Little Hands A Big Help In the Kitchen

Reindeer Cupcakes

There’s nothing like . . . the soft glow of lights on the tree that illuminate a treasured collection of decorations . . . the excited giggles of delight that fill the air while snuggling with two sweet little ponytails to watch a holiday movie . . . the way that with each sip of wine, the tensions of the past year melt away . . .

It truly is a magical time.

Now that I’ve hung up my baking mitts for another year, it’s time to relax and enjoy my favourite holiday activities. I hope that you are able to do the same.

But I didn’t do it all alone this year. The ponytails were a BIG help during cookie baking season. So, for this last post before Christmas I thought I’d share a few of the sweet treats that the girls and I made together.

First up–Reindeer Cupcakes. My oldest daughter decided that we were going to bake Reindeer Cupcakes for the school potluck–and she sketched out how she wanted them to look. A couple of the materials were going to be a bit tricky to work with, so we negotiated between her ideas and one that I spotted on a Facebook foodie group that I belong to. Thanks to Sue H. for positng a link to With Spinkles on Top’s version of these Reindeer Cupcakes!

Decorating reindeer cupcakess

Decorating the reindeer cupcakes with: mini marshmellows cut in half (eyes), chocolate chips (eyes), pretzels, Nilla biscuits and Swedish Berries (nose). For the cupcakes, use your favourite cupcake and chocolate icing recipe.

Earlier in the year when I saw the beautiful ma’amouls that Fati at Fati’s Recipes and Betsy at Bits and Breadcrumbs had made, I knew that I had to try them . . . but I decided to wait until Christmas. The girls were quick to get into the action with these cookies and they got the knack of whacking the molds very quickly!

SONY DSC

The end result was well worth the effort. Look how beautifully they turned out:

SONY DSC

Our entire family fell in love with the Glaciers and Bear Paws from The Fudgery in Banff, Alberta this summer. So, we tried our hand at recreating them . . . it was as easy as making a small circle with five cashews and squishing a caramel on top. Mom (me) popped them in a 325 degree oven for 6 minutes. Then the girls drizzled with melted semi-sweet chocolate (for the Bear Paws) and melted white chocolate (for the Glaciers).

Bear Paws and Glaciers

Gingerbread and Sugar Cookies make the cookie list every year. My youngest daughter really enjoyed the rolling and cutting process of making both these cookies. Here she is in action with the Gingerbreads.

Ponytail gingerbreads

And here’s the final product of the Snowflake and Tree-shaped Sugar Cookies . . .

SONY DSC

Who knew that little hands could be such a big help in the kitchen? Now I certainly do and I imagine that these little hands will only be more helpful with each passing year. Baking for three weeks solid is always a lot of work, but memories like these make it all worthwhile . . . and so does a peek into one of the cookie boxes . . .

SONY DSC

Recipes

Reindeer Cupcakes — Use your favourite cupcake and chocolate icing recipe. For decorations: mini marshmellows cut in half (eyes), chocolate chips (eyes), pretzels (antler), Nilla biscuits and Swedish Berries (nose). We used white icing to “glue” the ingredients to the cupcake and it worked well.

Ma’amouls — I followed Betsy’s Recipe since I had bought the farina flour at a local specialty shop.

Bear Paws & Glaciers — Make a small circle with five cashews and squish a caramel on top. Pop them in a 325 degree oven for 6 minutes. Then drizzle with melted semi-sweet chocolate (for the Bear Paws) and white chocolate (for the Glaciers).

Sugar Cookies (used for Snowflake and Trees) Martha Stewart Cutout Cookie Dough

Gingerbread Cookies — From Martha Stewart; I double this recipe.

I wish you all a very happy holidays. I hope that they are filled with all the things that you love, like the soft glow of Christmas tree lights and treasured ornaments . . .

SONY DSC

My treasured Eiffel Tower ornament made by my friend Shailyn many years ago and a ballerina to commemorate a first Nutcracker performance for my oldest ponytail.

And sweet things, both big and small . . .

girls with cookies

Getting ready for Santa (Christmas 2011).

Advertisements

The Best Kind of Cheer

Eggnog Martini

Eggnog Martini

There’s no way around it. This time of year is hectic for all of us. I mean that in a “non-stop list of things that need to be done to make your life festive” kind of way.

Evenings and weekends have become a blur of shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating (inside and out) and organizing gifts for teachers and caregivers. The day-to-day parts of life don’t go anywhere either–the laundry, grocery shopping, meal preparation and chauffeuring services–they all need to be taken care of as well.

I guess that I’ve given you a hint to what my weekend was like. It was jam-packed, but I must admit it was fun-filled as well. One of the more unusual tasks was the time I spent assembling and altering a very special costume. You see, I’m on a first name basis with Fritz from the play Beauty and the Beast put on by a group of young people in our neighbourhood.

Behind the scenes with Fritz from Beauty and the Beast and her younger sister.

But all that costume prep was well worth it because it was a very special and memorable production. You can see for yourself. Here’s Fritz in action:

SONY DSC

Fritz (far left-hand side) in action during a Beauty and the Beast performance.

So obviously there are some rewards to all of this work. But, there’s another reward that I look forward to at the end of a long day . . . the holiday cocktail.

It’s the best kind of cheer, isn’t it? My new favourite holiday cocktail is an Eggnog Martini. I love eggnog, but I’m not a huge fan of rum and eggnog. Made with Amaretto and Vodka, this martini is a great alternative. My husband and I had these while we trimmed the tree last week, and then again tonight after we returned home from the big performance. I think it’ll become a holiday tradition for years to come.

Hope that you can find time to put up your feet, relax and enjoy the best kind of cheer.

SONY DSC

Eggnog Martini

Adapted from Single Minded Women

  • 1 ounce Amaretto
  • 3/4 ounce Vodka
  • 3.5 ounce eggnog
  • pinch of nutmeg

Add ice, eggnog, vodka and Amaretto to a martini shaker. Shake for a minute. Pour into martini glass. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Makes 1. Repeat as many times as necessary.


Seven Pounds: Will It Be Enough?

Cookies, cookies, cookies

It was on sale. So I bought lots. Well, seven pounds to be precise.

Was it enough to make this?

Butter sculpture of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford reading a Margaret Atwood book, while leaning on a steering wheel, which was on display at this year’s Canadian National Exhibition (Source: Torstar News Service)

No, definitely not enough to make a butter carving of Toronto’s controversial Mayor, Rob Ford, (who BTW may soon be outsted from his position over a conflict of interest, not for reading while driving or slinging mud at our literary legend Margaret Atwood).

But it was enough butter to make some of these:

SONY DSC

I took a couple of days off work so that I could get a good start at my holiday baking this weekend, so some of the seven pounds of butter that I bought on sale has been put to good use. Every year, I bake 10 to 15 different batches of cookies and then I give most of them away to friends, family and work colleagues. It is firmly entrenched Christmas tradition, as I’ve been doing this for 11 years now.

However, not everyone likes this tradition. My youngest ponytail burst into tears when she realized that most of her favourite Chocolate-Dipped Butterscotch Logs were headed to the freezer to make their way into these cookie boxes. “But they’re my favourite cookies.” (Be sure to say this with a very loud crying voice, and you are close to reinacting the dramatic scene that unfolded in my kitchen on Sunday.)

SONY DSC

My youngest ponytail’s beloved Chocolate-Dipped Butterscotch Logs

The art of distraction is a parent’s best friend and I’ve managed to distract my daughter with store-bought candy cane ice cream–even if only temporarily.

I love the fact that everyone has a different favourite cookie. Rhonda requests the Rolo Cookie every year. A big fan of coconut, Maria hides the Coconut Pyramids from her partner. Harry will only eat my Checkerboard Cookies, which always stir a debate on how the checkerboard pattern is really created. Mercedes likes to ask for extra Salted Toffee-Chocolate Squares. My Double-Chocolate Chunk Cookies have universal appeal. And, Glen is easy to please–he’ll take any and all cookies that I’m willing to part with.

SONY DSC

Salted Toffee-Chocolate Squares

This year I’ve added two new cookies to the mix thanks to a couple of my blogging buddies.

Nell’s Sugar Cookies (the pretty cookies with the cherry in the middle) are thanks to Barb over at Just a Smidgen (one of my favourite bloggers who, by the way, has received two 2012 Canadian Blog Awards. Way to go Barb!) I knew that I had to make these cookies when Barb posted them a few months back. Simple, with a comforting old fashioned appeal, one bite of these cookies takes me back to my own grandmother’s kitchen. They are sure to be a new favourite this year.

I’ve been wanting to make Chocolate Crinkle Kisses (the adorable crinkle cookies with the Candy Cane Kiss in the middle) for ages now. These cookies make an annual appearance in the wonderful box of cookies that Eva (of Kitchen Inspirations) always brings us on Christmas Eve and I’m never fast enough at hiding them from the rest of the family! As you can see, both of these cookies bring some festive colour to the cookie selection.

SONY DSC

Left to right on large platter: Eva’s Chocolate Crinkle Kisses, Coconut Pyramids, Smidge’s Grandma Nell’s Sugar Cookies and Salted Toffee-Chocolate Squares

So now the question remains, will the seven pounds be enough? Not nearly, if my ponytails get their way!

PS — Given that well over three quarters of my cookies go to treasured daycare staff and work colleagues as a way to say thanks, I’m not able to give cookies to as many of our friends and family as I would like. However, I always keep a supply on hand to put out for company so feel free to drop by for a visit–just be sure to call first!

Cookie Recipes (from Photos)

Salted Toffee-Chocolate Squares (Martha Stewart)

Nell’s Sugar Cookies (Just a Smidgen)

Chocolate Crinkle Kisses (Kitchen Inspirations)

Coconut Pyramids (Originally from Martha Stewart; posted on P&P December 2011)

Chocolate-Dipped Butterscotch Logs

Slightly adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, 2004 Special Christmas Cookie Edition

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup butter scotch baking pieces, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
  • 1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocloate pieces
  • 1-1/2 tbsp shortening

In a large bowl, beat butter on medium high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat until combined, scraping side of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour and the butterscotch pieces.

Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a 9-inch long log; flatten so logs are about 2-1/2-inches wide. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours until firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a sharp knife, cut logs crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Place slices 1 inch apart on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Transfer to wire rack; cool.

Meanwhile, spread almonds in a single layer in a shallow baking pan. Toast in the 350 degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown, stirring ocassionally. Remove from oven; cool.

Combine chocolate pieces and shortening in metal bowl. Place over simmering pot of water until melted. Dip ends of cookies into the melted chocolate. Place cookies on wire rack. Sprinkle almonds on chocolate. Let stand for 30 minutes or until chocolate is set. Makes about 54.