Christmas Recap + Chex Mix

I hope everyone had a merry Christmas!  After our trip to Louisiana, we are getting settled back in here in Texas, putting away the last few presents and polishing off the ten-billion tons of remaining Christmas candy and other goodies.

Over the holiday weekend, I spent many happy moments with family,

trained the next generation in the fine art of over-decorating Christmas cookies,

played with puppies,

consumed a variety of delicious food and beverages,

and generally tried way too hard to take artsy pictures with my new iPhone.

Besides my new iPhone, I was thrilled to receive the beautiful glass bowl I’d been eyeing for years for my KitchenAid mixer as well as a new 18-55 mm lens for my camera.

And now that Christmas Day has passed, it is safe to reveal what goodies I cooked up to give. These cute gift baskets were my presents to family in town, and they included Italian cookies, peppermint bark, homemade vanilla extract, green jalapeno pepper jelly, and homemade vanilla bean caramel sauce.  To my husband’s family members across the country and overseas, I shipped Italian cookies, peppermint bark, fudge, and this delicious Chex mix with homemade bagel chips.

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill Chex mix.  The addition of homemade bagel chips, pecans, and loads of additional spices make it an addictive treat!

Chex Mix with Homemade Bagel Chips

Bagel Chips

There isn’t a precise science to making these bagel chips.  Season them how you like them and feel free to get creative!

2 plain bagels, sliced horizontally into quarters
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
Italian seasoning
Garlic powder
Garlic salt
Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 325°.  Melt butter in microwave in small, microwaveable bowl.

2. Add olive oil to butter.  Add Italian seasoning, garlic powder, garlic salt, and Parmesan cheese to taste.  Brush fronts and backs of bagel slices with mixture.

3. Bake bagel slices on cookie sheet for 10 minutes on one side, then 5 additional minutes on second side, or until golden brown.  Remove from oven.  Bagel chips will harden as they cool.  Break into bite-size pieces and enjoy alone or in Chex mix.

inspired by Emeril

Chex Mix

3 cups rice Chex
3 cups corn Chex
3 cups wheat Chex
2-2.5 cups bagel chips
2-2.5 cups pecans
1 stick butter (I used salted, but it depends on your preference. I love my food super-salty!)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp season salt
2 tsp garlic powder
1.25 tsp onion powder

1. Preheat oven to 250°.  Melt stick of butter in large roasting pan in oven.

2. Meanwhile, mix Chex cereals, bagel chips, and pecans in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, mix season salt, garlic powder, and onion powder.

3. When butter is melted, stir in Worcestershire sauce and seasonings until well combined.  Gradually stir in cereals, bagel chips, and pecans until they are coated with butter and seasonings.

4. Bake for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes.  Spread mix onto paper towels to cool.  Store in an airtight container.

Variations: Add pretzels; substitute other nuts (though I promise, pecans are by far superior).

Adapted from my Mama, adapted from Chex

Peppermint Bark

We made it to Louisiana yesterday to celebrate the holidays with my family.  This morning, I gave one of my goddaughters her apron, so she could wear it for our annual marathon Christmas cookie-baking session, and she loved it!  As children, my siblings and cousins and I would decorate Christmas cookies to leave for Santa every year.  Now, we bake cookies with our cousins’ children, who love to load their cookies up with so many M&Ms, chocolate chips, and sprinkles as to render them completely inedible, much as we used to do when we were little (and some of us still do…not me, of course!).  The cookies usually come out of the oven looking like colorful blobs, completely unrecognizable as the gingerbread men, Christmas trees, and angels they were meant to be.  I’m sure half of our cookies quietly made their ways into the trash within a few days because Santa couldn’t possibly stomach them, and we didn’t have any business consuming that much sugar.

This peppermint bark, on the other hand, is a treat sure to please Santa, Mrs. Claus, and his elves.  It’s fun to make, and simple to throw together.  I struggled with the white chocolate and ended up just using white bark (don’t knock it…I promise you can’t tell the difference when mixed with delicious semi-sweet chocolate and sprinkled with candy canes).  Inspired by the pretty peppermint bark you see in stores like Williams-Sonoma, I swirled the chocolates together.  The first batch I made this year (and I’ve made many!) was, though still tasty, a minor disaster.  I poured the semi-sweet chocolate into the pan first, then added a layer of white chocolate, and finally sprinkled the broken candy canes on top.  When the bark cooled, and I tried to break it apart, the layers sadly separated.  Unsure of what caused this issue and unwilling to experiment and figure it out, I swirled the chocolates to create a much prettier effect certain not to separate.

I’m off to make my last batch of peppermint bark now.  I hope all of you enjoy the holidays and lots of delicious goodies, no matter where you are!

Peppermint Bark
makes two cookie sheets of bark

Ingredients:
1 package (10-12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips (or solid chocolate, chopped)
1 package (10-12 oz) white chocolate chips or white bark (or solid chocolate, chopped)
1 package candy canes (6 oz)

1. Line two jelly roll pans (cookie sheets with lips all the way around) with waxed paper or parchment paper. Unwrap candy canes and break into pieces. I placed candy canes in a ziplock bag and crushed them with a meat mallet.

2. Fill bottoms of two double boilers, or two pots with heat-proof bowls on top, with water. Bring water to a simmer. Melt white chocolate in one boiler and semi-sweet in the other. Stir until smooth.

3. Spoon dollops of the two chocolates into each pan, then use a fork to swirl them together until the chocolate is evenly distributed and the desired pattern is achieved. Sprinkle tops with broken candy cane.

4. Let bark cool, then break into pieces.

Last-Minute Children’s Gift Idea

Phew!  I finally finished my Christmas shopping yesterday.  Thank goodness for free two-day shipping on Amazon.  Every year, I swear I am more on top of my Christmas preparations than I was the previous year, then suddenly, mid-December surprises me out of nowhere!  I mean, really, that sneaky Christmas, who knew it would come on December 25 this year?  Fortunately, all I have left to do is whip up another batch of peppermint bark, assemble my gift baskets, and get ready to head to Louisiana with my husband and pups to celebrate Christmas.

I hope you are also all finished with your shopping and ready to relax and enjoy the holidays.  But, if you need to get a last-minute gift for a child, perhaps a budding baker, I’ve got an idea for you.  I picked up an adorable apron at Williams-Sonoma last week for each of my goddaughters.

Isn’t it cute?  The apron was just over $20.  Williams-Sonoma has dozens of styles that would be perfect for both girls and boys, including aprons with baking-inspired designs and sports logos.  I bought mine in the store, but apparently, it’s still not too late to order online for Christmas delivery.  I’m sure you can find children’s aprons in a variety of toy stores as well.  And of course, for those of you more organized than I could ever hope to be who may already be thinking about birthdays and next Christmas, you could order lovely, handmade aprons ahead of time (Imagine…ordering gifts ahead of time!) from Etsy.

So that my goddaughters can put their new aprons to good use (and christen them with chocolate frosting), I also tucked some cake mix, icing, cupcake wrappers, and sprinkles into their presents.  Of course, these girls are only 3- and 5-years old, so their parents will be doing most of the baking, but kids adore helping mix and measure as well as licking the spoon.

I love how bright and happy these sprinkles are that I found in my grocery store.  You could give all sorts of baking accoutrements and tools: cupcake tins, rubber spatulas, cupcake toppers, tubes of colored icing, or cookie cutters.  This is such a delightful and budget-friendly gift idea for children (or even adult baking novices) that you can customize based on the age of the receiver.

I hope all of you are lucky enough to give and receive gifts this holiday season that are as much fun as this present was for me to put together!

Tips for Obsessively Packaging and Shipping Cookies

When I shipped my cookies for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap this year, I did a little research on the best way to ship baked goods.  I’ve shipped cookies, fudge, peppermint bark, and other delicious treats before, but I haven’t always been as careful as I should have about how I mailed them.  For example, when I shipped sugar cookies in the shape of cowboys, longhorns, and the state of Texas to the girls I was asking to be my bridesmaids several years ago, I suspect the cookies were fairly unrecognizable by the time they arrived at their destination.  Granted, that was partly due to my complete cookie decorating ineptness, but I don’t think I packaged them very well either.  Thus, I was very nervous about sending my cookies for the swap and wanted them to arrive on my cookie swap matches’ doorsteps in pristine condition.

So, I did a little research and relied on the tips Lindsey at Love and Olive Oil offered on the best methods for mailing baked goods.  I thought I’d share the links to some of the tips and tutorials I came across:

1. Cookie Swap Packaging and Shipping Tips @ Love and Olive Oil
2. How to Package Cookies for Shipping: A Video Tutorial @ University of Cookie
3. Shipping Cookies…Works for Me Wednesday @ Bake at 350 (a picture/written version of the above video tutorial)
4. How to Ship and Package Cookies @ i am baker
5. Christmas Cookies: How to Ship Cookies @ marthastewart.com (not the most useful information, but pretty packaging ideas!)
6. How to Ship Cookies and Other Treats for the Holidays @ chow.com

And here’s how I packaged my cookies this year:

1. I loaded up on shipping supplies at Office Depot.  I bought bubble wrap and 12 in. x 9 in. x 2 in. boxes.  They were having a sale for $5 off a $20 purchase, so I bought even more bubble wrap.  I also picked up some medium-sized flat rate USPS boxes that ship for about $11.

2.  I layered a couple of sheets of bubble wrap in the smaller boxes, placed my cookies in gallon-sized Ziplock bags, and set them on top of the bubble wrap.  A couple more sheets of bubble wrap on top, some rolled up tissue paper along the sides of the box, and voilà!  An obsessively, overzealously packaged box of cookies!

3.  I put a cute red spatula with a note inside the box.  I should have included a little information about what I was shipping in my note.  Obviously, the cute red spatula is optional, but it is highly recommended.

4.  I then wrapped the entire box in more bubble wrap and placed it in the flat-rate box with a few packing peanuts.  I probably could have skipped the additional bubble wrap and used more peanuts or tissue paper, but I was running out of both and was really excited about using bubble wrap.

5.  I went back to Office Depot to ship the boxes.  Apparently, they are also offering 20% off shipping services over $20, so I got a pretty good deal.  I’m still not sure if the flat-rate boxes are always more economical, but I’m a fan of how convenient they are.

I have quite a few more boxes of goodies to ship before Christmas, so this shipping experience was excellent practice to make sure all of my holiday treats arrive in beautiful shape!

Also, be sure to check out the cookie swap round-up posted at Love and Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen:

Part 1
Part 2

There are approximately a trillion cookie recipes collected in these round-ups.  Enjoy!

Raclette: An Interactive Feast

3.5 pounds of beautiful raclette cheese

Have you ever had fondue?  Raclette is a similarly interactive and originally Swiss meal involving lots of cheese.  We had a raclette party with three other couples Saturday night, and it was amazingly decadent.  The word raclette comes from the the French verb, “racler,” meaning “to scrape.”  Apparently, cow herders in Switzerland used to take wheels of cheese with them during the day and then melt the cheese over the campfire for their evening meal.  They’d scrape off bits of melted cheese over their bread and enjoy them together.

raclette grill in action with cheese trays underneath

Raclette has come a long way since then.  I own a raclette machine, a tabletop electric grill under which you place small trays, just the size for melting slices of raclette cheese, which is semi-firm and made from cow’s milk.  You pour the rich melted cheese over the tops of the meat and vegetables cooked on the grill.

one of two trays of vegetables

We grilled marinated flank steak, marinated shrimp, squash, zucchini, mushrooms, and red and green bell peppers.  The grilled zucchini was a surprising hit, and I think everyone loved the addition of shrimp to the mix.  Personally, I thought the steak and mushrooms were delightful.

shrimp and boiled potatoes

Our friend Shea boiled some potatoes, a traditional raclette accompaniment over which you lovingly pour more melted cheese, and also made a magnificent salad involving bacon, avocado, strawberries, and red bell pepper.  We had fresh bread as well, and Shawn, who brought the cheese from the cheese shop where he works, picked out a nice red wine to complement the meal.

smokin' steak

I first enjoyed raclette at a dinner party with my host family in Paris, and I just loved the experience of spending hours preparing your own food at the table and chatting about who-knows-what until late into the night.  While the meal, of course, was out-of-this world fabulous, a medley of flavors that melded together perfectly, the true pleasure of the meal was time spent lingering around the table in conversation with friends.

Cookie Swap Round-Up

Last week, I was thrilled to receive cookies from three different bloggers as part of the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.  Catherine at The Cat Dish sent me these adorable and deliciously addictive kakimochi chocolate sweetheart cookies all the way from Hawaii!

Catherine gave me a little background on the cookies: she said, “The crunchy stuff (kakimochi) is Japanese rice crackers. They’re flavored with soy sauce. So it’s a bit unusual. But in Hawaii it’s a popular snack. We eat them in buttered popcorn at movie theaters. Seriously.”  I hope I can find some here in Austin to try making these delights myself!  Check out Catherine’s recipe for the cookies here.

Next, I received Katherine’s Red and White Sugar Cookie Pinwheels.  She says on her blog, Red Rover, that got the idea for these cuties on Pinterest!

She rolled the logs of dough in non-pareils before baking and dipped half of the cookies in melted white chocolate and crushed peppermint after baking.  So yummy!  Here‘s her recipe.

Finally, Gabby at And I Have to Live With a Boy! sent these Dark Brown Sugar Cinnamon and Pomegranate Craisin Oatmeal Cookies.  Phew, that’s a mouthful of tasty goodness!  These cookies contain the perfect balance of sweet and tangy.  My husband is obsessed with them!  Stop by Gabby’s blog to see her recipe for these treats.

I hope you’ll consider signing up for the swap next year.  Don’t forget to subscribe to hear about the event in 2012 here.  And stay tuned for the massive cookie swap round-up at Love and Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen on Thursday!

If you found my blog through the cookie swap, please take a second to say “hi!”  I love hearing from my readers and hope you’ll drop by again soon!