Wednesday, December 31, 2008

VGP Summary

I'm pretty sure I've just made a major contribution to keeping butter, egg and parchment paper producers in business. Actually, I really lucked out on the eggs since Safeway has had a buy one get one free deal all month on cartons of 18. We've gone through lots and lots of eggs around here.

I cooked up this idea of the Virtual Goody Plate in the summer, and thought it would be no problem to get 31 goodies baked and written up in time, so I started making some old favorites and finding a few recipes in books and online. I was way ahead in the fall!

But I didn't account for all the holiday cookie magazines that would start showing up on the racks in November and December. Each one I looked at had at least 5 to 10 I wanted to try, and the math was overwhelming. So I made a list and checked it twice, and reprioritized, and went back and forth on a few. For the last 6 weeks or so I have been making 3 to 4 different cookies a week. Some good ones didn't make the cut, mostly for variety's sake, and some were so good I made them more than once. I don't know what I'll do with all my spare time now. Maybe I'll actually get back to losing weight!

Ed and Mom and I tried all of them and came up with our Top 5 lists. I found it amazing that we had no overlap - just goes to show how good all the cookies were!

Kari's Top 5
Chocolate Marshmallow Meltaways
Chocolate Peanut Blow-Out Cookies
Chocolate Turtle Cookies
Chocolate Chewies
Turtle Candies

Ed's Top 5
Black and Brown Chocolate Chip Cookies
Hazelnut Chewies
Cranberry-Orange Pinwheels
Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Kari-Can't-Stop-Eating-This Bark (and now neither can Ed)

Mom's Top 5
Peppermint Bonbon Cookies
Lemony Bonbons
Buried Cherry Cookies
Brownie Waffle Cookies
Citrus-Drizzled Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
Bonus ('cuz she can't pick just 5): Raspberry Almond Cookies

So, OK, the month is over, the year is over, the VGP is over. But I figured I've got all these recipes with all my notes and all the pictures - why not make a book so they're all in one place next time I want to make them? Plus I could toss in the other few that were really good but didn't get a VGP appearance, like Cocoa Fudge Cookies and Maple Walnut Spice Cookies. Dave even flattered me by saying he would give it as gifts to friends. So I checked out a couple cookbook-making sites and found Blurb had the best quality and lowest price. I've already ordered my copy of Disco Mom Takes on Christmas Cookies, and now you can, too. I don't make a profit because then I'd have to get copyright permission and everything, but if you want to order it at cost click here. It is $24.95 for softcover, $35.95 for hardcover with dust jacket, and $37.95 for hardcover image wrap. It is 78 pages with 36 recipes and pictures. And I'm just a little proud of it.

It's my final goody...from me to you. Happy New Year!

VGP #31 The King

Earlier this fall I took a plate of various cookies I was trying to my friend. "Oooh," she exclaimed excitedly, beginning to peek under the foil, "are there chocolate chip cookies in here?" Uh, no, I thought. I can make chocolate chip cookies in my sleep. Here I am chopping nuts, rolling balls, zesting lemons, melting caramels, and she wants chocolate chip?

Another time another friend told me of a man from church who could use a goody plate. "Perfect," I said, "I have more than I know what to do with in my freezer." I got his name and my friend said, "Are you going to bring him chocolate chip cookies? Those are his favorite." Again, I was like, sorry, I only have Peppermint Bonbons, Citrus-Drizzled Cranberry Oatmeal, and Chocolate Turtle cookies. Guess he's out of luck.

I finally took the hint when a fresh warm batch came out of the oven one afternoon. Hazel asked if she could have a cookie, and I was excited for her to try it, so I gave her one. She took a bite and said, "Mmm, delicious!" and walked off to the living room. I turned back to my task with a proud little smile on my face, until a moment later she returned. She handed me back the cookie, still with only one bite taken, and said, "Mommy, I don't like these cookies because they don't have chocolate chips in them."

I get it. And I agree. After months of trying fabulous recipes, the fact of the matter is that NOTHING beats the chocolate chip cookie!

So with that in mind, but still in the spirit of the Virtual Goody Plate, here are four variations on the King of cookies.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
(even Maren can make them!)

This is my everyday, all-time perfect chocolate chip cookie. It's kind of a combination of the recipes from the Ghiradelli and Nestle chocolate chip bags. Comes out great every time.
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup oats, optional
1/2 to 1 cup chopped pecans, optional
As many chocolate chips as you can cram in

Preheat oven to 375. Cream butter, shortening and sugar until fluffy, like 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating each time, and vanilla, mixing well. Add soda, salt and flour a little at a time, mixing until all combined. Stir in oats, nuts and chocolate chips. Use a spoon or cookie scoop (I love my cookie scoop) to drop dough onto parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake for about 10 minutes (every oven is different.) Cool on baking sheet about 2 minutes before moving to wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 3 or 4 dozen.

Crispy Rice Chocolate Chip Cookies

How could I not try a recipe for chocolate chip cookies with Rice Krispies in it? What a fun addition - a great way to add some crisp in a new way to soft cookies. Delicious.
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup crisp rice cereal
1/4 cup oats
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Stir flour, cereal, oats, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt together in a bowl; set aside. Cream butter with both sugars in a bowl with mixer until light and fluffy. Add the oil, egg and vanilla, then beat until blended. Stir in chocolate chips and flour mixture just until flour is incorporated. Drop dough by cookies scoop or 3 T mounds onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake 12 to 14 minutes until cookies are set and golden around edges. Let cool on pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to rack. Makes about 4 1/2 dozen

Chocolate Chip Orange Drops

My mom cannot help herself sometimes, so I wasn't really surprised when she handed me a tattered book called The Big Chocolate Cookbook, copyright 1968. She got it off the free cart at the library. My first reaction was, there's not going to be anything good in here. But I decided to peruse anyway, and came out with this little gem. I do love chocolate and orange together. The almond extract is good, too, but I would just as easily use vanilla to let the orange shine more. The book wants you to top these with orange cream cheese frosting, but I don't usually frost chocolate chip cookies.
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp almond or vanilla extract
1 cup sifted flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 T grated orange rind
1/2 cup ground almonds
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375. Cream butter and sugars well and beat in egg and extract. Sift dry ingredients and add them, orange rind, ground almonds and chocolate chips to creamed mixture. Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until brown around edges. Move to wire rack to cool. Makes about 2 dozen.

Black & Brown Chocolate Chip Cookies

My aptly-named friend Heather Baker is a talented domestic artist. She even enters her creations in the Arlington County Fair...and wins. This particular recipe came about when she took her awesome Double Chocolate Chip cookie recipe and tried substituting black beans - that's right - for part of the fat. The cocoa powder hides the bean flecks, and you get a little extra protein, fiber, iron, manganese and antioxidants, without sacrificing any flavor. In fact, these cookies won 1st place in the entire chocolate chip cookie category at the county fair. Taste them and you'll see why. This is one of Ed's very favorite cookies of the whole month!
1 (14 oz) can black beans (white beans work as well)
½ cup shortening
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
½ cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
½ tsp baking soda
2 cups flour
3 T cocoa powder
Nuts and chocolate chips

Drain and rinse black beans. Puree in blender with a little water to make a thick paste (about the consistency of yogurt). Cream bean puree, shortening and sugars. Add vanilla, salt, soda and eggs. Mix well, then add everything else. Bake at 350 for 12 minutes.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

VGP #30 Almond Joy Bites

Kudos to friend and fellow sweet-tooth Rebecca Yeates for this gorgeous and super yummy confection! Unfortunately I don't have a picture. I had them at a party (without my camera) and therefore know they're good, but just picture a one-almond bite-size Almond Joy and you've got it.

2 cups flaked sweetened coconut
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 T butter, softened
25 raw whole almonds
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 T shortening

1. Cream together the coconut, powdered sugar, sweetened condensed milk and butter until well combined. Form into balls and press one whole almond into each ball.

2. Melt the chocolate chips and shortening carefully, stirring until smooth. Either drizzle over coconut bites or dip them. To dip, break the middle two prongs off of a plastic fork so there are only the outer two prongs. Place a candy on the fork and dip into the chocolate, using a spoon to cover completely. Place on wax paper to set.

Makes about 25 bites

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas 2008

We crammed a lot of activities into December, between batches of cookies, and I just didn't get a chance to write about them before Christmas. So better late than never, I just want to have a record of it. And try to remember next year to schedule things like sending Christmas cards and shipping gifts much earlier in the season so we can have more time for all the things we missed.

Early in the month we hit Fair Oaks Mall with my mom. They have some great Christmas decorations - life size stuffed animals in snowscapes mostly.
We skipped sitting on Santa's lap, but I held Hazel up to see him. Neither of us were impressed. Then we went into CVS in the mall and took the girls "secret shopping" for each other, then Mom took them shopping for me and Ed, getting us things like hair clips, bandaids, and shaving cream - things they are familiar with and know how to pick out. In the afternoon we went back to Mom's and I went downstairs to read a cookie magazine (what else?) while Mom helped them wrap the presents. Living near Grandma is the best!
Mom also got us a gingerbread house kit at Costco and I kept waiting for the perfect chance to make it together - a Saturday morning or family home evening, but as the month progressed and things kept coming up, I realized the "perfect time" may not come. So one afternoon while Ginger napped Hazel came to me and asked if we could make it. I said, "Sure!" and we did right then. When Ginger woke up there was still plenty of decorating to do, and it has been sitting on our sideboard looking festive and making our house smell great ever since.
Hazel's preschool had a cute holiday party - this time in the evening so working parents could come. It was crowded to say the least, but I did get to chat with parents I usually just greet in passing, and found out two of them also went to Robinson...and one lived on my street! The kids performed a few songs they had practiced, and each presented his or her parents with a gift they had made - a crepe papered votive candle holder.

Every year the symphonic band at my old high school, Robinson, puts on a Tiny Tots Holiday Concert. Mom's friend is in charge of it so we got tickets and went one rainy morning. I tried not to think too hard about how long it's been since I set foot in there (1998 to visit Rich Crowley after my mission), but I did get a little sentimental being back on campus and watching the high schoolers - I wondered if I'd see some of my friends, I couldn't help it. The concert was in the renovated Little Theater and it was totally fun, with kid-level explanations of all the instruments, and appearances by Rudolph, Frosty and a tuba-playing Santa, plus great music. We're definitely going next year.The Monday before Christmas Ed came home a little early. We bundled the girls up - I think it was the coldest night we've had this winter - and drove up to the DC Temple, where they have a Festival of Lights all month long. The Temple grounds and Visitors' Center are decked out with thousands of lights, there is a live outdoor nativity (I did not envy them the night we were there), and inside the Visitors' Center there are free performances every night by local music groups, trees decorated by surrounding stakes, Christmas movies, and of course missionaries directing traffic. Next year we will check the performance schedule and probably go several times.Though it's probably unrealistic, next year I'd also like to hit the Bull Run Festival of Lights, Zoo Lights, and the Christmas display at the Botanic Gardens. Schedule, schedule, schedule!

Christmas Eve and Christmas morning my parents came over - there was food, relaxation, some short attention spans and plenty of presents. Here are the girls in their new Christmas dresses from Aunt Tona:The next day I hit Target at 7am for 50% off wrapping paper and then we went out to my parents' cabin in WVA for two days - more food and way more relaxation. I read over 100 pages in my book, which usually takes several months!

It's been an awesome month, but, like most years, it just went too fast.

VGP #29 Fennel Pistachio Cookies

These cookies stopped me in my tracks while flipping through my trusty Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies magazine. First, I love pistachios. Second, I have fennel in my spice cupboard but have only used it once, and never for cookies. I found the combination highly intriguing. And third, the recipe was not part of the magazine but in an advertisement...for butter. So I figured if, out of all the cookie recipes out there, butter was using this one to advertise itself, it was worth my time. And I was right.

Fennel (warm and licoricey), pistachio (nutty), lemon (bright and tart), and almond extract (sweet) are the main flavors in here; they are a great ensemble cast. I was afraid the called-for 2 Tablespoons of almond extract was a typo - I've never seen a recipe call for that much. Just in case, I used only 1 Tablespoon, but in the end the other flavors are strong enough to counter the almond so 2 would be ok. These are soft but not too soft, sweet, nutty, and wonderfully flavorful!
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
2 T almond extract
1 T lemon zest
1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup pistachio nuts, chopped, plus extra for garnish, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350. In bowl of electric mixter beat butter until creamy. Gradually add sugar; mix well. Add egg; beat well. Add almond, lemon zest and fennel seeds; mix to combine.

2. In separate medium bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add butter mixture; beat well. Stir in pistachio nuts; dough will be stiff.

3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. If desired, flatten balls slightly and sprinkle with additional chopped pistachios. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool slightly on sheets; remove to wire racks to cool. Makes 3 dozen.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

VGP #28 Brownie Biscotti

I guess not everyone likes biscotti, but that's only because those people are crazy. I know it's crunchy and dry, as opposed to chewy and gooey, but these ones in particular are so dense and flavorful you can't lose. Just get a glass of milk or mug of cocoa and let the dunking begin! These are especially lovely as gifts wrapped up in colored cellophane bags with pretty ribbons and a hot chocolate packet.

I don't usually put nuts in the dough because it's harder to make even slices in step 5. Instead, I used chopped nuts, crushed cookies, sprinkles or candy to dip them in after the chocolate dip. There's some room to be artistic here. Pistachios are especially festive because of the green color. Recipe from Brownie Mix Bliss by Camilla Saulsbury.

1 (19.5 to 19.8 oz) pkg brownie mix
1 cup all purpose flour
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

2. Combine brownie mix, flour, melted butter, eggs, and nuts. Blend with an electric mixter set on low until well blended. Scrape down sides (mixture will be stiff.)

3. Transfer dough to prepared cookie sheet. With floured hands, shape dough into 2 rectangles, each 14 inches long by 3 inches wide, and ¾ inch thick, spacing abt 4-5 inches apart on sheet. Mound dough so it is slightly higher in the center than at the edges. Place cookie sheet in oven.

4. Bake 30-35 minutes, until firm to touch; remove from oven and cool on sheet for 10 minutes (leave oven on.)

5. With spatula transfer logs to cutting board. Use a sharp knife to slice each rectangle into ¾ inch slices on the diagonal. Return slices to sheet, cut sides down.

6. Return sheet to oven. Bake biscotti 10 minutes. Turn oven off and let biscotti remain in oven until crisp, about 30 to 40 minutes longer. Remove from oven and transfer biscotti to a rack. Cool completely. If desired, prepare Chocolate Dip and with a butter knife or small offset spatula spread over one side of each biscotti. Dip in crushed candy, nuts or cookies if desired. Place on waxed paper-lined cookie sheet and refrigerate at least 1 hour to set chocolate. Store in an airtight container or plastic ziploc bag for up to 3 weeks.

Chocolate Dip:

1 cup semisweet, milk or white chocolate or cinnamon baking chips
1 T vegetable shortening

Melt chips and shortening in a small heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring often to avoid scorching. Makes about 1 cup melted chocolate.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

VGP #27 Citrus-Drizzled Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

I'm thinking of the Friends episode in which Phoebe told Rachel she makes the best oatmeal raisin cookies in the world. Rachel takes a bite, loves them, and wants to know why she's never had them before.

Phoebe's classic answer: "Oh, I don't make them a lot because I don't think it's fair to the other cookies."

Well I don't make oatmeal cookies a lot either, mostly because if it's a choice between making cookies with chocolate or without chocolate, I always choose the chocolate. So
metimes I put oatmeal in my chocolate chip cookies. But as we've seen this month I've branched out a little, and this citrus-y cookie from Cooking Light (December 2006) caught my eye. I do like dried cranberries better than raisins, and I do also love a lemony glaze.

You couldn't ask for more in an oatmeal cookie. The spices are just right, the cranberries are tart and festive, and the drizzle gives you a zing on the tastebuds before you even take a bite. They are crisp on the outside, soft inside, and overall a delicious addition to any goody plate or glass of milk. Mmmm...

2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries
Cooking spray

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 T fresh lemon juice
2 tsp grated orange rind

1. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with knife. Combine flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and nutmeg in a bowl.

2. Combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, and butter in a large bowl; beat with mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add vanilla and eggs; beat well. Gradually add flour mixture and cranberries; beat at low speed until combined.

3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls (or I like to use a cookie scoop.) P
lace balls 2 inches apart on baking sheets coated with cooking spray or parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes or until almost firm. Let stand on baking sheets 2 minutes. Remove cookies from baking sheets, and cool completely on wire rack.

4. To prepare glaze, combine powdered sugar, lemon juice and orange rind in a small bowl, whisking until smooth. Spoon mixture into a ziploc bag and snip the corner; drizzle glaze over cooled cookies.

Friday, December 26, 2008

VGP #26 Apricot-Sage Cookies

Wow. Are these cookies ever elegant! My store didn't have sage so I used rosemary (you can also use lemon thyme.) I was not sure how a rosemary cookie would taste, but it was lovely - not too sweet, and apricot is just the right fruit flavor to go with fresh herbs. These are to be wrapped in tissue paper in a simple white box and big silver bow or something similar, to show someone they are really, really special.
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup butter
2 T snipped fresh sage, lemon thyme or rosemary; or 2 tsp dried sage or rosemary, crushed
3 T milk
1 egg white
1 T water
Fresh sage leaves, optional
2 T apricot preserves

1. Preheat oven to 375. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar and cornmeal. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs and starts to cling. Stir in herb. Add milk and stir with a fork to combine. Form mixture into a ball and knead until smooth. Divide dough in half.

2. On a lightly floured surface roll half of the dough at a time to a 1/8-inch thickness. Use a 2 1/2-inch round or oval cookie cutter to cut out dough.

3. In a small bowl combine the egg white and the water. Brush half of the cookies with the egg white mixture and, if desired, top with one or two small sage leaves. Brush leaves with egg white mixture. Sprinkle with sugar. Place plain and leaf-topped cutouts 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

4. Bake in preheated oven about 7 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are very lightly browned. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool.

5. Snip any large pieces in the fruit preserves. Spread apricot preserves on the bottom of each cookie without a sage leaf. Top preserves layer with a sage-topped cookie. Makes about 20 sandwiches. Store at room temperature up to 3 days or freeze unsandwiched cookies and thaw before assembling with preserves.

Recipe from Better Homes & Gardens 100 Best Cookies

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Horsehead Dirk

Sometime in the mid-80's, on a road trip, my parents stopped in at Smoky Mountain Knife Works in Seviervill, TN. My Dad is a knife & gun guy and he found a cool 18th Century style dirk with a horsehead handle. They bought it and saved it for Christmas that year. When Dad opened it there were many ooh's and aah's at the shiny new dagger...but the real appreciation came the next time someone had to open a gift wrapped tightly with ribbon.

"Scissors!" someone called. "We need scissors over here!" In a flash the dirk was wielded, the ribbon sliced, the knife re-sheathed. Mouths agape, our eyes were opened to just what a horsehead dirk could do.

Since then the horsehead dirk has been a constant, though unlikely, Younce Christmas tradition. It was the only thing we used to cut ribbon or other stubborn packaging, year after year. The call became, "Dirk! We need the horsehead dirk over here!"Dad looked down the road to when we would grow older and move away. He went back to Knife Works and bought four more dirks and kept them for years, giving one to each of us on the Christmas after we were married.2008 was the first year we have not traveled to someone else's house for Christmas. We spent it in our own home, with our own family and my parents. My own horsehead dirk was finally put to good use, slicing and dicing ribbons and tags so we could all access our gifts and goodies. Then it was quietly placed back in its sheath, and back in its box, to wait until next year.Or maybe just until my birthday.

VGP #25 Country Sausage and Cheese Muffins

I don't know what you're having for Christmas breakfast but we're having these! And grog, and hard-boiled eggs, and Aunt Janet's coffee cake, and Jenny's Christmas bread if Ed follows through and makes it like he says he's going to.

These muffins are amazing - a true meal-in-a-muffin! You got your cheese, your sausage, your onion & peppers, your egg and your buttermilk. And the other stuff (necessary details.) I got this from the muffin contest in Cook's Country magazine last year. There is a lot of prep involved, but I do it in stages the day before making them so I can throw it together easily at once. Then I usually freeze the muffins and microwave them for quick or on-the-go breakfast, but today we are having them hot and fresh from the oven. Yum-oh.

Happy Present-Opening-in-Your-Pajamas
and Merry Christmas!!!
8 oz. bulk sausage meat
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 T sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
6 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 oz. cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped fine
1/2 red onion, chopped fine
1 large egg
3/4 cup buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 375. Grease and flour 12-cup muffin tin. Cook sausage in nonstick skillet over medium heat, breaking up meat until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towel lined plate and cool.

2. Pulse flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, butter, cheese, bell pepper, onion and cooled sausage in food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal; transfer to bowl. Whisk egg and buttermilk in measuring cup; stir into flour mixture until combined.

3. Spoon into prepared muffin tin and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in tin for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to rack. Cool 10 minutes longer; serve. Or cool completely and freeze for later.

Makes 12 muffins

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

VGP #24 Kari-Can't-Stop-Eating-This Bark

One year like around 2003 my friend in Boulder, Michelle Blimes, brought me a pretty cellophane bag of this stuff. It was sooo good and I think I ate it for dinner that night. Then I needed some more to keep in my desk at work. It's the addictive stuff like this that causes me a real problem; I seriously can't stop eating it! Never having really made any kind of candy before, I asked Michelle for detailed instructions. Here they are:

A bag of chocolate chips
A bag of pretzels
A can of cocktail peanuts

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, just until melted. Stir in some pretzels and peanuts. Spread out on wax paper and chill until firm. Break into bark.

Thanks, Michelle. You are a GENIUS!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

VGP #23 Magi's Turbans

Here's a new take on two classics:
the gingersnap meets the peanut butter blossom.
And gets a really cool name in the process.

It's really just a molasses gingersnap cookie with a Hershey's Hug plopped in the middle. The recipe here is pretty good but your favorite gingersnap recipe will do just as well. They smell awesome, they look striking, and the flavors of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, milk and white chocolate are a pleasure to partake of.

Remember to let them cool all the way before touching or storing. When you press the candy into the hot cookie, the heat travels all the way up the chocolate and melts it pretty good. But it will hold its shape if you let it sit for an hour or two to cool off.

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp each ground cinnamon and ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 cup light molasses
1 large egg
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
56 Hershey's Hugs (from a 13 oz. bag), unwrapped

1. Beat butter, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in a large bowl with mixer on medium speed until well blended and paler in color. Beat in molasses and egg. Reduce speed to low and gradually add in flour just until blended. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or until firm enough to handle.

2. Heat oven to 350. Have baking sheets ready. Put granulated sugar in a small bowl. Roll tablespoons of dough into 1-1/4 inch balls; roll in sugar to coat. Place 1 1/2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.

3. Bake 10 to 12 minutes until tops crack but cookies are still soft to touch. Place baking sheet on wire rack. Immediately press a Hugs in center of each cookie. Transfer cookies from baking sheet to rack to cool completely. Store in airtight container at cool room temperature up to 2 weeks or freeze up to 3 months.

Recipe from Woman's Day Holiday Cookies magazine

Monday, December 22, 2008

VGP #22 Peppermint Bonbon Cookies

I am SO in love with these cookies! They are only for the real chocolate lovers out there. I'm not talking about some token portion of cocoa powder; no, these start out with a hefty combo of melted bittersweet and unsweetened chocolates. Then later you add in some semisweet chocolate chips for good measure. Throw in crushed peppermint candy and peppermint extract and we have got a very serious confection. The kind that gave my eyes a minty tingle when I opened the oven, similar to the effect of walking into the peppermint room at Celestial Seasonings.
The chocolate is dark, the mint is sweet and fresh.
Merry Christmas to me.

8 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup finely crushed hard peppermint candies*
6 T sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp peppermint extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Additional coarsely crushed hard peppermint candies, divided
1/2 cup powdered sugar, optional
2 1/2 tsp milk, optional
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted, optional

1. Combine first 3 ingredients in large saucepan - this is the pan all the batter will be mixed in so make sure it is at least 2 quarts. Cook over low heat until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and stir in 1/2 cup crushed peppermint candies and 6 T sugar. Let cool 30 minutes.

2. Add eggs to melted chocolate, 1 at a time, stirring well. Stir in extracts.

3. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add to chocolate mixture, stirring until combined. Stir in chocolate morsels. Cover and chill dough 2 hours or until firm enough to shape.

4. Heat oven to 325. Shape dough into balls (I kept them small to make them more like bonbons); place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake for 12 to 13 minutes or until cookies are puffed and cracked on top. Sprinkle coarsely crushed peppermints onto cookies; press candy lightly into cookies. Let cookies cool 5 minutes on baking sheets. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

5. Optional glazing: Whisk together powdered sugar and milk; drizzle over cooled cookies. Drizzle with melted chocolate. Sprinkle cookies again with chopped peppermint. Let cookies stand until glaze and chocolate are firm.

Makes about 4 dozen of the size in the picture

*The food processor trumps all as the best way to chop candies - thanks for the tip, Kat!

Recipe from Oxmoor House magazine, June 2007

Sunday, December 21, 2008

VGP #21 Coconut Toffee Bars

Happy Birthday, Tona!!!

Here's the story behind this one: I had a recipe for "Crunchy Sesame Cookies" I was going to try. It called for sesame oil and tahini (sesame seed paste used in middle eastern dishes like hummus.) It was one of those recipes that could go either way but I was too curious and wanted to try it. So I hunted down tahini in the grocery store - it only came in a huge jar and was $8, but I was determined. I brought it home and, while talking to my sister Maren on the phone, promptly dropped it on the kitchen floor where it broke and spilled and made a huge mess. So, knowing Maren as the mostly likely person I know to have tahini on hand, and unwilling to buy another jar myself, I gave her the recipe and asked her to make them and report.

The report was that they just taste like sesame oil, which is pretty strong stuff, and not the most likely "cookie flavor." Quinn didn't like them and they came home uneaten in the kids' lunchboxes, a sure indication they were not VGP-worthy. Maren felt unnecessarily bad that her "guest baker" reputation might be tarnished, so she whipped up these tried-and-true Coconut Toffee bars that she makes every Christmas, and that her family adores, and sent me the recipe and picture. Super-Maren saves the day!!! Oh, and check out her latest blog post on her give-away goody plates: Sharing the Love. (What are the little white things in the middle of her picture, you may ask? HOMEMADE BUTTER MINTS!!! Amazing.)

But here are the Coconut Toffee Bars:
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup flour
A few drops almond extract, optional

Coconut-Almond Topping:
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped almonds

Heat oven to 350ºF. Mix base ingredients together and press into 9x13 inch pan. Bake 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix topping ingredients together. Remove pan from the oven and spread topping on top of base. Bake till golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cool slightly, cut into bars. Makes about 3 dozen 1x3 inch bars.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

VGP #20 Chocolate Surprise Muffins

This is one of the few recipes this month that was not a first try. I've made these lots of times and I just love them. They come from The Chocolate Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn. You make a devil's food cupcake, drop a cheesecakey filling in the middle, and bake. The original makes regular size muffins, but I make minis.

In Colorado my filling sank to the bottom. Here, it only sinks in slightly and is still visible on the top:...unless I do a batter-filling-batter routine like I did for these pictures, but that's not really necessary.
Another option is to coat them with Shiny Chocolate Glaze (recipe below) but I've never tried that. After all, the difference between a muffin and a cupcake is frosting, and you can eat muffins for breakfast!

1 pkg (8 oz.) cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (though you could experiment with other flavors!)
1 large egg
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Paper liners for muffin pans
1 pkg devil's food cake mix
1 1/3 cups water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs

1. Beat cream cheese and sugar until combined. Add vanilla and egg; stir until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350 and line muffin tins with paper liners. In electric mixer bowl place cake mix, water, oil and eggs and blend on low for 1 minute. Stop, scrape down sides and mix on medium speed for 2 more minutes. Spoon batter into prepared cups, filling about 2/3 full.

3. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each muffin. Bake for 23 to 27 minutes. Cool in pans on wire rack for about 5 minutes, then remove from pans to cool completely. Makes about 2 dozen regular muffins or about 6 dozen minis.

Shiny Chocolate Glaze

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 T butter
2 1/2 T light corn syrup
1 1/4 tsp water

1. Place chocolate chips, butter and corn syrup in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until melted, 2 minutes. Add the water, 1/2 tsp at a time, until glaze is pouring consistency. Spoon over muffins.

This is the end of SURPRISE! Week (I hope you liked it), but hardly time to despair. There are eleven more glorious days of your virtual goody plate to look forward to!

Friday, December 19, 2008

VGP #19 Lemony Bonbon Cookies

Ah, lemon! I love it so much. These cookies are so delicate they melt in your mouth like powder, or in your hand if you squeeze too tight. One of them spontaneously combusted when I was frosting it because of my tight grip. Careful!

Aren't they lovely?
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 T lemon juice
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
18 to 24 pecan halves

1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp butter, softened
3 to 4 tsp lemon juice

1. In a small bowl, cream butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in lemon juice. Combine flour and cornstarch; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Cover and chill 2 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 350. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place pecan halves on two ungreased baking sheets. Top each pecan with a ball of dough; flatten with the bottom of a glass.

3. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes or until set. Remove to wire racks and cool completely.

4. For icing, combine powdered sugar, butter and enough lemon juice to achieve a spreading consistency. Spread over cookies. Let stand until set. Recipe claims to make 2 dozen but it made 18 for me.

Recipe from Linda of Palatka, Florida in Taste of Home Christmas Cookies & Candies

Thursday, December 18, 2008

VGP #18 Chocolate Marshmallow Meltaways

WARNING: These cookies may be dangerous, even fatal, to any
diet trying to make it through the holidays.
Seriously. My will of steel is cracking, and these cookies were my downfall last week. First of all, they're beautiful. Second, they have marshmallows and frosting. Third, I was really excited about something one night and called my sister Maren to talk about it. Quinn said she was putting the baby to bed and he would have her call me back. This late-night, high-emotional-state put me at high risk levels for stuffing my face while I waited.

I might have chosen an apple or glass of milk if my freezer hadn't been so chock-full of cookies that there wasn't room for these beauts so they were sitting on my counter in clear-view Ziploc bags. I had no chance, no chance at all. I downed six in a row without even thinking, and man were they good. They also gave me a mean stomachache the next morning - they're quite rich - so I recommend moderation if you can manage it. But it didn't stop me from eating four more the next day. Even Ed, who doesn't like frosting, said they were "delicious." And of course the kids like to eat them from top down. Mmm...It's true the marshmallow is not exactly a hidden surprise - it just peeks out from under a chocolate frosting cap. But you've never had such a mouthful of love in all your life. Enjoy!

1/2 cup butter-flavored shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
15 to 18 large marshmallows, halved

3 T butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
3 T baking cocoa
1/8 tsp salt
4 to 6 T milk

1. Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, milk, and vanilla. Combine flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well.

2. Drop by tablespoons 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 8 minutes. Press a marshmallow half, cut side down, onto each cookie; bake 2 minutes longer. Remove to wire racks to cool.

3. In a small bowl beat frosting ingredients until smooth. Add enough milk to achieve a spreading consistency. Frost cookies. Makes about 30 cookies.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

VGP #17 Chocolate-Filled Snowballs

This recipe was kind of an experiment in that it's made with store-bought dough. My Woman's Day Holiday Cookie issue had a "1 Dough, 20 Ways" piece, in which you start with store-bought sugar cookie dough and doctor it up to make 20 different cookies, including Pistachio Swirls, Chocolate-Sesame-Orange Thins, Pineapple-Pecan-Coconut Drops, Toffee Stripes and these Chocolate-Filled Snowballs. So I bought the dough to give it a try, and while there's nothing bad to say about an almond cinnamon cookie with a dark chocolate Hershey's kiss in the middle (!!!), I still think it would have been better with dough from scratch. After I'd made the cookies, and looked closer at the magazine to type up the recipe, I see that they thought of that, too, and included a sugar cookie dough recipe in case you want to make your own.

Either way, it's an oh-so-pleasant...
3/4 cup finely ground almonds
2 T all purpose flour (omit if using Basic Sugar Cookie Dough from scratch)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 pkg (18 oz.) refrigerated sugar cookie dough (or half of Basic Sugar Cookie Dough, recipe below)
16 to 18 chocolate kisses (I used dark chocolate; hugs would probably be good too)
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

1. Heat oven to 350. In medium bowl combine almonds, four, cinnamon and cookie dough. I gave up using a wooden spoon and just kneaded it all together with my hands.

2. Form dough into about 16 to 18 balls. Push one chocolate kiss into center of each ball, pressing dough around kiss to keep ball shape. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.

3. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to wire racks. While still warm, dust generously with powdered sugar. Cool completely. Store in airtight container up to 1 week or freeze up to 6 months.

Basic Sugar Cookie Dough Recipe:

3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour

1. Cream butter 1 minute until pale and fluffy. Add sugars and beat well.

2. Add egg and vanilla; beat until smooth. Add flour; beat until incorporated. Form dough into a ball.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

VGP #16 Buried-Cherry Cookies

I think these are some of the prettiest cookies I've made all month, and I LOVE the flavors. You make an almond cookie (Kat, you could do vanilla), put a maraschino cherry on top, then "bury" the cherry under a bake-able chocolate frosting! Mmm...
But, have you ever actually bought maraschino cherries? I never had before, so imagine my frustration when they weren't by the canned fruit, the baking stuff, nor the ice cream toppings! And I had a crying kid in my cart. And the two workers I asked didn't speak enough English to know what a maraschino cherry was. And I sure as heck was not going to another store just for one thing, and the clock was ticking towards preschool pick-up time. Amazingly I finally found them on a shelf of mixed drink ingredients in the back of the wine section. Geez.

1 10-oz jar maraschino cherries
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (could use semisweet, I used a combination)
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk (fat-free works just as well!)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Drain cherries, reserving juice, and take the stems off. Count the cherries and if necessary, halve enough to make 36 pieces. In a large bowl beat butter on high for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat in egg and almond extract until combined. Beat in flour.

2. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place balls about 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Lightly press thumb into each ball and place a cherry in each center.

3. For frosting: In a small saucepan combine chocolate and sweetened condensed milk. Cook and stir over low heat until chocolate melts. Stir in 4 tsp of the reserved cherry juice. Spool 1 slightly rounded teaspoon of the frosting over each cherry, spreading to cover. OR what I did was put the frosting in a large ziploc bag and cut off one corner like a piping bag. Squeeze the bag, piping the frosting in a circular motion over each cherry piece to cover.

4. Bake for about 12 to 14 minutes or until edges are firm and just start to brown. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 3 dozen.

Recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies

Monday, December 15, 2008


Tonight, 6:36 pm. Everyone's quietly eating their spaghetti.

Hazel: "Mom, I wish we had a real dog in our family."

Sigh. It had to come up eventually, and I'm sure this won't be the last time. Best to take an honest, direct approach.

"You know, Hazel, I like dogs a lot, too. But dogs poop all the time, and I don't really like to clean up dog poop."

Especially after New York.

The girls consider.

Hazel: "How about a dog that doesn't have a bum?"

"All dogs have bums."

Ginger: "How about a cat?"

Dang. They're getting smart and ganging up on me. Time to play my only remaining card.

"Who wants ice cream?"

VGP #15 Peanut Butter Bites

Here's your second SURPRISE! cookie.

I think we all know from the Blow-Outs that I looove peanut butter & chocolate. And we also know I had a half a bag of Reese's peanut butter cups left after making them (that's right folks - I didn't eat them!) So imagine my thrill at finding these little treats in yet another Better Homes and Gardens cookie magazine. It's like a more refined (and self-controlled) version of the Blow-Outs. Lovely cocoa-dusted peanut butter bites...

with a super SURPRISE! inside.Honestly, I don't know why anyone would ever make plain peanut butter cookies again.

3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup creamy or crunchy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
About 17 to 20 miniature chocolate-covered peanut butter cups, halved
Unsweetened cocoa powder, optional

1. Preheat oven to 375. In large bowl combine butter and peanut butter - beat with electric mixer for about 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat until combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in flour. If necessary, cover and chill about 30 minutes or until dough is easy to handle.

2. Shape dough into 1 1/2 inch balls. Press a peanut butter cup half into each ball and shape dough around peanut butter cup to enclose. Place cookies 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms very lightly browned. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. If desired, sprinkle with cocoa powder. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Everyone loves a surprise, and this is the season for big ones! I bet everybody reading this has a surprise in store for someone else - and you may even get one yourself. So this is SURPRISE Week on your virtual goody plate. You're just eating along, thinking it's a regular cookie, and SURPRISE! There is something inside you weren't expecting. These recipes were pretty fun to find, and even more fun to make.

It all started when I was talking to my Mom about the virtual goody plate a few weeks ago - I needed help prioritizing the 60+ recipes I wanted to try. Mom said, "Well, you're going to do Barbru's Surprise Mint Cookies, right?" As if it was the most natural and expected thing in the world and I was supposed to know what she was talking about. Barbru Nielson is an old family friend so I understood that part, but I returned on the offensive, "Why are there Surprise Mint Cookies I've never heard of before?!" We both rolled our eyes and Mom went hunting in her brittle, yellowing recipe binder for the handwritten card from decades ago.Indeed they are a surprise, and a delicious one. It's a basic dough much like chocolate chip cookie dough, but instead of stirring in chips you chill it, then make small balls of dough and tuck a Junior Mint inside each one! While they cook, the cookies spread and the Junior Mint melts. The chocolate kind of stays in the middle but the minty part seeps out and makes a sticky minty candy area and kind of infuses the whole cookie with mint. The outside was a little too plain for me so I just melted some chocolate chips and drizzled on top but you could decorate any way you like.

Barbru's Surprise Mint Cookies
a.k.a. Junior Mint Meltaways

3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
A large box of Junior Mints (movie theater size)

1. Sift together the flour, soda and salt. In a separate bowl cream the sugar, brown sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and vanilla and combine well. Add the flour mixture a little at a time and beat until well combined. Chill dough for 2 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 350. Roll the dough into 1 to 1 1/2 inch balls. Make a slight indentation with your thumb and place a Junior mint in it. Use your fingers and thumb to cover the mint with dough. Keep the mint as close to the top of the cookie as you can, just enough to cover with dough. The minty filling will seep down and make the bottom super sticky if it's too low. Even though there is plenty of butter in the dough you should lightly coat your baking sheets with cooking spray in case the bottoms become sticky from the candy.

3. Bake for about 12 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool for about 4-5 minutes on sheets before moving to a cooling rack. Decorate cookies any way you like or leave plain. Enjoy!

Makes about 3 1/2 dozen
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