Merry Christmas!

This has been one of the very best Christmas preparation seasons ever for me ever.  While I am sad that my daughter and her husband will not be home for Christmas this year, that sadness has been offset in part by the joy I’ve found in baking all those Christmas cookies and taking them to unsuspecting friends and family.  After my last big batch of cookies that I baked on Thursday, I have baked almost 800 cookies!  I’ve heard from all my friends how much they enjoyed and appreciated them, and that makes me very happy.  I don’t consider myself a very creative person, but I’m learning more and more than I am a pretty good cook, and to share my cooking and baking with others just makes it so much more fun.

Focusing on my baking and not so much on the madness of gift buying made the task of buying gifts seem very harmless this year.  I definitely didn’t miss out on any deals either, as almost everything I bought (except for gift cards) was at least 40% off.  It has been nice to just go out with my husband and buy a gift or two each night after dinner, and we’ve had great fun getting out and about in the evenings after the crowds have died down a bit each day.

All of our gifts are now bought and wrapped and mailed and emailed and delivered and under the tree as of earlier today, and that is always a great feeling.  I bought our last little gift earlier this afternoon, and after I bought it, I just spent some time walking around the mall and listening to Christmas tunes playing there.  It was just a wonderful, peaceful time despite the crowds, and I’ve come to sincerely appreciate that moment each year now when I buy that very last gift.  Now, all that’s left to do is just a bit of cooking for our Christmas dinner, and that will be easy this year.

On the day after Christmas, we will be heading out of town for a week of vacation.  This is a trip we have been looking forward to for several months, as we are returning once again to one of our favorite camping destinations and are excited to have an entire week there this time, weather permitting.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year in 2013!

D
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Savory Breakfast Cookies

I just updated my previous Christmas Cookies post with pictures of several of the cookies, and I hope you will check that out again.  I am so pleased with my decorated cookies, and I am amazed how many friends wanted to buy some from me, too.  Unfortunately, all 175 that I made were/are spoken for this year.  Now, I’m ready to finally eat some myself in a couple of days!

I also tried one more new cookie recipe a couple of weeks ago, at the request of my husband.  On one of his recent business trips, he came across a breakfast cookie on the buffet at the hotel where he stayed, and he asked if I could find a recipe for something similar and give it a try.  I was very skeptical about making a cookie that mixed savory and sweet together, but I have to admit that I actually liked it myself.

This recipe is simple to make, and we keep our cookies in the refrigerator in plastic zipper bags.  In the morning, we just heat each one for about ten seconds in the microwave on a paper towel, then eat it along with our Keurig coffee.  Talk about a quick and easy breakfast on the run – this is it!  The only thing I will change in the next batch will be to use a little more bacon and a sharp grated cheddar cheese instead of a medium cheddar.  I bake all my cookies on airbake cookie sheets with parchment paper now, too.  No more sticking or burnt bottoms for my cookies!  I’m not sure how I ever baked without parchment paper in the past, but I won’t ever bake without it again.  In fact, I buy the huge roll at Sam’s Club to keep on hand.

Savory Breakfast Cookies
(From Food.com)

Savory Breakfast Cookies
Savory Breakfast Cookies

Without a doubt, I can highly recommend giving this recipe a try!

D
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Christmas Cookies

I am in love with Christmas cookies and have been for many years.  There is just something about a sweet treat with that special holiday touch that just puts me in a particularly festive mood each December.  In past years, I have always purchased our Christmas cookies from a wonderful bakery here that has been open since before I was born.  But, a few months ago, the bakery shut its doors, and the owner said it would not be reopening, which has been a sad development for our community indeed.

Given the loss of the bakery, I vowed that I would do my best to learn to bake our treasured decorated Christmas cookies on my own.  I’ve spent hours and days researching cookies and recipes and decorating techniques.  I have bought many supplies, and after baking an initial small test batch, I have now completed my first big batch of decorated Christmas cookies.  Thankfully, this is something that I can do, at least well enough to make my family (and even some friends) quite happy.  And as a result of all my cookie research, I even chose to make several different kinds of cookies this year to see if we can find a few more favorite holiday cookies, too.

In an effort to make some of my Christmas gifts a little more personal this year, I just completed eight big assorted cookie platters and gave them away to some friends and family members this past weekend, calling it a “Twelve Days of Christmas” gift, and five of the eight platters went to elderly friends and family members.

My Christmas Cookie Trays for Gifts
My Christmas Cookie Trays for Gifts

I opted to give them well before Christmas for some good reasons.  The main reasons in giving them early were to get them done ahead of my Christmas cooking rush, give them while they are freshest, and free up the week prior to Christmas for me to finish up shopping, wrapping, cooking and house cleaning.  Another good reason for giving them early was to keep everyone from just having yet more sweets to eat on Christmas Eve/Day.  I think most people will enjoy having a cookie or two each day leading up to Christmas, and everyone just loved them when I delivered them.

Here is the list of cookies that I baked, with links to the recipes.  I tried to have a variety of cookies on the platters, and I also chose to avoid cookies with nuts in them, as I was not sure if a couple of people might have nut allergies.  Also, as you can see from the list below, I chose to add a few non-cookie treats to the platters for variety and to get the count up to twelve items for the “Twelve Days of Christmas” theme.

Vanilla Almond Decorated Sugar Cookies
(Wilton recipe, various cutout shapes)

Decorated Christmas Cookies
Decorated Christmas Cookies

And from this same cookie recipe, I also made a few
Stained Glass Christmas Tree Cookies with Red Hot Berries.
Easy, easy, easy to do! 😉

Stained Glass Cookies
Stained Glass Cookies

Chocolate Pepper*Mint* Cookies
(The Idea Room)

Candy Cane Cookies
(This Betty Crocker recipe is similar to our family recipe.)

Candy Cane Cookies
Candy Cane Cookies

Snickerdoodles with Red/Green Holiday Sugars
(Betty Crocker recipe)

Holiday Snickerdoodles
Holiday Snickerdoodles

Apricot Linzer Sandwich Cookies
(Wilton recipe)

Linzer Sandwich Cookies
Linzer Sandwich Cookies

And, I just could not resist baking the tiny little snowman cutout centers!

Centers of Linzer Sandwich Cookies Baked
Centers of Linzer Sandwich Cookies Baked

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies
(Food Network – I used fresh chopped cranberries)

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies, some with Reindeer Faces
(Jif Recipe – I used Rold Gold Mini Pretzels)

Ginger Crinkle Cookies
(Jamie Deen, Food Network)

Ginger Crinkle Cookies
Ginger Crinkle Cookies

Ultimate Double Chocolate Cookies
(Ghirardelli recipe)

Ultimate Double Chocolate Cookies
Ultimate Double Chocolate Cookies

Holiday Shaped Pretzels
(found at World Market, a salty option to offset the sweets)

Bob’s Candy Canes
(a long-time family tradition)

Hershey’s Chocolate/Caramel Kisses
(a tasty variation to the traditional kisses)

For the record, the following blog posts were invaluable to me in coming up with a special decorated sugar cookie that I know we will love this year and many years to follow.  This was my primary goal in learning to bake our traditional Christmas cookies, and I’m thrilled to know now that I can continue that tradition for my family.  I actually think these cookies may rival or best the bakery cookies, too.

The Pioneer Woman – Decorated Christmas Cookies
As always, her detailed posts answer so many questions and the pictures are wonderful!

Bake At 350: Vanilla Almond Sugar Cookie Recipe
I am not using this exact recipe, but it’s very close to the Wilton recipe that I used.  The recipe is down the page a bit, and her detailed information here and at Pioneer Woman’s post above is very helpful.

Bake At 350: Royal Icing Tutorial
This is probably the best tutorial on Royal Icing that I’ve found and helped me get it right the very first time, especially with the additional information from The Pioneer Woman’s post on making and working with the flow/flood icing.

Happy holiday baking!  Christmas Day is just a week away!

D
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Early Christmas Gift

I actually received my main Christmas gift early this year, and I am thrilled… a new Professional Model KitchenAid Mixer!  In my entire life, I have never had a decent mixer, and now I am literally making lists of recipes to bake before Christmas.

My new Kitchen Aid Pro Mixer
My new KitchenAid Pro 600 Series Mixer, 6 Quart

I’m not sure if my husband actually intended to give me the mixer early, but he decided to go ahead and give it to me anyway after I saw a really good sale on them last week and asked him if we should think about getting one.  We had both been looking at them for the past few months, so he literally just got it out of the trunk of his car and brought it in the house.  I was so happy, and he said that he had thought about giving it to me early anyway so that I could use it for holiday baking, since this is the main time of the year that I would really benefit from having the mixer.  I’m so glad he gave it to me early, too.  I know some ladies might not appreciate getting a mixer for Christmas, but I am thrilled!

The owner’s manual says this mixer can handle up to 14 cups of flour at once.  Crazy.

The only thing that will take a bit of getting used to for me is not being able to swing the top back like a traditional mixer.  Instead, it has a lever that raises the bowl up to the beaters.  I can definitely handle that, even though it is a little different to use.   It also has a clear splash guard that is going to be so nice to have for a change.  Hopefully, there won’t be any more “flying flour” in my kitchen on baking day.  It even came with a decent cookbook to help transition recipes to its more powerful mixing capability, as it warns that most recipes do not need to mix as long when using this mixer.  That will also be something different for me.  It’s fine, too.

I guess I must admit that just having a real KitchenAid mixer makes me feel like a better baker already.  Why is that exactly?  😀

Decorated Christmas cookies… here I come!  More to come on that soon.

Seems fitting that it is once again “snowing” on my website again, too.   Just love that every December.

D
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