (optional)

In a small saucepan, heat and stir chocolate and shortening over very low head til chocolate begins to melt. Remove from heat. Add coffee granules; stir til smooth. Cool.

Beat eggs and sugar with an electric mixer on medium to high speed til light and lemon colored (3-4 minutes.) Beat in chocolate mixture and vanilla. On low speed beat in pecans, flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt till combined.

Spray cookie sheets with non stick coating (or line with parchment paper!). Drop teaspoons of dough 2” apart on cookie sheets. Place a pecan half atop each cookie, if desired. Bake 350 degrees 8-10 minutes or just set on surface (do not overbake). Cool 1-2 minutes. Transfer to racks. Cool completely. If desired, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes 54 to 60 cookies.

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

2 cups flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup light brown sugar

2 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips (8 oz)

4 oz white chocolate cut into ¼ to ½ inch pieces (I would use half a cup of white chocolate chips)

1 cup macadamia nuts (4 ½ oz) coarsely chopped

Preheat oven 350 degrees. In a medium size bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar with an electric mixer until light & fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips, white chocolate and nuts.

Drop the dough by slightly rounded tablespoonfuls 2” apart onto ungreased baking sheets (or baking sheets lined with parchment paper!).

Bake 9-10 minutes until the cookies are just set. Cool cookies 2-3 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.  Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Sandy’s cooknote: this is a good cookie to drizzle with some white glaze for a more festive Christmas cookie. Add a bit of a sprinkle of multicolored sprinkles before the glaze sets, for an even more festive cookie.

BIG BROWNIE OATMEAL DROPS

To make Big Brownie Oatmeal Drops you will need

1 family size box brownie mix with syrup pouch (22.5 oz) prepared as directed on box, using 2 eggs

1 1/3 cups uncooked oats, regular or quick

1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheets (or line with parchment paper!)

Mix all ingredients until well blended. Cover and let stand 30 minutes for oats to absorb liquid. Drop rounded tablespoons 1½” apart on baking sheets. Bake 10-1 2minutes until tops look crackled and satiny. Remove with spatula to wire rack to cool.

CHOCOLATE PISTACHIO COOKIES

To make chocolate pistachio cookies you will need

2 cups flour

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa power

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar

½ cup packed light brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

¼ tsp almond extract

¾ cup + 2 TBSP white chocolate chips

¾ cup + 2 TBSP chopped shelled natural pistachios

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, cocoa, soda and salt in a bowl; set aside. In a larger bowl, at medium speed on electric mixer, beat butter, 1 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar until light & fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, then vanilla and almond extracts.

Reduce speed to low; gradually add the flour mixture. Stir in the chips and ¾ cup pistachios. Drop cookie dough by tablespoons onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, about 2” apart. Press remaining chips and shelled pistachios onto cookies. Bake 15-17 minutes or until set around the edges; cool on cookie sheets 2 minutes before transferring to wire racks. Cool completely.  Makes 15 cookies.

 

 

 

MORE CHRISTMAS COOKIE RECIPES -ICE BOX COOKIES

Someone sent me a blog message the other day requesting more cookie recipes.  So, that’s what I am going to work on today; I will go through my recipe files and search for my favorite tried-and-true ice box cookies.

Now, for anyone who doesn’t know what an “ice box” cookie is, let me explain a little. Decades ago, refrigerators were commonly known as “ice boxes”. This is because, before refrigeration, perishable foods were kept in a box (that looked pretty much like an old-time refrigerator,) but without electricity, the food was kept on a block of ice. You bought a block of ice from a man who delivered it to your kitchen door, quite rightly called the ice man. A large block of ice might last as long as a week or if the weather was very hot, perhaps only a few days. You couldn’t keep very much food on this block of ice – there wasn’t enough space inside.

I turned to Google for a little more information. Here, I learned that the icebox was invented in 1840 for use in the home by Thomas Moore. Shortly thereafter, NYC saw the establishment of regular delivery routes for Natural ice.

In 1911, GE, made the first mechanical icebox. It wasn’t until the early 1930′s, that the usefulness of the “electric icebox” was realized when newly discovered Freon was introduced as the refrigerant.

And from Wikipedia that I discovered iceboxes had hollow walls that were lined with tin or zinc and packed with various insulating materials such as cork, sawdust, straw or seaweed. A large block of ice was held in a tray or compartment near the top of the box. Cold air circulated down and around storage compartments in the lower section. Some finer models had spigots for draining ice water from a catch pan or holding tank. In cheaper models a drip pan was placed under the box and had to be emptied at least daily. The user had to replenish the melted ice, normally by obtaining new ice from the iceman.

Commonly iceboxes were made of wood, most probably for ease of construction, insulation, and aesthetics: many were handsome pieces of furniture. (You can find illustrations of these ice boxes on Google).

Iceboxes date back to the days of ice harvesting, which had hit an industrial high that ran from the mid-19th century to the 1930s, when the refrigerator was introduced into the home. Most municipally consumed ice was harvested in winter from snow-packed areas or frozen lakes, stored in ice houses, and delivered domestically as iceboxes became more common. (What I find baffling is that I remember large blocks of ice being delivered to a few homes, when I was a very young child in the 1940s. It seems odd to me that some homes might have still been using an íce box when the refrigerator had been available for about a decade. We would crowd around the ice man, who would break off slivers of ice with an ice pick, for each of us, on a hot summer day. The term “ice box cookies” has hung on although it is now synonymous with Refrigerator cookies.  I’ve tried to pin down when slice & bake cookie dough became available to the public. I don’t remember ever using it in the 1960s or 1970s – it could have been manufactured in the 1980s. If anyone knows the answer to this, let me know!

I have a little ice box cookie story. When I was about ten years ago, my girlfriend Carol and I returned to her house after playing; it was early on a summer evening, and her mother was making ice box cookies and listening to a Baptist minister on the radio. Carol’s mother turned to me, after hearing something the minister said, and she said to me “You see, Sandy, why your religion is wrong on this issue?”  I didn’t know how to respond to this—my family was Catholic—so I left and went home and sat on my own front porch steps, feeling sad.

A short while later, Carol came up to me and handed me a brown paper bag containing warm ice box cookies, right from the oven. It was her mother’s apology. That was probably my first introduction to ice box cookies and one I’ve never forgotten.

Meantime, the following are some of my favorite ice box cookies, a kind of cookie I began baking in the 1960s.

Featured in this post are:

Pistachio-Cranberry Icebox Cookies

Lemon Rounds Icebox Cookies

Fruit Slices (Ice Box Cookies)

Maple Pecan Icebox Cookies

BASIC VANILLA DOUGH WITH THREE VARIATIONS

 

PISTACHIO-CRANBERRY ICEBOX COOKIES

Makes about 3 dozen cookies  Oven temperature for baking 350 degrees

1½ CUPS ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR

½ TSP GROUND CINNAMON

¼ TSP SALT

1½ STICKS (3/4 CUP) UNSALTED BUTTER, SOFTENED

¼ CUP PLUS 2 TBSP GRANULATED SUGAR

½ TSP FINELY GRATED ORANGE ZEST

½ CUP SHELLED PISTACHIOS (2½ OZ NOT DYED RED) – CHOPPED

1/3 CUP DRIED CRANBERRIES

1 LARGE EGG LIGHTLY BEATEN*

¼ CUP DECORATIVE SUGAR (PREFERABLY COARSE)

Stir together flour, cinnamon and salt in a bowl.  Set aside.

Beat together butter, granulated sugar and orange zest in a large bowl at medium high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until dough just comes together in clumps, then mix in pistachios and cranberries. Gather and press dough together, then divide into 2 equal pieces. Using a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper as an aid, form each piece of dough into a log about 1½” in diameter. Square off long sides of each log to form a ball*, then chill, wrapped in plastic wrap until very firm, at least 2 hours**

Slice and Bake Cookies: Put oven rack sin upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Brush egg over all 4 long sides of bars (but not ends). Sprinkle with decorative sugar on a separate sheet of parchment or wax paper.  Cut each bar crosswise into ¼” thick slices. (if dough gets too soft to slice, freeze bars briefly until firm again). Arrange cookies about ½” apart on lined baking sheets.  Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are pale golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks using a slotted spatula, to cool completely.

Sandy’s cooknotes:

*Egg does not go into the cookie dough. You won’t need it until you are about to bake the cookies.

**If you are planning to keep the cookie dough in the refrigerator or freezer for a few weeks or a month, don’t use the egg wash until you are about to bake the cookies.  I wrap the cookie dough in plastic or wax paper and then use a foil wrap over it. Then you can use a Sharpee pen to write the name of the cookie and the baking time on the foil.   Recipe can be doubled!                                     **

LEMON ROUNDS ICE BOX COOKIES

½ CUPS SIFTED ALL PURPOSE FLOUR

½ TSP BAKING SODA

½ TSP SALT

½ CUP SHORTENING

1 EGG

1 CUP SUGAR

1 TBSP LEMON JUICE

2 TSP GRATED LEMON RIND

½ CUP FINELY CHOPPED PECANS

Measure flour, baking soda and salt into sifter.  Cream shortening & sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg, lemon juice and rind and pecans. Sift in flour mixture. Blend well. Shape into 2 long rolls; wrap in wax paper and again in aluminum foil. Chill overnight or until ready to bake. To bake, slice dough ¼” thick and bake on parchment paper-covered cookie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees 8 minutes or until golden around edges. Remove from cookie sheets and cool on wire racks.

FRUIT SLICES (ICE BOX COOKIE)

1 CUP BUTTER, SOFTENED

1 CUP POWDERED SUGAR

1 EGG, BEATEN SLIGHTLY

1 TSP VANILLA EXTRACT

2 CUPS FLOUR

1 CUP PECAN HALVES

2 CUPS MARASCHINO CHERRIES, WELL DRAINED AND CUT IN HALF

2 CUP MIXED CANDIED FRUIT, CHOPPED

¼ CUP FLOUR

Cream butter and sugar, add egg and vanilla. Add 2 cups flour and mix well. Stir in pecans, cherries and candied fruit which has been dredged in the ¼ cup flour. Divide dough into thirds. Shape into rolls each 12” long. Wrap in plastic wrap and then foil, and chill several hours or until you are ready to bake (the dough will keep for a month in the refrigerator, indefinitely in the freezer.  To bake, cut  dough in ¼” slices and bake on ungreased baking sheets (I always line the baking sheets with parchment paper).  Bake in a pre-heated 325 degree oven 13-15 minutes. Makes 5-6 dozen cookies.

MAPLE PECAN ICE BOX COOKIES

8 OZ UNSALTED BUTTER (2 STICKS)

½ CUP GRANULATED SUGAR

1 EGG YOLK

2 TBSP REAL MAPLE SYRUP

½ TSP VANILLA

2 CUPS MINUS 2 TBSP FLOUR

1¼ CUPS PECAN HALVES

Beat butter at medium speed on electric mixer until it whitens and holds soft peaks (3-5 minutes). Beat in sugar until well blended. Whisk together egg yolk and maple syrup and beat into the butter with the vanilla. Add flour and mix only enough to combine.  Beat in pecans just to mix. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm. Shape into 4 logs.  At this point you can rewrap the cookie dough logs and cover with foil. Keep in freezer or refrigerator until ready to bake.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Slice and bake cookies 12-15 minutes until firm and lightly & evenly browned. Must be cooked through to be tender.  Cool on wire racks. **

BASIC VANILLA DOUGH

This is a versatile cookie dough with which you can make 30 kinds of cookies. Since we are focusing on ice box cookies today, that is what I will present to you.

To make Basic Vanilla Dough you will need:

3 cups all purpose flour

¾ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

2 sticks unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Beat butter and granulate sugar with a mixer on medium high speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture and beat until well combined.  Now you are ready to make one of the following variations:

1) To make Almond Cherry Coins; you will need 1 batch of vanilla dough and ¾ cup each chopped toasted blanched almonds and dried cherries + ½ cup sanding sugar (for rolling).

2) To make Apricot Pistachio Ice Box slices, you will need 1 batch of vanilla dough and ¾ cup each chopped dried apricots and pistachios.

3) To make Almond and Candied Orange Zest Bars, you will need 1 batch of vanilla dough and 1 cup blanched toasted almonds and ½ cup chopped candied orange peel.

Once the flour is incorporated into the dough, beat in the mix-ins. Divide dough into 2 pieces. Shape each piece into a 10” long log. Coat each log with ground nuts or sanding sugar, if using. Wrap in plastic wrap and cover with foil. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours, or freeze until ready to bake. When baking, slice dough crosswise  into ¼” thick slices. Bake on parchment paper in a preheated 350 degree oven until firm, about 12 minutes.

Want more ice box cookie recipes? Let me know!  This is just a sampling of what I have in my collection.

Happy Holiday Baking!

Sandy

MORE CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK FAVORITES!

Although I have one very large bookcase filled to overflowing with Christmas cookbooks, as well as the cookie and candy cookbooks—I don’t use all of them all the time.  Then why keep them? you may ask.  Good question.

I think first of all because it has become a collection within a collection.  One year a girlfriend who lives in Northern California came to visit for a week and she set up a spread sheet for me. I managed, somehow, to get every Christmas cookbook onto the spread sheet. It took about 6 weeks (I STILL had other things to do!) and I discovered I have over 500 Christmas cookbooks.  Well, that was in 2006 and I have acquired a bunch more Christmas cookbooks so the spread sheet is outdated (and it was such a JOB that I never attempted to put all the other cookbooks onto the spread sheet). I always harbored a dream that I would become a successful writer and be able to afford a secretary and SHE could get all the books logged onto the spreadsheet. And do my filing and put the books away that I keep taking off the shelves until they threaten to take over my small workspace. Well, that never happened  and I’ve never had any success in persuading my granddaughter to do any secretarial work for me.

At any rate, since I began working on this Blog project for November, to post all of my articles about Christmas—and write new material as ideas inspire me—I took about 8 of my favorite Christmas cookbooks off the shelves so I can share them with you.  I think most may be available on the internet, a few maybe not.  Here’s the first one:

THE RUSH HOUR SUPERCHEF PRESENTS “IT’S CHRISTMAS” is subtitled “Easy and Festive Do-it-Ahead Menus and Recipes” by Dianne Stafford Mayes and Dorothy Davenport Stafford. This is a spiral-bound cookbook and it’s directed at women today, busy housewives, busy mothers, busy working full time at jobs to help make ends meet—does that describe women today?  We try to do it all, don’t we?  That was me for 27 years – actually much longer than twenty seven years but those were the years I worked full time, from 1977 to 2002, when I retired.

Under the table of contents you will find categories such as:

A MERRY CHRISTMAS TREE TRIMMING (features a do ahead buffet). This is followed by:

WELCOME! A HOLIDAY OPEN HOUSE (Festive Food and Yuletide Cheer) (*We did open houses parties for more than thirty years—going back to the beginning of my  marriage to Jim—probably closer to 50 years of open houses).

Then there is a chapter called ALL ABOARD! HERE COMES THE KINDERGARDEN BUNCH! (and we have done something similar to this since Savannah, my first grandchild, was two years ago. We began having a Christmas Cookie and Craft Project for the children—these are still going on).

Next chapter is ONCE AGAIN THE WONDROUS CHRISTMAS FEAST! Which is followed by six more chapters. There are SO many great recipes in It’s Christmas. I’ve become inspired, reading it again, to do a Tree Trimming Party again—we had such fun doing one of these years ago, when I was renting the house in Van Nuys. No little children by this time but everyone there enjoyed the project and I think it’s time to bring it back. Now there are two little girls in my life who would love helping Grammy hang ornaments.

And regarding a holiday open house – we had our first, I believe, in December of 1963 after returning to California and moving into an unfurnished apartment. (we planned to buy furniture after we got our tax return—which we did) – but our apartment in Toluca Lake did come with a stove and refrigerator and I had a Betty Crocker cookbook—so I made a lot of cookies and we invited friends over for coffee and cookies. We all sat on the floor!

At times I’ve thought fondly of that empty apartment; when we had our open house parties years later, the house would be overflowing with friends and relatives, who were all over the house and in the front yard. It took me years to discover that the best bet for having food to serve to guests at a party like this is – hors d’oeuvres. Hot tidbits, cold ones, it doesn’t matter. Guests at a party such as this will take a plate and fill it with what they want. If someone asks what they can bring, I usually said Oh, your favorite hors d’oeuvre or a bottle of wine, if you like. The offerings brought by guests usually rounded out the menu, for others would bring something I hadn’t thought of making.

And guests can return to the table and get refills if they like. (This would be a good topic to pursue in a future post. I have a lot of hors d’oeuvre cookbooks and recipes).

IT’S CHRISTMAS provides recipes for your open house such as a Christmas Antipasto Tray, Rolled Stuffed Salami (I would double the recipe—people love this appetizer), Deviled Eggs and Herb Cherry Tomatoes, Marinated Mushroom Buttons (another huge favorite) and many other great recipes.

And in the chapter dedicated to New Year’s Eve, there are more hors d’oeuvre recipes to add to your collection – such as Spicy Oyster Crackers and Frosted Braunschweiger Pate.

Amazon.com does not list any new copies of this book but they have pre-owned ones starting at one cent. You can’t beat that—add $3.99 for shipping & handling and you have a great cookbook.

Next on my stack of favorite Christmas cookbooks is TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS compiled by the Junior Women’s Group, Pioneer Museum and Haggin Galleries of Stockton, California, published in 1974. I think I must have bought this one from the group in 1974 because I have had it so long.  “Twelve Days of Christmas” was introduced on December 8, 1974, during a gala holiday party staged by the Junior Women’s Group of Pioneer Museum and Haggin Galleries.  This book contains many of the favorite recipes that were added to my repertoire, such as Mont Blanc Chicken Spread, Cheese Pine Cone, a Parsley tree with vegetables and a Creamy Braunschweiger Dip. There is “An Innocent Christmas Cup” that will satisfy everyone with a great combination of ingredients and a Green Chili dip that I used to make -  kind of forgot about until now – and will have to re-introduce it to the family and a Stuffed French Roll recipe that is so simple – and would be so great for a light dinner, along with a cup or bowl of homemade soup. There are these and so many other recipes in TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS but what I really want to point out is a recipe called SPINACH DELIGHT that I have been making all these years. I served it to friends one time – the husband loves spinach, his wife hates it – but she came away liking this spinach recipe.  It became one of my signature recipes – and I will post it for you at the end of this article. There are many great holiday recipes in this collection – I just rediscovered Turkey and Green Chili Casserole recipe too, another I will have to resurrect.

I   regret to report that I was unable to find this cookbook on either Amazon or Alibris. But it’s worth searching for! It’s one of my favorites.

Another Christmas cookbook I am partial to is BUSY PEOPLE’S FUN, FAST, FESTIVE CHRISTMAS COOKBOK by Dawn Hall. This one was published in 2005 by Rutledge Hill Press. Under Menus at a Glance,   Hall provides Italian Christmas Eve Dinner, Mexican Christmas Eve Dinner, Christmas eve appetizer and Dessert Buffet (my kind of party menu), and Christmas Eve Sweets, Treats and Hors d’oeuvre Buffet—to serve 16 . That’s just Chapter One!

Chapter Two is Breakfasts and Brunches – from Breakfast for One to Remembering Christmases Past to serve four – but it’s a simple menu that could easily be doubled or tripled.

You may find inspiration in Holiday Brunch, that serves 16 or the Traditional Christmas dinner that serves 12. This is just a sampling of menus.

What you may not know about Dawn Hall is that all of her recipes are healthy, low-cal, low fat, low sugar or no sugar – that provide inspiration for providing healthier dishes for your family and friends. Dawn has made a career out of proving it can be done.

This cookbook is available on Amazon.com for $2.97 and up, new, or for 12 cents pre-owned. Alibris.com has copies for 99c.

A Favorite Recipes Press cookbook that I have had for a while is MAKING SPIRITS BRIGHT/HOLIDAY RECIPES & FAMILY FUN published in 1995. This ring-bound cookbook starts out with a collection of traditional Christmas carols and songs. There are stories, such as Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Fir tree and why Christmas greenery has been an integral part of our holiday decorations since the 4th century. Turn the book upside down and you find, in the introduction. The Legend of St. Nicholas and the Golden Bars – then come the recipes, starting with cookies.  There are pages and pages of cookie recipes, some of which are made with my favorite ingredient, cake mixes; there are Almond Squares made with yellow cake mix and Caramel Squares made with a package of brownie mix, Devil’s Food Bars made from a package of devil’s food cake mix, and Easy Cheezy Lemon Bars made with lemon cake mix. I’ve been a strong advocate of cake mix cookies for quite some time but there are recipes here that even I didn’t know about.

The next chapter is dedicated to cakes and you will surely find something special from which to surprise and delight your family on Christmas Day. Recipes range from Ambrosia cake to Apricot Cream Cheese Cake, an easy to do Banana Butter Pecan Cake (made from a box of yellow cake mix!) to a Christmas Carrot Cake, a recipe I made one year some time ago. Or, you may want to surprise your family and friends with a Chocolate Raspberry torte or Chocolate Fruitcakes! Included under cakes are also recipes for Refrigerator Fruitcake (a recipe that has been around forever) that is made with graham cracker crumbs and goes into the refrigerator unbaked. There is also a recipe for Southern Fruitcake, as well as Spiced Chocolate Zucchini Cake—surely something for everyone.

The next chapter is CANDY with an assortment of recipes I haven’t seen elsewhere –most of these recipes appear to be simple ones that anyone can make and some don’t even require a candy thermometer. There is Baby Ruth Candy and Almond Clusters, Brown Sugar Candy (my favorite) and candy hash, made with Cap’ n Crunch’s Crunch Berries Cereal – there is Caramel Brittle (which does require a candy thermometer) and chocolate chip bonbons… and many others. Some of these are easy enough for a young child to help make. My grandson is looking forward to making Buckeye Balls again. We’ve scheduled it for Thanksgiving weekend.  But getting back to MAKING SPIRITS BRIGHT, there are recipes for different kinds of fudge – Orange Walnut Fudge and Easy Peanut Butter and Chocolate Fudge, and there is a recipe for Creamy Pralines and Microwave Toffee.  This is just a sampling of what you will find in MAKING SPIRITS BRIGHT.

I found this book listed on Amazon.com for $9.99 new, or pre-owned starting at 1 cent.

One more Christmas collection isn’t a book – it’s a booklet from Pillsbury. The title of this booklet is BEST LOVE FOODS OF CHRISTMAS  and there is a blue ribbon in the bottom corner of the cover, proclaiming it Best of the Bake Off.  It contains 65   recipes and features 10 “best” butter cookie recipes. It originally sold for 25 cents! And you know, these are Pillsbury winning recipes so you know they are all good. Well, you probably won’t find it for 25 cents unless you find it at a friends’ of the library sale like I did—every so often someone donates dozens of these booklets to the sale. I go through them searching for any Christmas-theme cookbooklets. Sometimes  I find some treasures and sometimes I don’t. You just never know what will be donated so I head for the section where cookbooks are displayed and go through everything. Sometimes I find a Christmas cookbook that I already have, and buy it anyway, to give to my sister or a daughter in law. Amazon.com does have some copies of this booklet. The lowest price I found was $2.65.  Still, a good buy even if it’s a lot more than the original twenty five cents!! J

One more book I want to just mention before closing isn’t a Christmas cookbook but it’s perfect for the holidays. The book is 365 Snacks, Hors D’oeuvres & Appetizers by Lonnie Gandara and Peggy Fallon. It’s the perfect book to have if you are contemplating an Open House or any other kind of holiday party in which you want to stay focused on hors d’oeuvres—this book is packed with recipes.  Amazon.com has it new for $6.20 or pre-owned starting at one cent.

Another favorite holiday cookbook is THE PEAR TREE from the Junior League of Knoxville, published in 1977. It had gone through four printings by the time I purchased my copy, and may have gone through many more since then. This holiday cookbook starts with Brunch recipes, including a Sausage-Wild Rice Casserole and a Hot asparagus dish that sounds divine. Other brunch recipes on the menus include a Heavenly Cheese Soufflé, Artichokes Benedict and Swiss Sausage Cloud.

There is a collection of luncheon recipes and a selection of Hors d’oeuvres, such as Cocktail Shrimp Quiche and Aunt Martha’s Original Cheese Squares, Steak Tidbits and Chinese Chicken Wings. Under Informal Dinners I found my quintessential Beef Burgundy and for another informal dinner, roast lamb or pork while for a more elegant dinner, Cornish Hens Stuffed with Wild Rice is on the menu.  Christmas Dinner II offers Standing Rib Roast of Beef (and proclaims it’s a foolproof recipe) that you can serve with mushroom sauce and potato crabmeat, Asparagus with Lemon Butter and Sherry Cake.

These and other Christmas menus and recipes await you in THE PEAR TREE.  Amazon.com has pre-owned copies starting at $3.94.  I could not find it listed on Alibris.com.

Another long-time favorite of mine is VISIONS OF SUGAR PLUMS, a spiral bound cookbook published by the Parents’ Association of Charlotte Country Day School, in Charlotte, North Carolina, published in 1989 with the assistance of many contributors. I love the format of this cookbook which is larger in height and width than your average community cookbook—it easily opens flat and starts with a generous collection of Beverages, many of which I have never heard of before! There are punches and teas and eggnog and floats, mulled cider and spritzers—even old fashioned  wassail. You are sure to find something you want to make in this collection.  Next is a chapter called Munchies and Crunchies which translates to appetizers, dips and hors d’oeuvres. There is a lot from which to choose!

Next are cakes and holiday breads—followed by cookies and desserts, which includes  Almost like Mrs. Field’s Cookies (which I have made – it’s a great recipe) and Chewy Cheesecake cookies, Best Gingerbread cookies and Kringle Sticks, Praline Squares and Old Fashioned Sugar cookies. The next chapter is Candies and Chocolates (I’m not sure why chocolate was listed separately from candies but there are a wide assortment of goodies to make.  (or at least salivate over).  I could not find this cookbook listed on either Amazon.com  or Alibris.com—it doesn’t mean it isn’t out there; I just didn’t find it. You can  request Alibris to look for a book for you.

And before I sign off, I want to share a couple of recipes with you from TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS:

SPINACH DELIGHT

2 pkgs frozen chopped spinach

½ pound cheddar cheese, diced or shredded (I always shredded it)

½ cup butter, diced

6 eggs, beaten (or you can use egg beaters)

2 cups cottage cheese (I use fat free)

¼ cup flour

Salt & pepper to taste

Cook the spinach (you can do this in a microwave) and drain thoroughly. (I squeeze it as much as I can to remove the liquid). Combine the spinach with the remaining ingredients, adding flour a little at a time. Stir just until mixed. Pour into a buttered 2-quart baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Serves 8-10.

Another from Twelve days of Christmas that is perfect for after Christmas or New Year’s Eve or Day, when you have leftover turkey

TURKEY AND GREEN CHILI CASSEROLE

To prepare sauce, combine in a saucepan:

1 (10 oz) can Las Palmas enchilada sauce

2 cans stewed tomatoes (there is a Mexican flavor stewed tomatoes that would be good with this)

1 finely chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 can golden mushroom soup

1 (13 ¾ oz) can chicken broth

Salt & pepper to taste

Simmer until onion is soft. Thicken with 2 TBSP cornstarch dissolved in a little chicken broth or water.  Simmer a few minutes longer, set aside.

Ingredients for casserole:

1 package (1 dozen) corn tortillas cut in half

1 cube (one stick) butter or margarine

1 bunch fresh spinach or 1 pkg chopped frozen spinach, cooked and well drained

1 (4 oz) can green chili peppers (I buy the mild ones) seeded and chopped

1 pint sour cream

½ pound Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

½ pound Cheddar cheese, shredded

Desired amount of cooked chicken or turkey, cubed (for this recipe I would start with 4 cups of cubed turkey. Add more if you don’t feel like its enough.

Dip halves of tortillas in melted butter or margarine and line bottom and sides of a butter 9×15” baking pan. (Reserve enough halves for a second layer). Over these layer half the chicken or turkey, half the combined spinach and chili peppers, half the combined cheeses, half of the sour cream and half of the sauce. Repeat and add a final layer of cheese on top. Allow to stand overnight in the frig. (Casserole may be frozen at this point, if you don’t want to serve it immediately). Bake for 34 minutes to an hour in a 350 degree oven. (Thaw and bake longer if frozen and very cold). Serves 8-10.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS & MAY ALL YOUR RECIPES TURN OUT PERFECT!

Sandy

 

 

 

 

REFLECTIONS ON CHRISTMAS COOKIES

When did this all begin?  Good question! I don’t remember my mother baking Christmas cookies and my grandmother’s cookies, I recall, were always diamond shaped butter cutout cookies, onto which she brushed egg white and then dusted them with blended sugar and finely chopped walnuts. My sister Becky corrected me and insisted that Grandma made many different kinds of cookies such as Lebkuchen and Spritz, Holiday Fruit cookies, Pfefferneusse (pepper nuts) or Springerle (which requires a special rolling pin or a board with designs imprinted on it). Becky said each family received a dress box full of Grandma’s cookies. Why don’t I remember this?

Grandma was from Germany, Grandpa from Hungary, so her baking was generally European—we grew up on a lot of strudel, often made with apples from her back yard. She also made doughnuts (especially for the Feast of the Three Kings, when we would find a coin in our doughnut)—but for the life of me I can’t remember anything except those diamond shaped cookies. I have her cookie cutter today—that and a small heart shaped cutter.

I got married December 6th in 1958 and don’t have any memory of making cookies that first Christmas, although I did begin to search for recipes. I clipped some holiday baking ideas out of December women’s magazines and searched through a Betty Crocker Picture cookbook that was a wedding present.  I think it highly unlikely that I would have attempted any cut-out cookies that first Christmas as a newlywed (did I even having a rolling pin?) but I might have made drop cookies, such as chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin, cookies I was already familiar with.  In addition to the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, I had a Meta Given cookbook that had been my mother’s.  As I think back on that first Christmas, I don’t know if I even had baking equipment – cookie sheets or baking pans. It had been a very small wedding.

My first child was born in September, 1960 and I probably began baking cookies when he was a toddler.  What stands out most in my memory is that we had a wonderful big yellow stove that was popular in the 1920s. What wouldn’t I give to have that old stove today!  (We left it behind when we first moved to California—though we traveled across country with an ironing board tied to the roof of the car and the baby’s mattress laid across the back seat of the car so he could romp and play. What can I tell you? It was the early 60s. But I can’t for the life of me explain the ironing board. We must have looked like something out of Grapes of Wrath.

What I do remember, quite well, is the Christmas of 1963. By this time my son Steve had been born and we drove again across country to California a few weeks before Christmas, to avoid a heavy storm heading for the Midwest. We rented an apartment in Toluca Lake and friends came over on Christmas Eve to celebrate with homemade cookies and coffee. We didn’t have any furniture yet so everyone sat on the floor. Guests went home with bags of cookies – so sometime between 1958 and 1963 I did learn something about baking. We bought a small tree and some small toys for our two little boys. You don’t need much to celebrate Christmas. Cookies help!

As years passed, I began collecting cookie recipes – actually began collecting cookbooks in 1965—and it became customary for us to gift all of our friends and neighbors with tins of cookies and homemade candy, or baskets filled with cookies, candies, homemade jellies and jams, and little loaves of pumpkin bread. When I went back to work in 1977, I found an appreciative following in my coworkers—everyone loved whatever I baked, so it was fun to take something to the office for everyone to try with their coffee.  In the years when my sons were going to grade school and middle school, I had a girlfriend named Doreen with whom I shared cookie making and baking. I think we’d do about fifteen different kinds of cookies EACH and then bake everything and split it up. She lived around the corner from me in Arleta, when we lived on Terra Bella.  She’d come to my house or I’d go to hers, at night – so we could bake to our heart’s content.

I can’t imagine not making cookies for Christmas although one year we certainly did – it was in the 1970s when the price of sugar soared to $5.00 for a 5-lb bag. It cramped our style, I can tell you that – and I stockpiled sugar like some kind of hoarder for years afterwards.

And I don’t just bake cookies at Christmas – I baked cookies all year long. The husband of one of my coworkers always called me the cookie lady. “Are these cookies from the cookie lady?” he’d ask.  When a recipe doesn’t come out quite the way I want it, I like to tweak the recipe to see if I can fix it. (Someone is always willing to eat the rejects) – the only downside to tweaking recipes is that you have to remember what your tweak was. I tend to forget to write down the changes. J

I have been baking batch after batch of oatmeal cookies trying to find the recipe in which the cookies spread very thin and turn out crispy and crunchy—voila! I found it the other night in one of my notebooks. I was pretty sure this was the recipe and immediately started putting the ingredients out on the counter. I was so pleased when they came out of the oven – crispy and crunchy and very thin. I think I made these cookies last Christmas, dipping half of each cookie into melted chocolate to make Florentines. I’ve been eating them all by myself (it’s a good thing I’ve already weighed in for Weight Watchers for November, otherwise I might be in trouble).

Towards the end of my baking, I wondered if I chopped walnuts and dried cranberries into very small pieces, would the cookies still spread thin? They DID!

So if a crispy crunchy thin oatmeal cookie is something you would like to try, here it is:

1 ½ cups old fashioned oats

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp cinnamon

8 TBSP (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

6 TBSP apple butter*

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

2/3 cup brown sugar, packed

2 large eggs

3 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium size bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.   In a large mixing bowl, blend butter, apple butter, and sugars until smooth.  Add eggs and vanilla. Blend. Add the oat mixture and mix until blended. Drop batter, about 2 tbsp at a time (I use a cookie scoop) onto parchment-paper lined baking sheets. Bake 18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven; cool slightly on baking sheet, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

*I didn’t have any apple butter. But I do have jars of homemade apple sauce on hand (any kind of apple sauce should do) – I dumped a quart of apple sauce into a crockpot and added some brown sugar and molasses. I let it cook down on medium, with the lid off, until it was thick.

*I finely chopped maybe half a cup of walnuts, and half a bag of dried cranberries to add to the batter towards the end, to see if it would still spread thin. It did. I will put the cranberries and walnuts into the batter at the beginning next time.

To make a fancier holiday cookie, melt chocolate and dip the cookies halfway in. I have a Wilton Melting Chocolate pot and it’s wonderful for keeping melted chocolate at the right temperature. (Pick one up when you have a 40 or 50 percent off coupon—it’s the best time to get yourself one. My daughter in law loved mine so much that she bought chocolate pots for herself and her sisters last year, after using mine.

*One more note: this recipe says bake 18 minutes. Well, by trial and error, I have learned that what may be 18 minutes at sea-level will burn to a crisp in the high desert. These cookies baked completely in 12-13 minutes where we are (3000 ft altitude) – I can’t tell you how many sheets of cookies or batches of candy I burned the first couple of years living in the Antelope Valley.  When I was making pralines, 234 degrees on a candy thermometer is too much at this altitude—I had to get the candy off the stove a lot sooner. I couldn’t believe that our mere “3000 ft elevation” could make that much difference—but it does. Just sharing that with you.

Looking for a long lost cookie recipe?  Maybe I can find it for you!  My collection of cookie recipes is gargantuan. And I love searching for recipes.

–Happy Holiday Baking – Sandy

TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS, 2012 VERSION

On the first day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me…

A roasted partridge and a wedge of Brie.

 

On the second day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,

Two chocolate Dove bars,

A roasted partridge and a wedge of Brie.

 

On the third day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,

Three baked hens,

Two chocolate Dove bars,

A roasted partridge and a wedge of Brie.

On the fourth day of Christmas

My true love gave to me,

Four candy canes,

Three baked hens,

Two chocolate Dove bars,

A roasted partridge and a wedge of Brie.

On the fifth day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,

Five pumpkin pies!

Four candy canes,

Three baked hens,

Two chocolate Dove bars,

A roasted partridge and a wedge of Brie.

On the sixth day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,

Six rum-laced fruitcakes,

Five pumpkin pies!

Four candy canes,

Three baked hens,

Two chocolate Dove bars,

A roasted partridge and a wedge of Brie.

On the seventh day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,

Seven fudge-nut brownies,

Six rum-laced fruitcakes,

Five pumpkin pies!

Four candy canes,

Three baked hens,

Two chocolate Dove bars,

A roasted partridge and a wedge of Brie.

On the eighth day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,

Eight Margaritas!

Seven fudge-nut brownies,

Six rum-laced fruitcakes,

Five pumpkin pies!

Four candy canes,

Three baked hens,

Two chocolate Dove bars,

A roasted partridge and a wedge of Brie.

On the ninth day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,

Nine bacon-weenies,

Eight Margaritas!

Seven fudge-nut brownies,

Six rum-laced fruitcakes,

Five pumpkin pies!

Four candy canes,

Three baked hens,

Two chocolate Dove bars,

A roasted partridge and a wedge of Brie.

On the tenth day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,

TEN Alka-Seltzers!

Nine bacon-weenies,

Eight Margaritas!

Seven fudge-nut brownies,

Six rum-laced fruitcakes,

Five pumpkin pies!

Four candy canes,

Three baked hens,

Two chocolate Dove bars,

A roasted partridge and a wedge of Brie.

On the eleventh day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me,

Eleven minty Rolaids,

TEN Alka-Seltzers!

Nine bacon-weenies,

Eight Margaritas!

Seven fudge-nut brownies,

Six rum-laced fruitcakes,

Five pumpkin pies!

Four candy canes,

Three baked hens,

Two chocolate Dove bars,

A roasted partridge and a wedge of Brie.

On the twelfth day of Christmas,

My true love gave to me…

Twelve Pepto-Bismals,

Eleven minty Rolaids,

TEN Alka-Seltzers!

Nine bacon-weenies,

Eight Margaritas!

Seven fudge-nut brownies,

Six rum-laced fruitcakes,

Five pumpkin pies!

Four candy canes,

Three baked hens,

Two chocolate Dove bars,

A roasted partridge and a wedge of Brie.

 

On the thirteenth day of Christmas….

I had my stomach pumped.

– Sandra Lee Smith

 

CHRISTMAS IS COMING AND THE GOOSE IS GETTING FAT

(This was written originally for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, about a decade ago)

Christmas is on the horizon (you may not want to think so, since Thanksgiving isn’t even here yet) but our household gears up for Christmas by September, which is days away as I write this. I have begun to stock up on dried fruit–and there are so many more to choose from these days; pineapple and mango and cherries and ginger–many ingredients which will make a fantastic fruitcake, even if you think you don’t really like fruitcake.

Cookbook author Edna Lewis recalled Christmas in Freetown, writing, “When I was a girl growing up in a small farming community of Freetown, Virginia, preparations for Christmas started in early September, when we children went out to gather black walnuts, hickory nuts, and hazelnuts….Whenever she saw a break of a day or two from the September harvest, Mother would set about making the fruitcake. It was a family affair that my older sister and I cheerfully participated in….”  I know I get my pecans and walnuts from a supermarket, but in my heart I am gathering black walnuts and hickory nuts somewhere.

I stock up on sugar and flour, watching for sales, and begin digging through my recipe files for all the favorite cookie recipes. I have four sons and six grandchildren and they all have different favorites. All of my friends beg for their favorites. We bake a lot of cookies starting in October. I also spend time making and decorating cookies with my grandchildren and my sister’s three children. This is something they all love to do.

You can make almost any cookie dough ahead of time and pack it in portions in the freezer–but you can also bake cookies in advance, if you want, and freeze them too.

Since our freezer is usually packed, I find it easier to freeze the cookie dough and then go on a baking frenzy with whoever wants to help.

We’ve already been canning little jars of jams and jellies, preserves and fruit butters – much of which comes from our own trees and vines, and these are earmarked as gifts for various friends and former co-workers. There was a time when I gave everyone in the office where I worked a jar of jelly for Christmas. There were less than 50 employees in the office at that time. Now there are over 200. I began limiting the gift-giving of jellies to my own department before I finally retired.

It’s almost as much fun going through my recipe collections and all of the Christmas cookbooks, looking for different holiday cookie or candy recipes to try. Sometimes they’re winners, sometimes not – but it’s always enjoyable, experimenting and trying something new. The reward is when someone asks for the recipe!

I have to admit, my techniques for baking and candy-making has changed considerably since I first started making cookies in my own kitchen in 1958. In fact, one of the first pamphlets I obtained that December is a now-tattered 4-page booklet titled “From our Kitchen to Yours  – 66 Wonderful Ways  to capture the warmth and Joy of an old-fashioned Christmas, BETTY CROCKER’S HOLIDAY ALMANAC, 1958, with many of the sweet treats made from products no longer available, such as Betty Crocker’s Meringue Mix to make kisses, or creamy fudge made with Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Frosting Mix. This was long before you could buy so many different ready-made frostings in a tub.  Betty Crocker has changed a great deal in 50 years but so have we.

And I don’t mind confessing that many of my cut-out sugar cookies start out with rolls of refrigerated cookie dough that can be tinkered with to make many different types of cookies.  In fact, you can buy cookbooks totally dedicated to showing you how to make

Dozens of cut-out, bar, and drop cookies – with refrigerated cookie dough.  I have to say, though – I never use ready-made frostings or icings of any kind; those are all made from scratch. This is just a personal preference and I make a really decadent deep chocolate  frosting.

We’ll be ready for Christmas 2012 although as I sit in front of a fan trying to stay cool, it’s hard to imagine Southern California cooling off enough by December!

And no, we won’t be having goose. Prime rib or pork roast, most likely.

–Happy Holidays!  Sandy