I put my family in a diabetic coma over the holidays.

Do you find yourself in charge of making something in particular for the holidays? I’m usually in charge of desserts.

No complaints here.

Since none of these calories count, here was the opportunity to really go overboard.

My mother-in-law asked if I could make something for their annual Christmas lunch where all of us get together. Does an alligator pee in a swamp? Of course.

But, what to make? The family LOVES cheesecake, and I knew there would be over 30 people at the gathering and one cheesecake won’t cut it. So what do you do in a situation like this?

Make two cheesecakes.

And a cake.

And two types of cookies.

And another cake.

What about my side of the family for a Christmas gathering? Several people on my side are weirdly picky about what they like, so something that will easily make everyone happy is the way to do it.

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So, here’s the Christmas dessert lineup to stuff our families like Hansel and Gretel:

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Chocolate Oreo Cheesecake:  rich, chocolate cheesecake with an Oreo crust and Oreo chunks packed throughout the cheesecake, topped with chocolate ganache, fresh whipped cream and a mini Oreo cookie.

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Tiramisu Cheesecake:  coffee cheesecake with a Nilla wafer crust, ladyfingers dipped in coffee and kahlua, and a mascarpone-cream topping with sprinkled cocoa.

Boston Creme Pie:  two layers of fluffy vanilla cake filled with vanilla pastry cream, covered with chocolate ganache.

Red Velvet Cake:  two layers of moist red velvet cake smothered with cream cheese icing.

Chocolate Chip Cookies:  thick, soft, and chewy chocolate chip cookies. No further explanation needed.

White Chocolate Peanut Butter Ritz Cookies:  two Ritz crackers sandwiching a thick layer of creamy peanut butter, dipped in white chocolate.

We had to make sure we saved chocolate chip cookies for Santa. He’s so needy.

The only promise I can make right now is to avoid eating any more desserts…for a couple days. I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!

All I want for Christmas…

…is a Gift Certificate to Target.

Like, a $10,000 Gift Certificate.

And a full 8 hour day to shop by myself and spend every single penny.

If you’re wondering why Target, I’ll tell you…

BECAUSE THEY HAVE EVERYTHING. Clothes, shoes, accessories, make-up, toys, games, electronics, decorations, bedding, furniture, KITCHEN STUFF, even food. And that’s why I would need 8 hours of alone shopping time to spend $10,000.

How many times have you been in that store with the intentions of just buying ONE thing? And how many things did you end up buying?!

“I don’t even need a shopping cart for the one thing I’m getting.” Ten minutes later, you’re running back up to the front of the store to get one and fill it up because your arms can’t carry the 35 things you HAVE to buy right this second.

My mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and this was what I told her. Well, not the $10,000 part. She said, “I don’t like giving gift certificates as presents, you gotta have something to open.”

Isn’t gift giving about the person RECEIVING gifts? For some reason that’s what I thought.

I snorted and told her she was silly, then told my husband. He said, “I feel the same way, and hate giving gift certificates.” WHY?!?! Oh my gosh, the opportunity to spend a bunch of money that’s not mine AND shop by myself? WHAT BETTER GIFT IS THERE THAN THAT?! World Peace??

As a kid, my favorite presents to get were cards. Why? Because if it was coming from a relative, there was a 99.9% chance there was money inside that card. That meant I got to decide what to do with that money. Go shopping? Go to the movies? Spend it on ice cream? Who cares, money was at my disposal. That’s why I end up giving my nieces and nephews money as gifts once they reach a certain age. Kids get picky as they grow up, and I don’t want to have to worry about sticking a gift receipt in the box with the gift “just in case” they don’t like it. It’s a pain having to return something (especially if the person giving you the gift gets their feelings hurt if they find out you returned it) than to just take that precious greenery and spend it however you like. I also don’t want to be in a position where I come over and find myself looking for that gift I gave them, wondering if they’re using it. “Where’s that brass statue of a clown I gave you last Christmas?”  “Oh, uh, we’re having it preserved in a glass case to show it off. It’s at the shop right now. May take a few months.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love getting surprises of something that I like, but my parents or husband are the best ones at doing that. And Santa, of course. He knows everything. Sees you when you’re sleeping, knows when you’re awake. Does anyone else find this creepy?

I’m one of those weirdos, though. I pick up on little clues that someone says they like during the year, then add it to my Amazon shopping cart to save for later. Six months after that, the person gets the item they had TOTALLY forgotten about and are genuinely surprised. Boom. Family members usually call me for gift suggestions for other family members because I’m the stalker who remembers stuff. So in other words, I’m Santa…

Merry Christmas.

Christmas calories don’t count.

It must be true, because it’s written on my Christmas apron.

Thanksgiving through New Year’s is the time of year a lot of people gain anywhere from 5-10 pounds before determining their New Year’s Resolution is to lose that 10 pounds they gained; plus some if they’re feeling motivated.

Let’s be honest here…

It’s worth it.

Every.

Single.

Pound.

Think about all the food we’re surrounded with for that 5 week period around the holidays. Does anyone REALLY want to turn down all the cakes, cookies, casseroles, gravy boats, mashed potatoes, and turkey shoved in their faces while having to deal with the entire family AND the kids being out of school? And let’s not forget the wine, that helps so many of us through the holidays too. Plus, it tastes SO good. It’s even better curled up on the couch with a blanket after the kids go to bed, enjoying the short time of silence before passing out from exhaustion. Hot chocolate has the same effect for me, too.

Even with all the chaos, it’s pure bliss.

It’s the time of year when you say “screw it” and indulge to your heart’s content. No counting calories, no worrying about what you ate, getting rolled out of your relative’s house in a wheelbarrow because you can’t walk from eating too much, and the incredibly comfortable stretchy pants. You know the kind. The pants that you don’t even have to worry about unbuttoning to use the bathroom. The ones that have room to give when you sit down on the couch to enjoy that glass of wine or cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream.

So enjoy it while it lasts before January hits and put on those stretchy-waist pants. Eat. Drink. Be Merry.

 

Gingerbread Rice Krispie Treats

While strolling through Wal Mart, the holiday baking section always catches my eye this time of year.  Well, I say that I was strolling, but it was more along the lines of a race-walking situation where I was headed for the finish line (being checkout).  I slowed down for a few seconds, then came to a screeching halt.  There they were…practically taunting me from the shelf…Gingerbread Marshmallows.  Was this an oasis in the dessert of shopping craziness in front of my eyes?  Clearly it was, so two bags were quickly thrown into my cart.  On I went, bolting for the self checkout aisle.  I couldn’t help but to fantasize about how satisfying some Gingerbread Rice Krispie Treats would be going into my belly.

With previous Rice Krispie Treat recipes, I’ve noticed that they’ve seemed a little dry.  Since I’m a huge fan of delicious desserts with moisture, I usually add a little more butter than what the recipe calls for…and in this case, some added cinnamon.  You’re welcome.

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Gingerbread Rice Krispie Treats Recipe

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 (8 oz.) bag gingerbread marshmallows

5 cups Rice Krispies cereal

extra butter for dish

Generously rub extra butter in bottom an dup sides of a 9×13 inch baking dish, set aside.  In a large pot, melt butter on low/medium heat on stove.  Continue to cook butter, stirring constantly, until slightly browned.  Stir in cinnamon and continue to cook for another minute.  Add marshmallows, reduce heat and stir constantly until marshmallows are melted and mixture is smooth.  Remove front heat, immediately add cereal and stir well until mixture is completely coated.  Spoon mixture into buttered dish.  Use extra butter for rubbing on hands, then press mixture evenly into dish.

White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake

Have you ever found yourself staring at the dessert menu in a restaurant, unable to decide on just one item?  It’s a true crisis at times, especially when you want to order everything you see, but clearly your waistline doesn’t agree.  Your best option is to go out to eat with several people who have a weak spot for desserts so you can all share one, or everyone get something different to sample each one.  Numerous times I’ve been out with people who claim they don’t want dessert, but as soon as it hits the table, they’ve eaten more than I have.  How does that happen?

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I was caught in this exact situation while looking over the dessert menu at a small restaurant in St. Petersburg that brings their desserts in from a bakery.  We ended up each getting our own dessert, rotating them around the table like it was a professional taste-testing event, nodding and making noises with each bite.  I couldn’t believe the amazing flavor of white chocolate with swirled raspberry filling throughout this cheesecake and an Oreo cookie crust.  We even took chunks out of my friend’s husband’s carrot cake that was so nicely packed in a to-go box.  Acting as damage control, we were preventing him from feeling guilty over eating such a large piece of cake.  Now that’s heartfelt consideration.

White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake (modified from allrecipes.com)

20 Oreo cookies

3 tablespoons butter, melted

10 oz. package frozen raspberries, thawed

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 cup water

2 cups white chocolate chips

1/2 cup heavy cream

3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

frozen whipped topping, thawed (optional for serving)

In a food chopper or food processor, chop cookies into fine crumbs.  In a medium bowl, mix together cookie crumbs and melted butter. Press mixture into the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan.  In a small saucepan, combine raspberries, 2 tablespoons sugar, cornstarch, and water. Bring to boil, and continue boiling 5 minutes, or until sauce is thick. Strain sauce through a mesh strainer to remove seeds.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a microwave safe bowl, heat cream just until boiling, pour over chocolate chips in a small bowl, stirring together until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.  Let cool.  In a large bowl, mix together cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar  with electric mixer until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time. Blend in vanilla and melted white chocolate.

Pour half of batter over crust. Spoon 3 tablespoons raspberry sauce over batter. Pour remaining cheesecake batter into pan, and again spoon 3 tablespoons raspberry sauce over the top. Swirl batter with the tip of a knife to create a marbled effect.  Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until filling is set. Cool, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 8 hours before removing from pan. Serve with remaining raspberry sauce and whipped topping.  Store in refrigerator.

Edible Gifts

The holidays are here, which means the gift buying madness has been in full swing for almost a month.  Scrambling at the last minute to find some presents for that relative you really just don’t know what to get for them so you put it off until Christmas Eve, then spend the whole day freaking out what to get…and end up grabbing something out of frustration to wrap up for them.  We’ve all been there.  In fact, that’s how a lot of people do it!  Giving people homemade food as presents kills so many birds with one stone.  First of all, food gift baskets look amazing.  Second, if the food items are homemade, they’ll be impressed and feel special that you made it for them.  Third, even if it’s not homemade, you still took the time and effort to personally put together a basket just for them.  And last but not least…food disappears.  Which means that you don’t have to worry about the item collecting dust just in case they don’t like their gift just as much as you thought they would.  So many problems solved.  🙂

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In the above picture, the little snowman is a small plastic container I picked up at the Dollar Store, and filled it with green and red M&M’s.  Kids usually seem  happy to receive chocolate, so this is a great little individual gift that you can put all kinds of different candies in.  The lemon poppyseed loaf was actually given to us by my husband’s aunt and uncle.  The loaf pan is ceramic, and super cute!  Perfect amount for us to have some slices with our morning coffee.

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There are so many options when it comes to variety.  Usually when I put together gift baskets or tins, sticking with items that only need to be stored at room temperature keeps it simple, rather than forgetting to tell someone that their edible gifts need to be stored in the fridge…and sometimes those results can end badly.  Yikes!  These tins were picked up at the Dollar Store, then I stuck a bow on top of the red tin, then packaged some cookies in plastic treat bags, and tied with a twistie tie bow.

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There are so many several fun ways to package your edible gifts.  You can do large gift baskets, small gift baskets, metal tins (which I have used for years, since they’re cheap, cute, and keep things sealed in air tight containers), package them in little plastic baggies with ties (great for individual goodie bags), or even do small trifles in decorated plastic containers.  You can pick up a variety of the metal tins at the dollar store, so it keeps your expenses down…and just separate the layers of goodies with wax paper or parchment paper.  And if you decide to do different flavors of cupcakes, several stores have decorated cupcake containers to store them in…and if you make a couple of different flavors, you can mix and match the different flavors with who you’re giving them to.  Shoot, you can even make quite a few mini bundt cakes with one batch of cake batter, package them individually and BAM!  There you go!  😀

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If you want to get really creative, like my sister-in-law does for her employees every year, you could do something like this.  Here, she made rice krispie treats, shaped them in the form of Christmas trees, then sprinkled them with green sugar crystals.  And the cake balls…oh, the cake balls.  She did two different flavors, which is why some are red and some are blue (to distinguish the different flavors, of course).  When she told me she was baking last weekend and would love some help, I headed on over there.  While our kids played together and stalked us in the kitchen, I helped her with these little snowmen.  We used two different sized cookie scoops (small and medium) for the different sizes.  After we scooped out an even number of each size and stuck them on parchment paper, they went in the fridge to set.  Then, we rolled them into smooth little balls, dipped the larger one in melted chocolate with the toothpick sticking out, dipped the smaller ones and didn’t leave the toothpick in, then stuck them together.  She used the Reese’s peanut butter bells (seasonal item) as the hats, and piped on the rest of the decorations with colored icing.

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Here, my sister-in-law packaged some of the goodies together for her employees.  She used a plastic plate as the base, and got some decorative large Christmas bags that went over the plate, then tied it all together with ribbon.  Talk about a presentation!  Oh yeah, it’s safe to say that her employees are really spoiled with goodies this time of year.  😉

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In this particular basket above, I made this for my mother-in-law last year.  It has homemade mocha hot chocolate mix, fluffy pancake mix (dry ingredients with instructions), homemade coffee liquor, peanut butter ritz cookies, dark chocolate covered apples, s’mores candy bars, a gift certificate to her favorite restaurant, and chocolate chip cookies.

If you’re going to a family gathering and you need to take something, a trifle is always a wonderful item to take.  I’ve had many people rant and rave over the Tiramisu Trifle and Oreo Trifle that have shown up at different events…and for good reason!  They are absolutely delicious!

Cookies and brownies are always a safe bet, but there are sooo many options to choose from…so here are a few room temperature item suggestions:

Eggnog Cookies
Pumpkin Cookies
S’mores Cookies
Snickerdoodles
White Chocolate Macademia Nut Cookies
Brownie Cookies, Triple Layer Brownies and Pillow Cookies (double whammy with brownies and cookies, all in one!)
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Peanut Butter Ritz Cookies
Chocolate Covered Oreos
S’mores Brownies
Peanut Butter Mississippi Mud Brownies
Double Peanut Butter Brownies
Red Velvet Oreo Truffle Brownie Bars
Peanut Butter Shortbread Bites
Buckeyes
Pretzel Turtles
S’mores Candy Bars
Chocolate Covered Almond Clusters
Dark Chocolate Covered Apples
Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars
Pumpkin Bars
Blondies
Rice Krispie Treats
Apple Pie Cookies
Lemon Bars
Candy Sushi

Now, if storing treats in the fridge isn’t an issue, here are a few store-in-the-fridge goodies:
Sopapilla Cheesecake Pie
Cookies ‘n Cream Fudge
Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
Oreo Truffles
Chocolate Covered Strawberries
Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries
Mini Cherry Cheesecakes
Mini Oreo Cheesecakes
Black Bottom Pumpkin Pies

Again, one of the many things I personally love about these edible gifts is the fact that the options are endless.  You could pick just a few items and make a few small tins, or you could go all out and make tons and tons of stuff, like my grandmother has done for years.  😉  Either way, you end up with happy gift recipients!

Merry Christmas!

Eggnog Cookies

It’s December already!  Where has the year gone?  Either way, this time of year is my favorite.  Fires crackling in the fireplace, beautifully decorated and lit Christmas tree, all the Christmas lights on people’s homes, the music…and of course, the food.  Ironically, this is the time of year that I tend to lose a few pounds.  Why?  Because I’m so determined NOT to gain those extra holiday pounds, that I tend to go in the opposite direction, yet still allowing myself to indulge in some of my favorite foods.  Yes, I’m a rebel.

eggnog cookies

Last year after making some eggnog cupcakes, I decided to experiment with more eggnog recipes this year.  So, here is the first!  These cookies actually taste very similar to the sugar cookies that my mother-in-law has made before, and I couldn’t stop eating those…and naturally, that was the case with these.  Oh, except they have extra colored sugar crystals on top.  More sugar?  Yes, please.

Eggnog Cookies Recipe:

3/4 cup white sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

3/4 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup eggnog

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 egg yolks

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

red and green sugar crystals

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy.  Add eggnog, vanilla, and egg yolks, beat at medium speed with electric mixer until smooth.  Add flour mixture and beat at low speed until just combined, do not overmix.  Using cookie scoop, form cookie dough into balls before rolling in colored sugar crystals, then drop batter so that they are 1 inch apart on baking sheet.  Bake 20-23 minutes.