Christmas Cookie Roundup

sugar & spice

sugar & spice

Even though today is Christmas Eve Eve, it’s not too late to make some Christmas cookies. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve made over the past few years. (Click on the photo for the recipe.)

Hello Dollies (aka Magic Cookie Bars) – so many delicious layers

check out all those layers

check out all those layers

Cream Cheese Spritz Cookies – get your (cookie) gun

cream cheese spritz

trim the tree

No-Bake Chocolate Clusters – there’s literally no baking involved; just melt, mix and set

no-bake chocolate clusters

no bake, no fuss

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Christmas Cookie Day: Toffee Bars

toffee cookie bars

toffee time

These aren’t your typical Christmas cookies. But who says you need to be typical? The holidays deserve something special, and there’s something very special about toffee and chocolate and a few well placed flakes of sea salt.

Toffee Bars
1 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon of baking powder
½ teaspoon of salt
1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cups of brown sugar
1 egg
½ vanilla
1/4 cup toffee bits
1 ½ cups of Heath candy bar bits*
½ teaspoon of flaky sea salt

Heat your oven to 325º.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, and then add the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture a little at a time until well combined. Stir in the toffee bits.

Lightly grease an 8×8 (or similar) baking dish. Line with parchment paper, leaving extra that hangs over the edge, and lightly grease the parchment. Spread the batter into the dish in an even layer. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Sprinkle the Heath bits over the top and bake a few minutes more until the chocolate is melted. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the sea salt, and let cool completely in the dish. When cool, use the parchment paper to lift out the bars and then cut into squares. Then eat.

*I used 30 miniature Heath bars, which I unwrapped, placed into a large ziploc bag and then smashed with a rolling pin. It was very therapeutic.


Light the Grill En Fuego

chorizo burger

relish this

Is it loco to put chorizo in a burger? I don’t think so, considering Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner. I’ve been calling this my South of the Border burger, because it’s got a mix of Mexican flavors and some nice heat. The onion & jalapeño relish, especially when using HOT jalapeño slices, may seem a tad loco, but it’s actually fantastico. The red pepper mayo adds more flavor and some subtle heat. Okay, so maybe this burger is hotter than I realized, which is why I should really call this the En Fuego Burger. But whatever you call it, this is a tasty way to celebrate. Along with a margarita, of course.

Chorizo Burgers with Onion & Jalapeño Relish and Red Pepper Mayo
For the burger:
1 1/4  lb of ground sirloin
1 large link of chorizo, casing removed & inside crumbled
1 small onion, grated
1 teaspoon of Adobo seasoning
½ cup of breadcrumbs
4 slices of Monterey Jack cheese
4 whole wheat hamburger buns

For the relish:
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 small onion, finely sliced
½ cup of bottled hot jalapeño slices, drained
3 tablespoons of brown sugar
Salt and pepper

For the mayo:
2 medium jarred roasted red peppers, drained
1/4 cup of mayonnaise
1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper

In a large bowl, combine the ground sirloin, chorizo, onion (just grate it right into the bowl), Adobo and breadcrumbs, but don’t overmix. Shape into 4 patties, and then put on a plate and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the relish. Add the olive oil to a skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the onions and jalapeño slices, stir in the brown sugar and season with a little salt and pepper. Sauté for about 15 minutes, occasionally stirring, until the onions and jalapeños have caramelized. Let cool to room temperature.

When ready to eat, preheat your outdoor grill or indoor grill pan to medium-high heat. Add the burger patties and cook about 10 minutes on each side – which may be a little longer than you normally grill, but make sure the chorizo is cooked through. Add cheese slices on top of the burgers during the last 5 minutes of grilling.

While the burgers cook, make the mayo. Combine the red peppers and mayonnaise in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. (This can be made ahead of time; in fact, the flavors will be even better if you let it sit in the fridge overnight.)

To assemble the burgers, spread some red pepper mayo on the bottom of the buns. Add a burger, a spoonful of onion & jalapeño relish and then the top buns. Then eat.


Squash Crostini is Coming to Town

butternut squash, ricotta & sage crostini

butternut pout, butternot cry … unless you run out

I’m visiting my family in Texas this week, and wouldn’t you know it – my mom put me to work making appetizers for their annual Christmas party. It’s funny how things change as we get older, right? I was very happy to oblige, of course. Now I can finally (start to) repay all those years of her working away in the kitchen for every holiday, birthday and special event throughout my life. My dad requested the sausage stuffed mushrooms I made for him on Father’s Day, and for another one, I decided to make these butternut squash, ricotta and sage crostini. They seem fancy but are actually really simple to make. All of the parts taste great on their own, but when combined on top of a lightly toasted slice of bread – it’s practically a Christmas miracle. So you butter watch out, these go quickly. You don’t want to pout if you don’t get one.

Butternut Squash, Ricotta & Sage Crostini
– 1 2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded & cut into small cubes
– 1 ½ teaspoons of brown sugar
– ¾ cup of ricotta
– ½ teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest
– Pinch of garlic salt
– 24 fresh sage leaves
– 1 baguette, sliced thin
– Olive oil
– Sea salt and pepper

Heat your oven to 425º.

In a large bowl, toss the butternut squash with a few tablespoons of olive oil and the brown sugar. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Spread the mixture in a thin layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes, or until the squash is golden and tender. Stir once during roasting. Let cool to room temperature.

In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, lemon zest and garlic salt, and season to taste with pepper. Cover and let chill until ready to use.

Place the baguette slices on a baking sheet, lightly drizzle with olive oil and toast for a few minutes. At the same time, heat a tablespoon of oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add a few sage leaves and fry until the edges begin to curl and they turn dark green, about 1 to 2 minutes. Place on a paper towel-lined plate and lightly sprinkle with sea salt. Repeat until all the sage leaves are fried.

While bread is still slightly warm, spread 1 tablespoon of ricotta mixture on each slice. Top with a few cubes of roasted squash and a fried sage leaf or two. Then serve.


Christmas Cookie Day: Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s Brownies

Candy Cane Joe-Joe's Brownies

joe to the world

Okay, brownies technically aren’t cookies. But if you put out a plate of brownies at your holiday party would people complain? Heck no. Especially not brownies made with chopped up Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s. These cookies only make an appearance during the holiday season, but let me tell you – I dream about them all year long. There’s something magical about chocolate cookies filled with candy cane cream. My friends & I have been obsessed with them for years, once we discovered the Trader Joe’s a few blocks away from our office had them. We used to take afternoon field trips to the store to get them, and then secretly hide them away in our desks so nobody would steal our precious treats. Sure, you might say Candy Cane Oreos are just the same. But let me tell you, they are not. The real flecks of candy cane make a big difference. Feel free to add actual candy cane pieces if you want these brownies extra pepperminty.

Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s Brownies
– 8 oz of semisweet chocolate chips
– ¼ cup of cocoa powder
– 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
– ¾ cup of flour
– ½ teaspoon of baking powder
– ¼ teaspoon of salt
– ½ cup of brown sugar
– ¼ cup of sugar
– 2 eggs
– 1 teaspoon of vanilla
– 18 Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s, chopped into pieces

Heat your oven to 350º.

In a saucepan, melt the chocolate chips, cocoa powder and butter over low heat, stirring occasionally. When nearly melted, remove from the heat and whisk until smooth.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the sugars, eggs and vanilla. Slowly add the chocolate mixture and beat until combined, then beat in the flour mixture a little at time until a thick, glossy batter forms. Stir in about ¾ of the Candy Cane Joe-Joe pieces. Pour the batter into a lightly greased 8×8 baking dish and top with the remaining Joe-Joe pieces. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean. Let cool completely and then cut into squares.

Candy Cane Joe-Joe's Brownies

have a holly jo(e)lly christmas

So tell me: Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s versus Candy Cane Oreos, what’s better?


Christmas Cookie Day: Pecan Butter Balls

Pecan Butter Balls

let it snow(ball)

It’s time for a snowball fight! Okay, not really. But these pecan butter balls do look a lot like little snowballs, especially since they’re covered in powdered sugar. But unlike a ball of ice, these cookies have chopped pecans inside. They’ll go perfectly with a hot cup of coffee or your afternoon tea. Or your morning hot-drink-of-choice for that matter. You could use walnuts or almonds, but then they won’t be pecan butter balls anymore.

Pecan Butter Balls
– 2 cups of flour
– ¼ cup of sugar
– ½ teaspoon of salt
– 1 cup (2 sticks) of margarine or butter
– 2 teaspoons of vanilla
– 2 cups of finely chopped pecans
– Powdered sugar, enough to cover the balls

Heat your oven to 325º.

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the margarine and vanilla and mix together with a wooden spoon or a pastry cutter. Keep mashing it all together (this will take a few minutes) until a soft dough forms. Mix in pecans.

Shape into 1 inch balls and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 25 minutes, or until firm and lightly browned on bottom. While still a little warm, roll or sprinkle the balls in powdered sugar. Let cool completely and then eat.


Christmas Cookie Day: Cream Cheese Spritz Cookies

cream cheese spritz

trim the trees

It’s that time of year again, people! Trees are being trimmed. Jack Frost is nipping at your nose. And every Monday is Christmas Cookie Day. Last year I introduced everyone to Hershey Kiss Things, a long-time holiday tradition in my family. Well, these cream cheese cookies have had a place alongside them for as long as I can remember. They’re so creamy and tasty, it’s nearly impossible to eat just one. Plus, it’s fun to use a cookie press to stamp out little trees, wreaths, snowmen or whatever festive shapes you want.

Cream Cheese Spritz Cookies
– ½ cup (1 stick) of margarine, softened
– 4 oz of cream cheese, softened
– ⅓ cup of sugar
– 1 egg yolk
– 1 ½ teaspoon of orange extract
– 1 ½ cups of flour
– ½ teaspoon of salt
– Food coloring and festive sprinkles (optional)

Heat your oven to 400º.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the margarine, cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk and orange extract together. Add the flour and salt and beat until well combined. Add a few teaspoons of green food coloring and mix.

Place the dough into a cookie press, pick a festive stencil like a Christmas tree or wreath, and press the cookies onto an ungreased baking sheet. Add sprinkles. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes. Keep a close eye on the cookies while they bake – the bottoms can brown (and burn) quite quickly. Let cool and then eat.

cream cheese spritz

deck the halls

Check back every Monday this month for more great Christmas cookie recipes!