Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Cookie Recipes

Food Gift:  Plates of Christmas Cookies
I arrange the sweets on a festive disposable plate and then
sprinkle it with holiday candies before covering.

Last year I shared about the tradition my family has of baking many different types of cookies and giving plates of  them as gifts to friends and neighbors.  This year is no different and today I completed the baking of seven different types of sweets.  Currently they are all tucked safely in their air tight containers.  Tomorrow I will plate them, cover them with festive cling wrap, and then my children and I will deliver them to our neighbors.  Of course, we sampled a few broken cookies and we will keep a sampler of these holiday  cookies to enjoy for dessert on Christmas Eve, but the main purpose of these treats is to spread home baked Christmas cheer to families that we appreciate.

May you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday! 
Merry Christmas from Heidi's Recipes!

Christmas Cookies 2011

Minty Brownie Bites

I spread the cookies out on our kitchen island and then fill the plates.
I use holiday Press 'n Seal to cover the plates.

It sure is a good feeling when all the baked goods are tucked safely in their
containers and the kitchen is clean.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Breakfast Muffin Recipe

Snickerdoodle Muffins
Back in 1991 when I taught third grade, one of the Language Arts goals was to "read to complete a task".  As an energetic twenty-something teacher, I  immediately thought that a great way to practice that educational objective was to follow a recipe and cook something in class.  Now that I am a mom, I still think that it is important for young people to learn to "read to complete a task"; so, when my twelve year old son requested his favorite breakfast, Snickerdoodle Muffins, to celebrate the first day of Christmas vacation I replied, "Sure, as long as you make them!"

When my older children embark on solo culinary adventures, I require encourage them to begin with a clean kitchen, read through the recipe before starting, and gather all of their ingredients before starting to cook.  Then they wash their hands, choose an apron, and tackle some independent cooking while I busy myself with laundry or dusting.    I attempt to be within ear shot to answer questions such as "Can I use cupcake liners instead of buttering the pan?" or "Where is the fresh nutmeg?", but I avoid offering unsolicited advice or ripping the wooden spoon out of their hand when they are 'whipping' even though the recipe clearly says 'gently mix'.

Today my son tackled his batch of Snickerdoodle Muffins like a real pro.  As a huge fan of Alton Brown, he chose to freshly grate his nutmeg with a rasp grater and he did not over mix his batter. He preheated his oven and cleaned up after himself.  He even tolerated me poking around the kitchen with my camera.

Delicious for breakfast or brunch, Snickerdoodle Muffins are fun for family baking.  
This recipe for Snickerdoodle Muffins, which I ripped out from the March 2007 issue of Family Fun magazine, is particularly suited to young bakers because it only involves ten ingredients and it ends with a fun step of dipping the slightly cooled muffins in butter and then cinnamon sugar.  It also makes the house smell divine and is fully appreciated by younger siblings.  I am grateful for my background as a teacher and am glad that all of my children will enter adulthood knowing how to "read to complete a task".

It's always good to gather all of your ingredients before starting.

My son is a huge fan of Alton Brown and learned from his cooking hero that freshly grated nutmeg is best.

Tip of the day:
cover the butter with the paper butter wrapper to
avoid spattering Mommy's clean microwave.

An ice cream scoop guarantees uniformly sized muffins.

Dipping the muffins in melted butter and cinnamon sugar is fun!

Snickerdoodle Muffins Recipe
     recipe adapted for Family Fun Magazine, March 2001
     makes one dozen muffins

For the muffin batter,
2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 large egg
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons milk
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Cinnamon-Sugar Topping,
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a muffin pan with paper liners.
  2. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter, set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl.
  4. In a medium-size bowl, whisk the egg until frothy.  Blend in milk, melted butter, and vanilla.
  5. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid mixture.  Using a wooden spoon, mix the batter gently until it is fully combined.  Do not over mix.
  6. Fill each muffin cup about two-thirds full.
  7. Bake on the center rack for 15 minutes.  Rotate the pan and bake for an additional 5 to 7 minutes or until muffin tops are lightly browned and a cake tester comes out from the center of the largest muffin with only a few crumbs.
  8. Cool the muffins on a wire rack for 5 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, mix the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl and melt 2 tablespoons of butter.  
  10. When the muffins are cool enough to handle, dip each muffin in the butter then the sugar mixture to cover the entire top of each muffin.
  11. Serve muffins warm or cool entirely and store in an air-tight container for up to 2 days.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gingerbread Houses

Today my son and over one hundred of his closest first grade friends gathered in the school cafeteria to create gingerbread houses using milk cartons, graham crackers, and tons of sweets.  As I scooped frosting, opened candy canes, and passed out baby wipes, I remembered nineteen Christmas' ago when I crafted gingerbread houses with my own class full of first graders.   I was pleased to observe that children still love to thoughtfully add cookie walls, candy cane chimneys, and gum drop windows to little candy houses.

In order to make these simplified gingerbread houses with some children that you love, first gather and wash out a variety of milk cartons.  Along with individual school milk cartons, tall thin ones from half-and-half are fun in addition to short square containers from buttermilk or heavy whipping cream.  Once the cartons are fully dry, staple the tops and the gather the rest of your materials.  You will need sturdy paper plates or pieces of cardboard to be used as the base, white frosting (homemade or store bought), and a variety of colorful holiday candies, sprinkles, and cereals.  Start by attaching the prepared carton to the base using a gob of icing.  Then attach the graham crackers to the sides and top of the carton using lots more icing.  Finally, adorn the little house with candies and other sweets.  This is one case where less isn't more - more is more!

The decorating portion of this project is the most interesting for me to observe as a teacher and as a parent.  The method of embellishing the house along with the finished product is always reflective of the child's personality.  Some little people will painfully sort through all of the sprinkles in order to create a symmetrical monochromatic roof line or  use holiday M&M's to speckle the walls in an evenly spaced red and green pattern, while others will attach treats to their structure with joyous abandon resulting in a spectacular and fully loaded gingerbread house.  No matter what the method, making gingerbread houses with kids creates unique and decorative structures along with many fond holiday memories.  Merry Christmas from Heidi's Recipes!

Before the decorating begins, open all of the goodies and place them in individual containers.
Attache the base of the carton with a glob of icing.
Spread icing on each side of the carton to attach the graham crackers.
For children under 5 years old, adults can do this step ahead of time.
Provide plastic knives and lots of baby wipes.
Colored icing can be used to add details to the house.
Sample goodies and let the creative juices flow!

Gingerbread House Instructions
     bases on the instructions from Kid's Create by Laurie Carlson

variety of milk cartons; washed, dried, and stapled closed
sturdy plates or foil covered cardboard for a base
white frosting (canned or homemade), recipe follows
tubes of colored icing
assorted small candies 
miniature marshmallows
dry cereal in assorted shapes and colors
gingerbread boy/girl cookies, gummy bears, teddy grahams
  1. If making homemade frosting, prepare ahead of time and keep covered in the refrigerator for up to five days.
  2. Wash and thoroughly dry milk cartons.  Staple tops closed.
  3. Attach prepared carton to base with a big dab of frosting.
  4. For the walls, spread frosting on each side of carton and attach graham crackers.  Press them in place against the four sides of the carton.
  5. For the roof, liberally dab frosting on the slanted parts of the carton.  Gently position the crackers on top of the carton.  Hold them in place for a minute or until the frosting is set. To cover the eaves at the front and back of the house, cut or break a small rectangle of cracker into a triangular shape and attached with frosting.  As an alternative, completely cover the eaves of the house with frosting.
  6. To decorate, use frosting to attach candy, cereal, and other goodies to the house.  Sprinkle with coconut or powdered sugar as snow.  Create paths, chimneys, doors, and windows.  Add gingerbread boy and girl cookies, gummy bears, or teddy grahams.  

Frosting Recipe
     from Kid's Create by Laurie Carlson

(I have always used this frosting when making gingerbread houses with children.  This recipe produces a frosting that once dry is very hard and keeps the houses and decorations together for years, if covered tightly to store.  It, however, is not recommended for young children who might sneak a lick due to the raw eggs.)

1 pound confectioners' sugar
3 egg whites at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl with an electric mixer at low speed.  
  2. Increase the speed to high and beat for about seven minutes, until the frosting stands in stiff peaks when a knife is pulled through it.
  3. Scoop the frosting into small portion cups as needed to created gingerbread houses.
  4. Keep this frosting covered at all times.  It can be refrigerated for up to five days.
  5. This makes two cups of frosting which is enough for two small or one medium house.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Polar Express Cupcakes

Polar Express Cupcakes
In honor of National Cupcake Day (December 15th), here are some adorable Polar Express Cupcakes that my daughter and her friend created this past weekend.  They baked three dozen cupcakes, made a double batch of vanilla butter cream frosting, tinted a portion of the frosting blue, and created fondant adornments to go with the theme.  They rolled out colored fondant and used edible marking pens to add the details.  The result was cute and delicious cupcakes that are sure to please any fan of the movie or the book The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.  After watching the movie with my Pre K class today, I an thinking these would go nicely with some Hot Chocolate.

Happy National Cupcake Day!

The girls use edible marking pens to add details to fondant shapes.

They made tickets using yellow fondant and a black edible marking pen. 

The young bakers cut each train out by hand using a paper pattern that they printed off of the internet.
Then they added a window and wheels with a black edible marking pen.
They used a snowflake cookie cutter and then adorned with blue edible marking pen details.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Crock Pot Hot Chocolate Recipe

For the past few weeks my daughter and I have mulled over the idea of creating a hot chocolate bar for her youth groups' progressive dinner.   While she dreamed of homemade marshmallows, hand crafted treat labels, and displays that looked like they had come "right out of a magazine" (no pressure:),  I was contemplating the logistics of serving a group of teenagers a hot beverage.   I surfed blogs and browsed Pinterest until I discovered a recipe for Creamy Crockpot Hot Cocoa at Mrs. Happy Homemaker.

Breaking my cardinal rule of never serving to guests a recipe that I had not previously attempted, I purchased the ingredients and added it to my "Hot Chocolate Bar" planning sheet.  Being slightly skeptical, however, I also purchased some dry hot cocoa mix and had a kettle of water simmering on my stove the night of the party.

A few hours before the group of ninth graders was scheduled to pull up in front of our house on a hay wagon, I placed all of the hot chocolate ingredients in my crock pot and hoped for the best.  It did not ease my nerves when my husband peered into the white liquid in my slow cooker and said, "What is that?!"  The recipe said to stir the mixture of whipping cream, sweetened condensed milk, whole milk, vanilla, and milk chocolate chips occasionally, but in my nervousness, I upped the stirring up to frequently.  After the mixture had been in the crock pot for about an hour, bits of chocolate started to rise to the top of the liquid and then after a whisk it began to look like hot cocoa.   All of my anxiety disappeared as soon as I sampled this creamy and flavorful warm beverage.

While I busied myself with putting the finishing touches on the Hot Chocolate Bar, the cocoa continued to simmer in the crock pot.  A few minutes before the guests were scheduled to arrive, I stirred the liquid with my immersion blender.  That created the frothy texture that I desired and added to its creaminess.

It turns out I didn't need the packet of hot cocoa mix after all because this Crock Pot Hot Chocolate is decadent and delicious.   My daughter ladled portions of it into mugs and then the teens helped themselves to a variety of marshmallows, whipped cream, crushed candy canes, and a variety of other toppings.  This recipe is already a holiday favorite of our family.  Merry Christmas!

Crock Pot Hot Chocolate Recipe
     inspired by Mrs. Happy Homemaker

1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1 can sweetened condensed milk, 14 ounces
6 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 package milk chocolate chips (11.5 ounces or approximately 2 cups)
  1. Add whipping cream, sweetened condensed milk, whole milk, and vanilla to crock pot.  Whisk.
  2. Stir in milk chocolate chips.
  3. Cover crock pot and cook on low for about 2 hours, stirring about every 15 minutes.  When chocolate chips have fully melted and mixture is combined you may want to reduce your crock pot to the 'warm' setting.  
  4. Prior to serving whisk mixture vigorously or stir with an immersion blender to froth.
  5. Serve plain or with a variety of toppings such as marshmallows, whipped cream, crushed candy canes, M&M's, and more.
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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hot Chocolate Bar

Tonight I hosted my church's Youth Progressive Dinner.  My husband and I served appetizers to seventh and eight graders and dessert to ninth graders.  The teens rode around our neighborhood in wagons and stopped at different homes for the three courses of their meal.  This is a favorite activity of my daughter because she loves hanging out with her friends, seeing all of the Christmas lights in our community, and enjoying food at other people's homes.

This year we hosted my daughter's age group for dessert.  We prepared a Hot Chocolate Bar along with freshly baked cookies and a batch of her signature cupcakes.   I prepared the hot chocolate in the crock pot with a recipe that I found on another blog, Mrs. Happy Homemaker.   I was a bit skeptical and bought packets of hot cocoa just in case, but the crock pot hot chocolate turned out to be frothy, chocolaty, and delicious.  I will definitely make it again, especially for a crowd.

Along with the crock pot hot chocolate we provided the following toppings:

In addition to hot chocolate  we served:
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies (I made the dough a few days ago.  I baked half earlier today and then baked the second half right before they arrived because a chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven is the best!   Plus it makes the house smell divine.)
  • Peanut Butter Blossoms
  • Yogurt-Covered Pretzels
  • Cookies and Cream Cupcakes

The ninth graders arrived at our home on a wagon and ascended upon the Hot Chocolate Bar.  The spray whipped cream was very popular along with the variety of marshmallows.  After the teenagers enjoyed their hot chocolate and devoured their cookies, they had a white elephant gift exchange which my husband conducted.   It was a lovely evening!  I am grateful for my church, my family, and for all of the leftover hot chocolate toppings which my son's can't wait to dig into tomorrow.   Merry Christmas!

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Aunt Ethel's Sugar Cookie Recipe

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Although I have no idea who Ethel is, I do know that her sugar cookie recipe is a part of the family.  In December of 1982 when my mother announced that she refused to bake any cookies that required rolling and cutting, and when my father simultaneously begged for sugar cookies just like his mother used to make, I took on the challenge.  At the awkward, yet determined age of 13, I searched through all of my mother's cookbooks until I found a recipe for sugar cookies that my father deemed similar to what he ate as a child.  I then entered the kitchen alone and attempted to make Ethel's Sugar Cookies.  This was my first independent cooking experience and it was a success!

During the last 28 years I have attempted a few other sugar cookie doughs, but have always returned to Ethel's.   The recipe is from the 1977 cookbook Betty Crocker's Cooky Book and shares a page with instructions for Mary's Sugar Cookies, but sorry Mary, Ethel is far superior.  With the exception of 2001 when I had recently given birth to my third child, I have made Ethel's Sugar Cookies every Christmas since 1982.  I have also used this recipe to turn these cookies into shamrocks, Easter eggs, rubber duckies, poke balls, and the state of Texas.  I even made my dad a batch of heart-shaped sugar cookies with red sprinkles and delivered them to the hospital right before his open-heart surgery.

The beauty of Ethel's Sugar Cookies is that the cookies are thick and cakey with just the right amount of sweetness and a hint of vanilla.  The recipe uses both butter and shortening which creates a soft yet sturdy dough that rolls easily with a wooden rolling pin on a board that has been dusted with a combination of flour and confectioner's sugar.  The cookies can either be topped with sprinkles prior to baking or iced with Easy Cream Icing after they have been cooked and cooled.  

Needless to say, my mother passed on her rolling pin and her copy of Betty Crocker's Cooky Book to me when I got married.  The cookbook is now battered and yellowed and easily falls open to page 18 of the section on rolled cookies.  At some point I penned a star next to Ethel's Sugar Cookies recipe, less I become confused and make the mistake of baking Mary's Sugar Cookies.  I also penciled in the measurements for making a double batch of the dough.  I have found that one batch is never enough.  I'm grateful that Ethel and her sugar cookies have joined our Christmas traditions and remain a part of our family.  My hope is that you will invite Ethel and her delicious sugar cookies into your home as well.

Ethel's Sugar Cookies
     adapted from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book  (copyright 1977)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
  1. Mix butter, shortening, sugar, eggs, and vanilla thoroughly. 
  2. Stir flour, baking powder, and salt together.  
  3. Blend butter mixture and flour mixture.  
  4. Divide dough into 2 discs.  Cover each with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.
  5. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  6. Remove dough from refrigerator and allow to sit on the counter for 15-30 minutes, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
  7. On a board that has been lightly floured with a mixture of flour and confectioner's sugar, roll dough until it is 1/4 inch thick.  Cut with your favorite cooky cuter.  
  8. Place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Top with colored sanding sugar, if desired.
  9. Bake 6 to 8 minutes, or until cookies are a delicate light golden color.
  10. Cool on a wire rack.  If desired, decorate with Easy Cream Icing.
Makes 3-4 dozen cookies, depending on the size of the cutter

Easy Cream Icing

1 cup sifted confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-3 Tablespoons cream, milk or water
food coloring or icing tints

  1. Blend sugar, salt, and vanilla.
  2. Add liquid (cream, milk, or water) 1 tablespoon at at a time until icing reaches a spreadable consistency.
  3. Add food coloring.
  4. Spread on cookies with an off-set spatula.
Makes icing for 3 to 5 dozen cookies, depending on size.

Today I am sharing a post that I wrote last year as a guest blogger at the amazing lifestyle blog, LoveFeast Table.  These gals are not only my real life friends that go way back, but also my bloggy cheer leaders.  During the last millennium Chris Ann, Kristen, and I, along with our ever growing families, gathered at the same table to share amazing meals, nurse babies, chase toddlers, and even time contractions.   Now I love living vicariously through them at their beautiful and inspiring blog.  They are two of the most creative and smart women that I know.  Check out their table and their virtual holiday cookie exchange.  It is sweet inspiration!

LoveFeast's Holiday Cookie Exchange

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Iron Skillet Apple Pie Recipe

Funerals receptions are a time to remember, a time to grieve, and a time to share your best dishes.  Last week at the luncheon following my grandmother's funeral, the ladies from her church in Millington, Maryland  lovingly served fried chicken, ham, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, a variety of jello salads, and a table full of home baked sweets.  Before the preacher had even said grace, a kind lady who was helping to serve the food found my father peering at the desserts. She pointed out a pie that was baked in an iron skillet and advised him to grab a slice because it would surely be gone by the time he was done his meal.  He took her advice and sat his piece of Iron Skillet Apple Pie next to his place at our table.

A little later my father-in-law approached the desserts area.   As he was perusing the caramel cake and white potato pie, another nice woman asked him what he would like.  He replied that he favors apple pie.  She pointed in the direction of the iron skillet and he served himself the last slice.  It seems that in my grandmother's town this pie is not only delicious, but it also has a reputation - a good reputation! 

I came to hear about this apple pie while I was enjoying my meal.   A family friend stopped by our table to say hello, offer her condolences, and ask us if we got any of that skillet apple pie.  My dad proudly said, "Yes!" as he gestured to his piece that was patiently waiting next to his overflowing plate.  Of course, being one who is always on the hunt for unique and scrumptious recipes, I took my fork and dived right into my father's precious slice of Iron Skillet Apple Pie.  My bite was so delicious that I immediately headed to the dessert table only to find an empty iron skillet that had been scraped clean of all its apple caramel goodness.  

My mother tracked down the recipe for me so I could share it with my family back in Texas.  They were equally as impressed with this unique and delicious pie.  We all love the crisp texture of the crust that floats on a layer of sweet caramel and encases a heap of soft and flavorful apples.  Next to a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream it is heavenly.   It is also easy to prepare and portable.

The pain of my grandmother's death is still fresh.  I know she is greatly missed by many people including her family, her friends, and her community, but I also know that her legacy of family, friendship, and food remains.  Next to my desk I have a stack of handwritten recipe cards and stained cookbooks that are a part of my inheritance from her.   Over the next months I will remember and I will grieve as I sort though them.  I will also add the recipe for Iron Skillet Apple Pie to this precious collection.

Iron Skillet Apple Pie
          from Southern Living 

for the pie filling:
2 pounds Granny Smith apples
2 pounds Braeburn apples
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar

for the crust:
1 package Pillsbury pie crust (2 crusts)
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 Tablespoons white sugar

1 10 inch cast iron skillet
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Peal apples and cut into 1/2 inch chunks.  Toss apples with 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 3/4 cup white sugar.  Set aside.
  3. Melt butter in 10 inch cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add brown sugar and cook stirring constantly for 2 minutes.  
  4. Removed iron skillet from heat.  Gently place bottom crust into skillet.  Spoon apple mixture into bottom crust.
  5. Add top crust.  Crimp edges with a fork.  Brush top crust with egg white and sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons white sugar.   Cut 5 slits in top crust.
  6. Bake pie in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour or until edges are bubbly, top crust is brown, and a knife easily inserts into the center of the pie.
  7. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Tip:   Place a baking sheet covered with foil on the rack below the pie while it cooks as the juices from the pie will drip down as it bakes.

Iron Skillet Apple Pie

Peal and cut the apples in chunks.  Toss with cinnamon and sugar.
Melt the butter over medium heat.

Add brown sugar to the melted butter.

Stir the melted butter and brown sugar constantly for a few minutes.

Remove skillet from heat and gently place the crust in the bottom.
It will float on top of the butter and brown sugar mixture.
Crust will not go over the edges of the pan like it does with a regular pie plate.

Add the apple mixture.

Add the top crust, crimp the edges with a fork, and brush with egg white.

Cut slits in top crust and sprinkle with white sugar.
Carefully place pie in preheated oven.
Be careful skillet is very hot.

Remove from oven and begin the arduous task of waiting for it to cool.

Hide the last slice to enjoy straight from the pan with a cup of hot coffee!

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