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!

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!

Italian Cookies: The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

Over the past two weeks, food bloggers have shipped more than 22,000 cookies worldwide as part of the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.  I’m thrilled to say I contributed thirty-six of those cookies!  When I heard about the swap while reading over at Love and Olive Oil, I immediately knew I’d be making my family’s fabulous Italian Cookies.  My grandmother and great-aunts made these when I was growing up.  I can clearly remember traveling one December with my grandmother, accompanied by a tin of the brightly-colored beauties on which my grandfather snacked throughout the trip.

Last Christmas, I made these Italian Cookies for the first time, and I think I’ll continue my tradition of baking them for years to come.  I’ve seen a couple of similar recipes across the internet, but most contain fig or anisette.  My Italian cookies are simply flavored with vanilla and almond extract.  Of course, a variety of flavors could be substituted.  I love making different variations on the effortless glaze, swapping, for example, lemon extract for the almond extract.

A word of warning: this recipe is HUGE.  I don’t even own a bowl big enough to hold all of the ingredients, so, after creaming the butter and sugar, I had to mix the other ingredients by hand on my kitchen table.  My mixer was angry at me for making it cream over six sticks of butter!  I’ve never been quite certain what makes these cookies particularly Italian, but I will say one thing: this recipe is sure to feed a stereotypically enormous Italian family like mine!

Look at all of those ingredients! The shady-looking bottle in the back is my Mexican vanilla. The wine doesn't go into the cookies but is recommended to increase your baking enjoyment.

Don’t be scared off by the size of the recipe.  I often make all of the dough, then freeze whatever I don’t want to use at the time.  You can divide the dough into logs, then wrap them individually in foil, place them in freezer bags, and save them for months.  If you wanted to split the recipe (I never do this because I always freeze any leftover dough), try subbing orange juice and extra sugar for the container of frozen orange juice, so you don’t have to worry about dividing up the can.  The variations on this recipe are endless: you could use other festive hues for different seasons, add color to the dough instead of the glaze, place sliced almonds on the top, and substitute all sorts of extracts.

Cookie Glaze Art: Jackson Pollock only wishes his paintings were this tasty and festive.

Later this week, I’ll be sharing some tips for shipping cookies, as well as a round-up of the beautiful cookies I received from Catherine at The Cat Dish, Gabby at And I Have to Live With a Boy!, and Katherine at Red Rover.  Thank you for the gorgeous goodies, ladies!

If you are interested in hearing about next year’s swap, be sure to sign up here to get on the email list!

Italian Cookies
Makes about 10 dozen cookies

Ingredients:
6 1/4 sticks of unsalted butter
4 cups sugar
5 eggs
5 egg yolks
5 lbs flour (I used White Lily)
5 Tbsp baking powder
4 tsp salt
1 small can frozen orange juice, thawed (12 fl oz)
1/2 cup milk
5-6 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp almond extract
1 Tbsp lemon juice

1. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 10-12 minutes. Add eggs and egg yolks, mixing to combine throughly.

2. Meanwhile, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. I mixed my ingredients together on a table.

3. Make a well in the dry ingredients, then add butter, sugar, and egg mixture and work everything together by hand to combine.

4. Gradually add frozen orange juice, milk, extracts, and lemon juice. Mix well by hand. Dough will be fairly sticky.

5. Refrigerate dough for 1-2 hours. You can also refrigerate dough overnight (it will stay fresh in the fridge if well covered for over a week), but be sure to let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before baking if you leave it in the fridge for more than an hour or two. Pre-heat oven to 350°. Line cookie sheets with Silpat or waxed paper.

6. Scoop dough by rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheet. If you are a perfectionist like me, feel free to weigh each lump of dough before gently but quickly rolling it between your hands to form a flawless ball and placing it on the cookie sheet. Each of my cookies weighed approximately 1.25 oz or .078 lbs.

7. Bake for 12 minutes, or until bottoms of cookies just barely start to brown. I like baking my cookies for 6 minutes, then rotating the cookie sheet 180° to bake for the last 6 minutes to ensure that the batch bakes consistently.

8. Let cool completely on cooling rack before icing.

Glaze
frosts about 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp milk, lemon juice, or water
1-2 tsp almond extract (try substituting lemon or other flavors!)
gel food coloring

1. Combine all ingredients except food coloring. Add more sugar if glaze is too runny and more liquid if too thick. Add food coloring, and keep adding until desired color is achieved.

2. Dip tops of cookies into glaze, shaking off extra glaze. Place cookies on cooling rack with waxed paper underneath.

3. Wait a minute or two for the glaze to start to set, but not so long that the sprinkles won’t stick, then add sprinkles if desired. I discovered that I like the effect of the large sparkling sugars I used last year much better than the tiny sprinkles I used this year.

4. Share with friends and family and enjoy!

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap Sneak Peek

Lindsay at Love and Olive Oil and Julie of The Little Kitchen have organized the first annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.  I’m very excited to participate this year!  This evening I’ve been whipping together a giant (and I mean GIANT) batch of cookies, three dozen of which I plan to ship to three other food bloggers in the US.  Tomorrow I’ll be putting the finishing touches on my cookies and sending them off to my cookie swap matches hundreds of miles away.  Here’s a sneak peek of what I’m making this year.

This is a photo from last year when I made a version of these tasty treats.  I included them in our cute little boxes of baked goods that we traveled to Virginia with and gave as Christmas gifts, and they were a hit!  I’ll be posting the recipe and updated photos this week.

Be sure to check back in on Monday, December 12 to discover what became of the five pounds of White Lily flour and over six sticks of butter that succumbed to my culinary whims today!