The Fifth Day of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas I made for the first time…

Gingerbread Men!

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Can you believe it? I had never made gingerbread cookies before yesterday! Have I deprived my family or what?

Honestly, the reason I never tackled this cookie was because I found them to be completely intimidating. The rolling, the cutting, the baking, the decorating — it all added up to “I don’t have that kind of time — not during the holidays!”

Well, with the 12 days of Christmas carrying on beyond Christmas day, I decided this was the year to give this traditional Christmas cookie a shot. I did cheat just a bit, as I didn’t make my own Royal icing but rather opted to buy cookie decorating frosting. In my defense though, I wasn’t sure the family would even like these cookies, so why spend the time making the icing. Cookie icing could be put on next year’s to do list.

The cookie dough came together very quickly in my food processor and set up faster than I thought it would in the freezer, making this project far less time-consuming than I planned. In less than an hour I was decorating and the family was taste-testing homemade gingerbread men. You can check out the recipe and step-by-step instructions at Simply Grateful Cooking Homemade Gingerbread Men Cookies.

Hubby loved the cookies, but without any frosting; Zeb loved the cookies with tons of frosting; and Grace, well she said they tasted similar to molasses cookies and being that they are not her favorite or even close, she probably won’t be eating too many of these. Decorating the cookies though was definitely fun everyone.

I am so glad I finally bit the bullet and made gingerbread men. Next year I am looking forward to doing this again and possibly experimenting with other cookie cutter shapes and even using some of these as ornaments on the Christmas tree. How Christmasy will that look? And dare I say, try my hand at a homemade gingerbread house!

The house is filled with the spicy scent of gingerbread, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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The First Day Of Christmas

Most people believe that the twelve days of Christmas begins on December 12th or 13th and ends on Christmas day December 25th, when in fact the first day of Christmas is December 25th and ends January 5th.

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In the spirit of this tradition, I have decided to take these twelve days and make the most of them. The twelve months before Christmas didn’t seem to allow for enough time to get all I wanted from the season or do what I wanted do, so these twelve days are my way to make up for what I missed.

Yesterday, the first day of Christmas (December 25th), I made the most of the day by enjoying every moment with my family. It actually began on Christmas Eve afternoon by sharing some time with my parents and lasted through Christmas Day. Hubby, the kids, and myself spent as much time as we could together, leaving cell phones and computers turned off, concentrating instead on being together.

There were presents, but that isn’t what we focused on. We ate all our meals together, watched holiday movies, listened to Christmas carols, and spent time remembering holidays past. It was wonderful and exactly what the holidays are supposed to be. We each gave of ourselves, making time for each other, and making moments to hold on to for the rest of our lives.

On the first day of Christmas, my family gave to me — Christmas day together merrily.

Starting The New Year Right – Fruit Filled Pastries

I lost my Little Grandma (my father’s mother) when I was seven years old.  I still remember her vividly though and have many wonderful memories of her.  During the holidays especially I am reminded of her and many of the wonderful recipes that she handed down.  Many of them have become a family tradition and recipes that I hope to pass down to my children and grandchildren.

One recipe that is requested by family and friends alike are the fruit filled cream cheese pastries that were a specialty of my grandmother’s.  They are a bit labor-intensive, but well worth the effort.  The trick is to make sure the dough remains chilled, as it gets sticky if it isn’t.

Cream Cheese Fruit Filled Pastries

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  • 4 Cups Flour
  • 1 Pound Butter
  • 2-8 oz. Cream Cheese
  • 1-4 oz. Cream Cheese
  • Fruit Filling or Preserves

Blend flour, butter and cream cheese by hand until well blended.  Set in refrigerator overnight.

Next Day:

Cut off a portion of dough about the size of a fist.  Roll this dough out as thin as possible on powdered sugar.  Cut into wedges, as in a pie.

Put 1/2 tsp. of filling on wide end of wedge.  Roll wedge from wide end.

Place pastry on parchment lined cookie sheet with edge of roll under pastry.  Bake on 2nd from the top rack for 15 to 17 minutes at 375.

I went through five 8 oz. jars of home canned preserves with this recipe.  I made peach-pineapple, plum, and tart cherry pastries.  I have used store-bought poppy-seed filling in the past, and they were excellent as well.  Any thick filling will work.  Definitely expect some of the filling to ooze out the sides, but enough remains to make these pastries a wonderful addition to any dessert tray.

Knowing that a part of my grandmother lives on in spirit in the traditions and recipes that we enjoy every year during the holidays and throughout the year is important to me.  This recipe especially makes me feel close to her, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Cookie #9 – Cookie Candy Cups

Although Christmas is over, I am still playing catch-up when it comes to updating my blog with the Christmas cookies I managed to make this year.  My goal was 12.  I’ve got a few more to post, but I’m not sure I quite made it to 12.  Still, I made lots of other desserts this year, so certainly no regrets.

This recipe starts with my all-time favorite cookie base – Nestle Toll House Cookies.  As much as I love chocolate chip cookies, I love the Nestle Toll House cookie batter baked without morsels as much as I love it with, sometimes even more.  Because of this, I decided to use it as the base for these very versatile cookies.  Versatile in that you can add practically any chocolate-type candy you like.  I used Rolo’s, Peanut Butter Cups, and Hershey Kisses, but you could easily use miniature Snicker’s, Milky Ways, Nestle’s Crunch, or any other’s you can come up with.

Cookie Candy Cups

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Original Toll House Cookie Dough:

  • 2 1/4 Cups Flour
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 3/4 Cup Butter, softened
  • 3/4 Cup Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 2 Eggs

Candy:

  • Rolo
  • Peanut Butter Cups
  • Hershey Kisses

Preheat oven to 375.  In large bowl combine butter, sugars, and vanilla, beat until creamy.  Beat in eggs.  Gradually add dry ingredients.

Roll teaspoons full of dough into balls and place in mini muffin tin lined with paper liners.  Bake 12 minutes.

Remove from oven and immediately press unwrapped chocolates into center of each muffin cup.

These were a big hit with the kids as well as the adults that visited our home this holiday season. Definitely a cookie I’ll be making again throughout the year, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Cookie #8 – No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

This cookie is really a cheat cookie if you ask me.  It is too easy to make to be considered cooking.  To me, this tastes more like candy than a cookie, thus why it ended up being made today — the day I spent making Christmas candy.

Back about eight years ago I was working in a fruit market and took the kids with me to work every day — yes, my boss completely supported my choice to home school my children.  Anyway, the employees at the market were all very nice and truly loved my kids and chatting with them.  One morning one of the cashiers came into the office and brought the kids a big plate of these cookies.  Needless to say they were devoured before lunch.  She gave me the recipe and for years it sat in my recipe box with my continued claims of intentions to make them.  It never happened — not until today.

Why I waited so long I’ll never know, but these were so quick and easy and delicious that I can’t wait to make another batch tomorrow after I pick up some more peanut butter.

No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

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  • 2 Cups Sugar
  • 3 -4 Cups Quick Oats
  • 3 Tbsp. Coco
  • 1/2 Cup Milk
  • 1 Stick Butter
  • 1/2 Cup Peanut Butter
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla

Combine sugar, coco, milk and butter in pan over medium heat.  Bring to a light boil and then add peanut butter. Cook until melted.  Take off heat, add vanilla and oatmeal.  Drop rounded teaspoon fulls on wax paper.

That’s it!  Quick, easy, and with ingredients I typically have in the pantry — except around Christmas when everything gets low, no matter how much planning I do.

These cookies can pass for candy in my book, or cookies in a pinch.  Today Zeb and I made these, licked the pot clean, and ate nearly half of them already, not a bad way to spend the afternoon, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Cookie #7 – Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies #1

Making a cookie that has more than one flavor going on, is my favorite type of cookie.  It’s like getting the best of two worlds.  That’s what I found with these chocolate pinwheel cookies.  This particular recipe is not very sweet.  In fact, I would have to say they are rather bland.  Not a bad thing, just not bursting with chocolate flavor.

Hubby likes these with tea and I like them for a change from the deep, rich chocolatey flavor of my Chocolate Cake Mix Crinkles.  I do have another recipe for chocolate pinwheels that I still want to make that uses more of a frosting layer between the vanilla cookie.  I have not tried this one yet, but it is on the list for this holiday season.  For now, if you are looking for something that is more along the lines of a shortbread type cookie, this is the one.

Chocolate Pinwheel Cookie

Pinwheel

  • 1 Cup Butter
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 2 Egg Yolks
  • 4 tsp. Vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp. Milk
  • 3 Cups Flour
  • 1 Tbsp. Baking Powder
  • 6 Tbsp. Coco mixed w/2 Tbsp. melted Butter and 2 Tbsp. Milk
  1. Combine coco with melted butter and milk.  Mix well and set aside.
  2. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Add egg yolks, beating well after addition.  Add vanilla and milk and mix well.
  4. At low-speed gradually add the dry ingredients.  Increase speed until dough pulls away from side of bowl.
  5. Divide dough in half.
  6. To half the dough, mix in the coco mixture.
  7. On wax paper or pastry board, roll out 1/2 of the vanilla dough to make an 8×7 rectangle.  Do the same with half of the chocolate dough.  Place the chocolate rectangle on top of the vanilla and press together lightly.  Roll the dough tightly from the short end and wrap in plastic wrap.
  8. Repeat with remaining vanilla and chocolate dough.
  9. Place wrapped dough in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  10. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325.  Slice logs to about 1/4 thickness with a sharp knife.
  11. Place cookies on parchment lined cookie sheet and bake 15 to 20 minutes.

I like these cookies as they are when I don’t want something too sweet or want to dip them in milk.  If you wanted to make it more chocolatey, you could always frost with some chocolate butter cream frosting or even better some chocolate bitter-sweet frosting.  I’ll have to post the recipe for that frosting soon, it is awesome.

These cookies are a bit more time-consuming to make than a drop cookie because of the rolling out and the two layers, but well worth the effort.  They look impressive and although not bursting with flavor, they are still a tasty treat, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

Mini Desserts #4 – Single Serving Tiramisu

One of the most decadent desserts I enjoy is tiramisu.  Along with being decadent, it is also quite expensive.  The mascarpone cheese costs about $5 per 8 oz. container and a typical 13×9 dish of tiramisu contains two of these.  I have even found it necessary to use three, when having a larger dinner party.  Not cheap by any means.

Making tiramisu in mini glasses is a great way to serve a decadent dessert to guests without going broke.  I cut my original recipe in half and made 10 mini desserts.  This was perfect when you take into consideration I had several other mini desserts to choose from.

Single Serving Mini Tiramisu

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  • 3 Large Egg Yolks
  • 4 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 1/3 Cup Milk
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 8 oz. Mascarpone Cheese
  • 10 Lady Fingers
  • 1/2 Cup Very Strong Coffee
  • 2 Tbsp. Kahlua

In saucepan, whisk the eggs and sugar until smooth.  Add milk and vanilla.  Turn on heat and cook until thick, stirring constantly. Let cool.

When cool whisk cheese into custard.  Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

To assemble, combine coffee and kahlua.  Dip each lady finger into coffee mixture and place in dessert cup.

Fill pastry bag with custard filling.  Pipe into dessert cups around and on top of lady finger.  Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with coco.

As much as I enjoy making one special dessert, I enjoy making a variety of desserts for my guests to enjoy even more, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Cookie #5 – This is what Christmas smells like – Mincemeat Cookies

Most of the cookies I bake during the holidays, I also make throughout the year.  The one I do not make at any other time of year is mincemeat.  For me, mincemeat is a Christmas tradition, one started long ago when my family still lived in England.

Sometime in the early 1900’s my great-grandmother from my mother’s mother’s side immigrated to New York from England.  With her she brought only a few belongings, among them her recipes and traditions for Christmas.  These included recipes for mincemeat, mince pies, mince cookies, and a very old recipe and bowl set for plum pudding. These traditions and recipes were handed down to my grandmother and then to me.

Yes, there is an obvious skip in generations there.  My mother, although she loves the traditions, had no interest in doing the work.  I on the other hand had no intention of allowing these traditions to be lost.  At the age of 18, when I moved out on my own, I began playing with these recipes, the heart of what epitomizes Christmas for me.

It is rather ironic that I would want to make any of these recipes, because growing up I hated mincemeat and plum pudding.  (Okay, if I used ironic incorrectly here, feel free to correct me.  I never seem to get it right.) Even knowing that eating one bite of plum pudding would guarantee me good luck throughout the coming year, I wouldn’t touch it. Not until after I began making my own mincemeat and plum puddings, did I come to appreciate the wonderfully, deep flavors that take years to develop.

Both mincemeat and plum pudding are recipes that need to be made well in advance of the holidays, we’re talking years here.  The longer these things age, the better they get.  In fact, I would not suggest eating or using either of these things until they are at least a year old.

Of the recipes I use mincemeat for, mincemeat cookies is the only one that I will make days or weeks before Christmas.  Mince pies and plum pudding are saved exclusively for Christmas eve and Christmas day.  I will admit that for many, mincemeat is an acquired taste, along the lines of fruitcake.  Once you get a taste for it, however, it is a taste you will crave all year-long.

Mincemeat Cookies

Mincemeat

  • 10 Tbsp. Butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 Cups Sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 Cups Aged Mincemeat
  • 3 Cups Flour
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 3/4 tsp. Salt
  • 1 Cup Walnuts (optional)

Cream shortening and sugar till creamy.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions.  Add mincemeat. Stir in dry ingredients.

Bake on greased cookie sheet at 350 for 15 minutes.

I do warn you these cookies are best if eaten within three days, as they do tend to become dry after that point.

Cracking open a jar of homemade, aged mincemeat every December is one thing that screams CHRISTMAS for me. The smell is something that stirs memories of Christmas’s past, family get-togethers, and traditions holding fast through the generations, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Cookie #4 – Quick & Easy Biscotti

A few years ago a girlfriend surprised me with a gift of homemade biscotti when she came over to visit.  I had never eaten this type of cookie before and was pleasantly surprised with both the texture and flavor.  My friend sent me the recipe, but reading the list of ingredients and the laborious instructions, I was somewhat turned off from attempting these on my own.

Sometime later while thumbing through a cookbook at the bookstore, I came across a recipe for lemon biscotti using a cake mix.  I just had to try it.  It turned out perfect!  Of course, lemon was good, but the family wanted chocolate, so I experimented a bit and came up with this.

Triple Chocolate Biscotti

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  • 1 Box Chocolate Cake Mix
  • 1 Cup Flour
  • 1/2 C. Melted Butter
  • 1/3 Cup Chocolate Syrup
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • Mini Chocolate Chips

Mix cake mix, flour, butter, chocolate syrup, eggs and vanilla in large bowl.  Fold in half a bag of mini chocolate chips.

Divide batter in half and shape into log.  Place halves on parchment lined baking sheet and cover with more mini chips.

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Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool 15 minutes.

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Cut into 1/2″ slices and bake an additional 15 minutes, turning once.

I love the versatility of using a cake mix and having the option of so many different flavors.  Today I made our favorite triple chocolate and then used a Funfetti cake mix.

Funfetti Biscotti

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  • 1 Box Funfetti Cake Mix
  • 1 Stick Butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Cup Flour
  • Sprinkles

Follow above directions, using sprinkles on top of formed logs prior to baking.

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Today I worked on five different cookies, so with each I froze at least half the batter.  With these I froze one log of each for another day.

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A day of baking and a home filled with freshly baked cookies for the holidays, for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Thanksgiving Pies – Tradition With A Twist

I have never understood why people stress so about having Thanksgiving dinner at their home.  For me, this is probably the easiest meal to make.  You buy a turkey, clean it, make some stuffing, stuff it, then put it in the oven for 5 to 8 hours depending on the size.  Done!

Sure there are side dishes to make, but peeling potatoes, cleaning the Brussel sprouts or other vegetable, making some rolls or bread, making a salad, and baking a few pies is pretty much like dinner every other day, so where is the hassle.  Granted there are typically more people eating at the table, but it takes only minutes to peel a few potatoes or make a bigger salad.

I love having Thanksgiving.  Admittedly, I am probably a bit spoiled here though, because much of the work that would typically have to be done on Thanksgiving morning is already done for me and waiting for me in the pantry.  When Grace was cleaning up the kitchen before our guests arrived, she was surprised at how many empty canning jars she had to load into the dishwasher.  This is where all that canning and preparation I do throughout the year really pays off.

First I used canned apple pie filling for the Apple-Cranberry-Currant Pie. Next it was canned pumpkin for the pumpkin pie.  Then four quart jars of homemade breadcrumbs for stuffing, several jars of pickled beets, two jars of homemade cranberry-plum sauce, and of course we had to break out a few jars of homemade fruit-juice-lemonade concentrates to mix with club soda for drinks.  Every time I started working on something else for the dinner, I found myself heading to the pantry to raid the shelves.  It was great!

The one thing I was not able to find in my pantry, YET, were the sweet potatoes.  I have them on my list of things to still can this year, along with white potatoes, but because of my decorating agenda for the holidays, it has not been checked off my never-ending To Do List.  Still, being able to cut down on how much time I spent in the kitchen this Thanksgiving was truly something to be thankful for.

Using some of the canned pumpkin from the pantry was a new experience this year.  I have frozen pumpkin puree for many years, but canning it was a new experience.  Slicing into it after Thanksgiving dinner, I have to admit I was a bit nervous.  Handing the first slice to my father, I asked him to tell me how it was.  He slowly cut off a tiny bite with his fork and sampled it.  After swishing it around in his mouth, as if he were at a wine tasting, dragging it out longer than my racing heart needed, he smiled and told me it was wonderful.  Hubby got the second slice and agreed with my father adding, “This is probably the best pumpkin pie you’ve ever made.”  Granted I think he says that with each pumpkin pie I make, but still, being able to maintain that standard was very important to me.

My pumpkin pie recipe is nothing special, but it is always a big hit, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Pumpkin Pie

  • 1 Quart Jar of Home-Canned Pumpkin (for me this turned out to be 16 oz. of puree)
  • 3/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground Ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2/3 Cup Evaporated Milk
  • 1/2 Cup Milk
  • Pastry for Single-Crust Pie

Drain home-canned pumpkin and puree pulp till smooth in food processor.  Combine pumpkin, sugar, and spices with a whisk.  Add eggs, lighting beating to combine.  Add milks and mix well.

Pour pumpkin mixture into prepared pie crust and bake in 375 oven for 25 minutes.  Cover pie with foil after 25 minutes and bake another 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool completely before chilling.

This year, Grace helped with the pies and we opted not to drag out the mixer.  We mixed everything by hand and the pie turned out fine.  Sometimes it’s nice to get away from all the gadgets, although they certainly have their place in my kitchen.

The other pie we made was another traditional Thanksgiving favorite in our home — Apple.  This year, however, I decided to make it with a bit of a twist.  I added some cranberries, currents, and just a touch of brandy.  Definitely a keeper.

Apple-Cranberry-Currant Pie with Crumble Topping

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  • 1 Quart plus 1 Pint Apple Pie Filling
  • 1 Cup Fresh Cranberries
  • 1/4 Cup Brandy
  • 1/4 Cup Dried Currants
  • Pie Crust for Single-Crust Pie

Topping:

  • 2/3 Cup Packed Brown Sugar
  • 1 Cup Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Butter

Combine brandy and currants and let sit for 1 hour until currants are plump.

In a large bowl combine pie filling cranberries currants and brandy.  Pour mixture into prepared pie crust.

To make topping, mix flour and brown sugar and cut in the butter using a pastry blender.  Sprinkle topping over pie.

Put pie on foil-lined cookie sheet and bake 55 to 65 minutes.

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Thanksgiving is a time when people stop and take the time to remember all the things they have to be thankful for. There are so many things everyday to be thankful for, unfortunately not everyone takes the time to remember this. Thankfully this holiday reminds those that maybe forget all the things they should be grateful for everyday to stop and take notice.

This year besides the things that I am grateful for everyday, I was especially thankful for the time spent with Grace in the kitchen making pies, the cut-down amount of time I needed to spend in the kitchen away from the family preparing dinner, and a pantry that made this all possible, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.