Friday, December 23, 2011

All in the Name of Progress!

We really have been in full swing party mode this week - with a neighborhood dinner party on Tuesday night and a Playgroup Cookie Party on Thursday - I am plum tuckered out!  But boy howdy have we had fun!!

'The Girls' at House #1

I've mentioned the sheer fabulousness of my neighborhood before - it is an older (larger lots), smaller (especially by today's standards) subdivision in the middle of our small town with easy access to the freeway, shopping and the like.  But none of this is what makes our neighborhood so sought after (It's true!) and such a great place to call home.

It's not the neighborhood - it's the neighbors!
And we consider ourselves blessed to call them friends.

To celebrate our collective awesomeness, several of us decided to have a party and since we are all addicted to Pinterest all wanted an excuse to decorate we decided to make it a PROGRESSIVE DINNER PARTY!

Now if you have not heard of this or participated in one yet, you are missing out!  You basically divide up the party into stops - we went with cocktails and appetizers at one house, main course at another and dessert/after dinner festivities a third, but you can divide it up as many times as you like.  Since we only extended an invitation to one non (but honorary!) neighbor, we skipped invitations and just decided on a time to start, but you might want to designate times for different courses/events if you are hosting for a larger group, who may not be able to make to all the stops!  Best of all, when you host a progressive dinner party in a neighborhood with only three streets, nobody has to drive!!

Despite being in the midst of hosting a Christmas Cookie Exchange, my house was chosen for appetizers and I promised to share them with you, so here they are, in no particular order since they are ALL AWESOME!!

The "Now Famous" Cheese Ring
from 'Tea Time at The Masters'

1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 C chopped pecans
3/4 C mayonnaise
1 medium onion, grated or finely chopped
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce (or more to taste)
1 C raspberry preserves (I use strawberry - CANNOT stand raspberry myself)

Combine all ingredients except preserves and mix well.  Chill overnight (Important not to skip this step, plus you'll have less to do the day of)  Form into ring on platter (I tried a star since it IS Christmastime).  Fill ring with preserves or spread on top of shaped cheese.  Serve with crackers.

Aimee's Pinwheel Canapes

1 tube crescent rolls
prosciutto or smoked ham
basil pesto
Gruyere cheese

Roll dough out as a flat sheet.  DO NOT separate!  Spread with thin layer of pesto.  Follow with thin layer of ham and grated cheese.  Roll lengthwise into long tube.  Cut into 1/2" slices (I use dental floss to help maintain shape) and place on greased or foil-lined cookie sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees 8-11 minutes or until browned!

And last, but not least, my very own appetizer!  I wanted to simply use my sister-in-law's recipe, but i couldn't find it anywhere, didn't really find anything that sounded like what I remembered online and she was having the time of her life skiing not available for consultation, so I was forced to get creative!  They came out very yummy though, so here ya go!

SassyAggie's Bleu Cheese Meatballs in Red Wine Cream Sauce
(Sounds harder than it was, believe me!)

1 pound extra lean ground beef
1/2 - 1 C bleu cheese rumbles
1 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 egg
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. garlic
black pepper to taste

1/2 C red wine
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 C heavy cream

Mix beef, egg, bread crumbs and seasonings together.  Take small piece of ground beef and roll into ball.  Flatten ball in palm of hand and place small amount of blue cheese in center of mini patty.  Form patty around bleu cheese to cover completely and roll into ball.  Finished meatball will be about 1 1/2" round.  Heat several tablespoons of butter in pan over medium heat and place meatballs in pan to saute, stirring occasionally to brown on all sides.  When cheese starts to ooze out of center and/or juices run clear, they are done.  (I cooked and formed at the same time, so it took less time from start to finish.)  Remove meatballs form pan as they are done.  When all are done, reduce heat to low and deglaze pan with 1/2 C red wine.  Stir in a tablespoon of butter.  Slowly add cream, stirring constantly to form sauce.  Place meatballs back in pan and allow to simmer on low to reduce liquid and thicken sauce.  Makes 2-3 dozen depending on size of your meatballs.

In addition to appetizers, we had COCKTAILS!  My favorite part!! 

Lately I've been hooked on a drink called a Calimocho - half red wine and half Coke (or Diet Coke) over ice.  Tastes like neither when you mix them together but the combination is really quite tasty!!  Several of my neighbor-friends are converts now too, because you can get  smooth (yay!!) from the wine but stay awake to play from the caffeine.  I don't know about you, but for this harried dedicated mom-on-the-go, whose day usually starts between 5 and 5:30 AM, having an adult beverage and NOT going straight to sleep is something of a feat!

'The Girls' at House # 2

And speaking of staying up to play - after scrumptious appetizers, a DIVINE homemade lasagna and salad and an INCREDIBLE dessert bar - we divvied up and played a round of Charoodles.  Haven't heard of it?  Neither had I - and I come from a LOONG line of game players!!

I can't seem to find it anywhere, except online for some unreasonable price, but if you can find a copy of this game - SWIPE IT UP!!  It is basically a twist on Charades and it is fun, fun, fun!!  Luckily, I have great neighbors (I think I might have mentioned this before - wink wink) who are letting me borrow Charoodles for Christmas Eve with my family tomorrow night!  Yippee!

You can't tell by looking I guess, but we did include the menfolk in our little soiree - see!

Great food.  Great friends.  Great fellowship.
Truly a blessing, this season and always!

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas Cookies

THIS is where the mess magic happens!

Yesterday Sheep (and Snacks!) and I hosted the 6th Annual Playgroup Cookie Party (OMG!!) with our friends from playgroup!  Such a great time with some truly great friends - how blessed I have been by them through the years!  The 'original' group came together during birth classes at our local hospital and I was lucky enough to be asked to join by one of it's members when Sheep arrived about 9 months later.  Being a first time mom AND having a younger child means I have been the beneficiary of all their mommy successes - and failures!   What a gift!

While the 'origianl gang' has all grown up, and some have (sadly) moved away, we've still managed to stay connected and I am blessed to call this fine group of women my friends!  And although we've morphed into mostly a girls' night out group now (Nothin' wrong with that!!), we have managed to get together at the holidays for our cookie party!

Christmas 2006
Look at those tiny little creatures!

Christmas 2011

Since Sheep and I have already decorated sugar cookies with icing TWICE this season, I decided to change it up a bit, and 'paint' our sugar cookies this year using egg yolk paint.  It's fun, fast and a twist to our traditional cookies and icing free-for-all!  I wish I could tell you it was neater than icing but either way, messy seems to be our MO at the cookie party!  Hey, it's only once a year and  . . .


We always use the same sugar cookie recipe, which you can find here, so here is how you prepare your 'paint' - enjoy!

Egg Yolk Paint

Egg yolks (you can make approximately 2 colors per egg yolk)
1 tablespoon water per yolk
3-5 drops liquid food coloring

Beat yolks and water together. 

Separate into small containers and add food coloring as desired. 

Use small paint brushes to apply paint to UNBAKED, cutout cookies. 

Sprinkle with sugar before baking in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. 

Place on cookie racks to cool and try to fight the kids off - ha! 

Actually, we skip that step and just let them gorge themselves on cookies all afternoon!!  After all, we're indulging on mommy drinks and cookies ourselves - yippee!

I hope everyone has as wonderful a Christmas as we do each year - celebrating with our family - and our playgroup family as well.

Merry Christmas y'all!

On the Tenth Day of Christmas Cookies

I always assumed that making candied nuts was complicated.  Not so!!  These are just about the easiest treats to make!!  They make great gifts (if you can keep your hands off them!) and are great to have on hand during the holidays for guests!  They are also a delicious way to use up your egg whites from recipes that require only yolks (like painted sugar cookies)!

Julie's Candied Pecans
1 egg white
1 T water
1 pound pecan halves
1 C sugar (can use white or brown depending on wht you like)
cinnamon (also optional - so up to you!)

Separate your egg and add water to the white.  Mix with a fork until very frothy!  Pour in pecans and coat thoroughly with egg white.  Toss wet pecans in cinnamon sugar mixture.  Spread into single layer on greased cookie pan and bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour, stirring occassionally.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

On the Ninth Day of Christmas Cookies

Well, if you were checking - there is no ninth day!!

After all the preparations for our neighborhood progressive dinner party (and I promise to share all the goodness!!), I needed a day with Sheep and Snacks just to hang out, have fun and relax!  So, instead of making cookies yesterday, we made a fort, went to see the Muppets, grabbed some lunch at a restaurant with a playscape then all came home and napped!

But we've got cookies on tap for today (Day 10) and another super SIMPLE and SWEET treat as well.

In the mean time, don't forget to share your own Christmas favorite at my Christmas Cookie Exchange and check back tonight for today's craziness festivities!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On the Eighth Day of Christmas Cookies

Our neighborhood progressive dinner party is TONIGHT!!  I am so excited and can't wait to share all the fun with you tomorrow!  Ironically,  I was assigned to do appetizers rather than dessert - ha!  I have decided to make a homemade cheese ball with strawberry preserves, bleu cheese meatballs in red wine cream sauce and prosciutto and pesto pinwheels - all super simple and super fabulous!!  And I will share all of these recipes with you tomorrow as well - stay tuned!!

But - we're supposed to be talking cookies here!

While frantically searching looking for my sister-in-law's bleu cheese meatballs recipe upstairs in my crap craft room, I came across a box of recipes from my aunt's house and found these:

Orange Christmas Balls

1 package Nilla wafers, crushed
1/2 stick of butter , melted
1 C chopped pecans
1 box powdered sugar
6 ounces frozen orange juice concentrate, undiluted

Mix all ingredients together and form into balls.  Roll in additional chopped pecans or coconut flakes.  Refrigerate until serving.

These reminded me so much of the rum ball recipe, I knew I had to try them!  I made them according to the recipe this time, but am already thinking I might try with Cointreau or other orange liqueur next time for a grown-up version of this delicious treat.  The adult version will need a grown-up name as well, so I'm thinking Santa's Balls - HA!!

Don't forget to share your own Christmas favorites at my Christmas Cookie Exchange!

Monday, December 19, 2011

On the Seventh Day of Christmas Cookies


Christmas is a mere 6 days away - actually FIVE at this hour - and I still have LOTS to do!  Three stockings left to finish, a pair of Christmas pants for Sheep and appetizers for a progressive dinner to prepare by tomorrow night!  Can't wait to tell you all about it (It's going to be so much fun!!), but no time to talk tonight!  In the mean time, here's a great Christmas cookie for you to try.  My dough is chillin' right now and I am desperately wishing that I could do the same!  So, I will update you with a couple of pics tomorrow AND hopefully a stocking tutorial as well -  they are soooo stinkin' cute!!

 Holiday Thumbprint Cookies

3 sticks of butter
1 C sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 C flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg beaten with 1 T water
7 ounces sweetened coconut flakes
Raspberry or strawberry jam

Cream butter and sugar in mixer until smooth.  Add vanilla.  Sift together dry ingredients.  Add flour mixture and blend until dough starts to come together.  Turn out onto floured board and roll together into a flat disc.  Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour.  Roll dough into 1 inch balls.  Dip each ball in egg wash and roll in coconut.  Place on cookie sheet and press indention into cookie with your finger.  Drop 1/4 tsp. jam into the center of each cookie.  Bake 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees or until coconut is golden brown.  Makes 3 dozen cookies.

P.S.  It is apparently important to cook these while still very cold.  After getting them ready, I had to go take care of a minor kid crisis (SO unusual around here - ha!) and forgot about them for an hour a wee bit - and when they went into the oven at room temperature - well, see for yourself!!

They still tasted FABULOUS - and we ate every last one of 'em too - but certainly not the pretty presentation I usually get from these cookies.  Note to self - next time save the cookies, not the kids :o)
Don't forget to share your own Christmas favorites at my Christmas Cookie Exchange!

On the Sixth Day of Christmas Cookies

Helen's Forgotten Cookies

I know it's a tradition in our family to call cookies by the person's name that gave the recipe to us, but in this case it just doesn't make sense.  Because it's hard to imagine ANYONE ever forgetting about Helen.  I know I sure won't!  She was a BIG lady (or at least she seemed that way when I was small) with a BIG personality and an even BIGGER heart  - and she was one of my mom's dearest friends.  She also had a daughter my age more or less, so our families spent a fair amount of time together when I was growing up and we all just loved her!  Plus, she was from Canada, which made her very exotic in my mind back then!

Without a doubt, Helen was one of the luckiest people I have ever known.  And I'm talkin' winning cars, money, gadgets and boo-coos of movie tickets kind of lucky, most of which she gave away to her friends and family.  And for a single mom raising three kids, even something as small as free movie tickets meant A LOT - to all of us!  She was SO lucky that sometimes I attempt to channel her while entering contests by writing her name in very small print somewhere on the entry form.  It hasn't worked yet, but I'm telling you it will!  That's also why I'm NOT gonna tell you her last name!

Baking these cookies always puts a smile on my face because they remind me of a wonderful lady whose smile and laughter are sorely missed!  It's one of the things I love about collecting recipes - they're a great way to recall fond memories and keep our loved ones in our hearts through the years.  And isn't that what the Christmas season is all about?

So I guess that makes me (and now you) lucky too!

Helen's (Gone But Not) Forgotten Cookies
There.  That's more like it!
2/3 C sugar
2 egg whites
1 C chopped pecans
1 C chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt

They will no longer be shiny and may have slight cracks in the surface when ready.

Preheat oven to 305 degrees while preparing cookies.  Beat sugar and egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold in remaining ingredients.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or foil.  Drop by spoonfuls onto trays.  Turn oven OFF!  Place cookies in oven and leave overnight.  When completely cooled, remove from tin foil and store in an airtight container.  Makes 2-3 dozen.

They should peel off easily (as you can see here) when ready!

Baking tip:  These are basically a meringue cookie, so be sure to make these on a dry, sunny day so they will set up properly!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

On the Fifth Day of Christmas Cookies

I don't know who i ma going to kill first!!

It happened again!!

An ENTIRE batch of cookies eaten by THAT DAWG!!

I left them cooling on the plate to run Sheep up to a birthday party.  Snacks was home with MIL at the time and Speed was due home any minute.  Friday nights are usually pizza night around here, so I knew we'd be going out - yay!!  Dinner solved!  What I didn't know was that 'the perfect storm' was brewing - Speed has spoken to Sissy earlier and invited her to join us for dinner (She's 23, a college graduate AND unfortunately between jobs . . . but that's a story for another day).  My MIL had coupon for our favorite pizza place that was only good at the location near our house, NOT Sissy's.  In addition to being between jobs, Sissy also happened to be without wheels right now, so Speed decided to go pick her up (unbeknowst to me).  Now Sheep and I were about to be on our way back from the birthday party but in the post-yogurt and birthday cake frenzy, I did not hear that text.  Nor did I know that he would be taking MIL and Snacks with him to pick up Sissy.  All this to say that the cookies were left UNATTENDED.  AGAIN!

Sheep and I arrived home to a dark house (Were we supposed to meet them there?) . . . and an empty plate of Tea Time Tassies!  Even better, the coupon that prompted the exodus was only good M-Th!!

Nothin' but crumbs :o(


Maybe I will start with myself . . . .

Tea Time Tassies

3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 C butter, softened
1 C flour
Combine Ingredients and chill for 1 hour (I never have time for this and it works fine BTW).  Roll into long rope and divide into 24 sections.  Flatten into circles and place in min-muffin cups.  Pres into bottom and sides of cups, being careful NOT to push any holes in the crust.  No need to grease tins!

1 egg, beaten
2/3 C chopped pecans
3/4 C brown sugar
1 Tablespoon butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
dash of salt

Combine all ingredients.  Spoon filling into unbaked crusts.  Bake in 325 degree oven for 25 minutes or until filling sets and crust is a delicate brown.  Leave out for your dog.  Enjoy!

Don't forget to link up your own family's Christmas favorites at The Cookie Exchange!

Friday, December 16, 2011

On the Fourth Day of Christmas Cookies

Some family traditions are really silly.  For example, I don't know why we only make these chocolaty, sugary bites of Heaven at Christmastime in our family, but for some reason it's the only time we do.  Especially since literally EVERYONE loves these cookies!!  And with a household that swells from 4 to 8 at Christmas, that's really sayin' something!! 

But I have a confession to make - this is not the recipe my mom uses (gasp!) 
Sorry mom! 

Our "family's" recipe always seems to get crumbly or stale or whatever you want to call it quite quickly, even though they don't stick around very long.  Frustrating!!  Then I tasted this version at a baby shower many moons ago and had to admit - they were definitely better - so I switched!!  Either way, Chocolate Crinkles remain one of my all-time favorite holiday treats.  But don't take my word for it.  See for yourself!

Chocolate Crinkles

1 ½ sticks butter, melted
½ C cocoa powder
1 C sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 C flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 6 oz. Bag chocolate chips
¾ C powdered sugar

In a large bowl, mix melted butter, cocoa and sugar.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients, except chocolate chips and powdered sugar.  Slowly add wet mixture to dry ingredients, then stir in chocolate chips.  Refrigerate 2 hours or overnight (best overnight).  Form dough into 1 inch balls and roll in powdered sugar.  (I like to roll them twice so there's plenty of powdered sugar on the cookies when baked.)  Bake 12 minutes at 350°.  Makes 2-3 dozen cookies.

Mine are in the fridge right now - so I will update ya with a couple of pics tomorrow!
Not the best pic - so much for artistic food photography!

Don't forget to link up your own holiday favorites at the Christmas Cookie Exchange!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On the Third Day of Christmas Cookies

My Gingerbread Girl SCOUT - hee hee!

I've been up to my eyeballs in Christmas Cookie Decorating for the past two days.  It has been fun but EXHAUSTING to say the least.  Especially when you have to make them twice!!  If they weren't so maddeningly delicious, I would wonder why I bother - but I'm telling you, these are THE BEST cut out sugar cookies you will ever taste!!  EVER!!

And a shout out to my BFF for the recipe - and the great tradition it has become at our house!!  I promise, these cookies will make you a STAR!

Amy's Sugar Cookies

1 C butter
1 1/2 C sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
3 3/4 C flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt (must have salt)

Cream butter and sugar in mixer.  Add eggs.  Sift dry ingredients together and add to mixture.  Add vanilla and mix until smooth.  This dough will be very sticky!  Refrigerate overnight.  Roll out onto well floured surface and cut into shapes.  Do not overwork dough - it becomes very elastic!!  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.  Cool completely and decorate with Buttercream Frosting.

Cut out Cookies may seem like A LOT of work but these are definitely worth the effort!!

Buttercream Frosting

1 stick of butter
1 bag or 2 boxes of powdered sugar
1 tap. vanilla
milk or water to desired thickness

Combine all ingredients.  Separate and add food colors.  Place in pastry bags or Ziplock freezer bags to decorate.  If it gets too runny with handling, simply put back in the fridge to cool for a few minutes.  Will make 5-6 bags of different colors.  When using on sugar cookies, let iced cookies sit out overnight (if you don't eat them all first!!) to allow icing to harden.

Don't forget to add your own Christmas favorites to my Christmas Cookie Exchange!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Dog Ate My Homework!!


Remember that new Animal Shelter the Daisies have been working so hard for all semester?

Well they're about to get their first visitor!!!

I crazily happily agreed to bake cookies for Sheep and her classmates to decorate at their X-mas party.  Yes, you heard me right.  I said X-mas Party - which is what it apparently should be called since it's public school and I guess we're not supposed to acknowledge that it's a Christmas Party.  "We" call it a "Winter Party" instead - but that's a topic for another day :o)

I was patting myself on the back and generally feeling like 'clever and efficient mom' upon agreeing to bring cookies for the class, because I was already supposed to be baking cookies for decorating at the Girl Scout Christmas Party (Yes!  We called it a Christmas Party!!) tonight!  So today I spent the whole, entire afternoon baking 5 DOZEN(!!!) cut out sugar cookies and whipping up 2 batches of homemade frosting.  Which happened to be JUST ENOUGH for the two parties!!

Only 1 dozen of said cookies went with us to Girl Scouts while the other 4 dozen stayed behind with our only surviving dog  - for now!!!

HERE is what was left when I got home!

Does this look like 4 dozen cookies to you?!?!?!


So, while Katie is 'sleeping it off'' on the sofa, I'm back in kitchen at, let's see here, 11:05 PM, to make another batch of cookie dough to roll out and bake bright and early in the morning!!  Uuugh!

Good heavens, where IS my wine . . . . .!

On the Second Day of Christmas Cookies . . .

Last night Sheep performed in her FIRST EVER play - The Christmas Story - as part of her CCE class this year! She was fab-u-lous BTW, but we're here to talk about cookies!!  Anyway, it just so happens that I needed to bring cookies for the reception and Christmas party following the play.   So, in keeping with the theme of The Christmas Story, I decided to pull out my cookie press and whip up some Christmas Trees and Stars of Bethlehem for the event!!

Aren't they CUTE?!?!?
Let me just say that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE spritz cookies! They were one of my favorite cookies to make growing up - especially once I was old enough to use the spritzer! I have owned more than a couple of cookie presses over the years, but never has there been a cookie press worth a HOOT in my opinion - except for mom's :o(

That was until last Christmas anyway, when I decided that I was tired of borrowing hers (why she wouldn't just give it up already is a story for another day . . .) and found my very own on EBay!!

Can you hear it??
Yes, those are angels singing, "Rejoice!!  Rejoice!!"

If you can find one of THESE . . .

Get it while the gettin's good!  It is simply THE BEST cookie press EVER!!!!!

Anyhoo . . . .

In our family, we've always referred to recipes "so-and-so's" , so I still call these

Johnnie Mae's Cookie Press Cookies

3 C flour
1 C shortening
1 C sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. flavoring (I always use almond for these)
1/4 tsp. salt (must add salt)
6-8 drops of food coloring

Cream sugar and shortening.  Add remaining ingredients.  Press through cookie press into desired shapes (Christmas trees are the tradition around here) onto ungreased baking sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  Feeds a 'little town' Makes 7-8 dozen!

With mom's MY magic cookie press, these cookies are EASY, FUN and DELICIOUS!!

Don't forget to add your own Christmas favorites to the Cookie Exchange!

See you tomorrow!