Date Cookies

Date Pinwheel Cookies

Since it that time of year, I thought I would start sharing some of my favorite cookie recipes.

I love the  sweetness of dates, and really enjoy using that natural sweetness in baking. I always seem to make several dishes with dates around the holidays.  These date filled cookies are one of my favorites. Moist and cake-like, with the wonderful flavor of the dates, nuts and citrus zest, these cookies taste even better than they look. The cookie dough, made with brown sugar, has an almost caramel-like flavor. The combination is a winner for sure.

Date Pinwheel Cookies

Date Filling

12 oz. pitted dates, chopped
1/3 c. brown sugar
¼ c. water
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
½ c. finely chopped nuts
Combine dates with all ingredients (except the nuts) in a small saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 5-10 minutes. Stir in nuts.  Cool.

Dough
½ c. butter, softened
1 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1¾ c. flour
½ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
In bowl combine butter and sugar and beat until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat well. Combine dry ingredients and stir into butter mixture. Divide dough in half. Roll or pat one half of the dough into a rectangle about 7×11- inches in size. Spread with half of the cooled date filling. Starting at long end, roll dough up . Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Wrap rolls in wax paper or plastic wrap and chill in fridge several hours. This dough/roll is pretty soft. I sometimes put the rolls in the freezer for an hour or two before baking to make them easier to slice.
To make the cookies: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice the rolls into ¼ -inch slices and place an inch apart on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake about 12 minutes- or until cookies are a light golden color. Cool on wire rack. Makes about 5 dozen.

Homemade Marshmallows

Freshly rolled marshmallows

Since I shared a recipe for homemade hot cocoa yesterday, I thought I would share my recipe for homemade marshmallows today. They are very easy to make, and so much better than store bought.

 

The recipe is for classic vanilla marshmallows, but you can add different flavors and even colors, if you like. How fun to enjoy a mug of hot cocoa topped with homemade marshmallows. Maybe even make a mint version for your cocoa.

I’ve used this recipe for ages. I like that it is super easy, and still gives you quality marshmallows. I’ve seen more complicated versions- but why make life harder than it already is?

 

Marshmallows

1/2 c. cornstarch

1/2 c. powdered sugar

small amount of butter

2 envelopes unflavored gelatin, or 6 sheets of gelatin*

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1/3 c. water

2/3 c. corn syrup

1/2 t. vanilla

Combine cornstarch and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Butter an 8x8x2 inch-baking pan. Sprinkle with some of the cornstarch mixture. Reserve the rest of the mixture for use later on. Combine the gelatin, granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until gelatin is dissolved.** Pour gelatin mixture into a large bowl, adding the corn syrup and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on high speed for 15 minutes. Be precise on the timing. The mixture will be thick and fluffy, marshmallow cream, actually. Pour mixture into the prepared pan, spread evenly and refrigerate overnight. The next day, sift some of the reserved cornstarch mixture over the marshmallows. Sprinkle some more of the coating mixture on a work surface and turn the marshmallow out onto the prepared surface. Cut the marshmallows into 1-inch squares, coating as you go. The marshmallows are very sticky until completely coated. Allow to dry on a rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks. Makes about 4 dozen candies.

You can swap out flavorings- using maybe mint or lemon in place of the vanilla. You can also add a few drops of food coloring, if you like. Oh, and when you are at the rolling the pieces around in the cornstarch and powdered sugar stage of the process- don’t wear black. You’ll thank me later for that.

* Note: 3 sheets of sheet gelatin= one packet (1 tablespoon) of powdered gelatin.

** Note: If you are using sheet gelatin place it in the pan with COLD water and stir until dissolved. Then add the sugar and just cook, over medium-low heat until just warm, stirring often. Don’t let the mixture get too hot or the gelatin will not work.

 

Rainbow Marshmallows

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix

Hot Cocoa Ice Cream Cone

I am always looking for homemade gift ideas for the holidays. I really like gifts that both adults and kids can make. This one is just a simple way to package homemade hot cocoa mix to make it special. We made these in a holiday gift class the other night. People really enjoyed making them.

You start with hot cocoa mix- recipe follows. Then you get these cone shaped bags. I use a 12-inch size and a 17-inch size. I buy my online but they are available in some craft and candy making stores. Just put about 1 cup of the hot cocoa mix in the smaller cone shaped bag. Fold the top down and tape it shut. Now place the smaller bag inside the larger bag. Add about a cup of mini marshmallows mixed with some chocolate chips. The chips are optional. Tie shut with a ribbon. It ends up looking (sort of) like an ice cream cone.  I add a label that says “Hot Cocoa for Two” with directions that say, “Divide hot cocoa mix between two large mugs. Fill with a cup of boiling water in each. Stir and top with the marshmallows”. You can make whatever label you like. A quick and simple gift. You could also include mugs with the gift. This is a great idea for kids to make for grandparents, teachers, etc.

 

 

Here is the recipe for the hot cocoa mix.

Hot Cocoa Mix

3 c. nonfat dry milk
1 c. cocoa
1 c. sugar
1/4 t. salt
1 c. mini marshmallows (optional)

In large bowl, mix all ingredients well. I like to sift the ingredients in because it powders the milk even finer than the way it comes. Store in an airtight jar and use within 6 months. To use add 5 tablespoonfuls to 8 ounces boiling water. Variation, flavor with cinnamon, instant coffee, cayenne pepper or even dried orange peel.

Cinnamon Ornaments

Cinnamon Ornaments

If you want a simple gift/craft for the holidays, it does not get much easier than cinnamon ornaments. All you need are cinnamon, applesauce, a rolling pin and cookie cutters. There is no cooking involved, or special equipment.

You combine the cinnamon and applesauce to make a sort of dough. You roll out the dough and cut it into shapes. Then, you just need to let the ornaments dry and harden. Allow a few days for drying. If you put them in a dehydrator, they are dry in a few hours.  The house smells really good while they are drying.  Even after they are dried, they continue to have that wonderful cinnamon fragrance. They can be used as ornaments on a tree or simply hung to freshen a room. This is a fun gift for kids to make, too.  Here are the directions.

 

 

Ornament assortment

Ornament assortment

 

Cinnamon Ornaments

These are for decorating, not for eating!

3/4 c. applesauce
1 bottle (4.12 oz.) cinnamon

Mix applesauce and cinnamon and knead to form a stiff dough. Roll out to 1/4-inch thickness and cut out with cookie cutters. Make hole in top of ornament with skewer or straw and carefully transfer to rack to dry. Let dry a couple of days, turning occasionally. Hang dried ornaments with decorative thread or ribbon. Makes about 12-15.

Two Trees and a Roll of Duct Tape

I have some really fun childhood holiday memories. Perhaps the most fun was getting our own Christmas tree. What really made the trip fun was going with Uncle Frank.

Uncle Frank was my dad’s baby brother. He was always so much fun. He had a great sense of humor, too.

The one thing Uncle Frank never seemed to have- at least at tree cutting time- was a car with a working heater. I am not sure if he and my dad thought it was more of an adventure that way. I mean, we could have gone in my family’s car- but we never did.

One year in particular, will always stand out for me. There were 7 of us in a Volkswagen beetle. Two adults, my Dad and Uncle Frank, three of my cousins, my brother and me.  Of course, no heater in the car. It was also a very snowy December, so the car was cold.

We were all bundled up as we headed out to get a couple of Christmas trees. There is a small space behind the back seat in an old Beetle. That is where my cousin Laurie and I sat. My brother and two cousins shared the back seat. Dad and Uncle Frank sat in front.

When we got to the tree farm, the dads pretty much left us kids on our own. There was a lot of snow on the ground and I remember sliding down a snowy hill, over and over. When we were called back to the car- we were all pretty cold- and our boots were full of snow.

I don’t want you to think that my Dad and Uncle Frank were not good parents or reckless. They were the best- and so much fun. They insisted we all take off out wet boots when we got in the car. Everyone tossed them in the area in back were Laurie and I had been sitting. We joined the others in the back seat. My cousin Gary sat on my Dad’s lap. Well, that was after my Dad and Uncle Frank got in the car.

See, there was this problem with the trees. For some reason they didn’t have enough rope- or any rope. I don’t really remember that part.

I just know, that at some point, with the kids shivering in the car- we were now wet and had removed our boots- My Uncle Frank and my father started taping two pine trees to a VW Bug. I remember them passing the tape over and under the car, making sure the trees were not going anywhere.

I feel the need to point out, that the rounded top of the beetle was not an easy place to secure a tree- or two. So the trees ended up more on the sides of the car, taped securely into place. I learned at a very early age, the value of duct tape. The guys had to come in through open windows, since the trees were pretty much blocking the doors.

When my Uncle started up the car- the windows were all frosted up. The heater did not work, so no defroster for the windows. He used his thumbnail to scratch off an area of ice about the size of a silver dollar. He closed one eye, put the open eye up to the little circle he had cleared on the windshield and declared – it was fine- he could see just fine.

We all laughed. He was laughing, so was my Dad. We took our cues from the adults and joined in the merriment. It was a cold, but laughter- filled ride home. When we got back, my uncle crawled out the window and un-taped the trees so we could all get out of the car.

My Mom and Aunt quickly got us into dry clothes and I am guessing they were not as amused by our condition as we were. The point is, no one got hurt and it probably toughened us up a little.

I am glad there are car seats and seat belts and air bags in cars today. I think kids and adults should be safely secured in all moving vehicles. But way back when- we didn’t have those safety features. It isn’t like they decided not to strap us in- they couldn’t.

While my Uncle Frank was laughing and joking around that day, he was also a police officer. I am sure he knew how to drive in snowy conditions. Maybe he was nervous. Maybe my dad was, too. But if they were, they didn’t show it.

I know there was a lot of love and laughter in the Beetle that day. I can only imagine the looks we got from other drivers on our way home. I couldn’t actually see other cars, however, as the view was blocked by the tree branches and frosty windows.

If there is any lesson- perhaps it is to be brave enough to be silly sometimes. While I don’t want anyone to put a child in harm’s way- don’t be so careful that your kid’s miss out on adventures, too.

Be the person that gives a kid a really good memory this holiday season. Perhaps, using duct tape and a couple of trees.

 

 

 

Homemade Bath Salts

Homemade Bath Salts

One of my favorite gifts to make is bath salts. Everyone seems to like them. I actually get requests for more!!

The ingredients are fairly easy to find. Epsom salts can be found at any drug store.

Essential oils can be found at most craft stores. Food coloring- grocery stores. Try to find pretty jars to put them and finish with a pretty label.

This is a fun craft for kids to make for Mom, teachers etc. I like using essential oils, but you can use perfume, too.

Sometimes I add small amount of dried flower petals. If you do that- just small amounts and crumbled pretty fine, so there won’t be issues with clogging drains. Here are the directions.

 

 

Homemade Bath Salts

Epsom Salts

Fragrant oils

Food coloring- optional

Flower petals

 

Place 2 cups Epsom salts in a non-reactive bowl and add a few drops of scented oils and a few drops of food coloring, if desired. Toss to distribute, or place in a jar with a tight fitting lid or even in a plastic bag and shake mixture well. Take a whiff. If you can’t smell them, add more. You can add more coloring, too if needed. Add a few petals, broken up, for additional fragrance and for color. Place salts in a glass jar with a lid or in a plastic bag and let stand 1 week. Smell again and adjust fragrance as needed. Fragrances mature and you may find them too weak or strong. Add more oil or cologne to heighten aroma or add more salts to cut down on intensity. Keep in mind that the bath salts will be diluted a lot in a bath, so a little strong is good.

 

The oils are available at many craft stores and by mail. See the section on mail order in the back of the book. Choosing the fragrance you want to use can be a little trickier. Most of the florals are a safe bet, but you may want to get more creative. Citrus, herb, spice and woody fragrant oils can add a dimension to your bath salts that make them really outstanding.

 

To present them as a gift salts can be put in a wide-mouth jar, with a lid. Decorate with ribbon and attach a small scoop, if you like. Discount and dollar stores are a good place to find attractive jars at a reasonable price as well as garage sales and resale shops. You can also package them for individual use in lollipop bags with a card board header, like the herb packets. I like to make different fragrances and label them  (relaxing bath, earthly delights, sweet dreams, etc. I then package them in the bags and add a few to a gift basket.

 

Homemade Chocolate Truffles

Chocolate Truffles

In keeping with my homemade gift theme this week, I wanted to share this simple, yet very tasty recipe, for Homemade Chocolate Truffles. These melt in your mouth, with a smooth, creamy texture and rich, chocolate flavor.

They can be a lovely hostess gift. Kids can make them, too.

The secret for making really good truffles is using the best quality chocolate you can. You can use chocolate chips, but get good ones.

They are very soft, and melt quickly when handled. When rolling them out, I prefer to wear plastic gloves. Make them without gloves, and you will understand why.

At candy making stores, get small papers cups and small boxes or tins for wrapping up your truffles.

 

 

Chocolate Truffles

1/3 c. Whipping cream

6 T. butter, cut into small pieces

2 c. chocolate chips- or 12 oz. dark chocolate, grated or chopped coarsely

Unsweetened cocoa

Heat cream to boiling in small saucepan. Stir in butter and cook until melted. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until melted. Place in shallow bowl and chill until firm, at least a couple of hours. Roll mixture into 1-inch balls and roll in cocoa. Sometimes the mixture is quite firm and hard to roll into perfectly smooth balls. You can roll them out as smooth as you can, roll in cocoa and then roll again to smooth out. You might want to give them another roll in the cocoa after that.  Makes about 30.

Homemade Cashew Brittle

 

Homemade Cashew Brittle

If you need a great food gift- perhaps something to bring to a holiday party- this brittle might just be the answer.

I was given this recipe at a craft show a few years ago. The brittle is cooked in the microwave. No special thermometers or equipment required. Just a glass bowl and a few minutes of your time. It could not be simpler.  It is really good, too.

You can use other nuts, if you prefer, or peanuts. You can add a little cayenne pepper, if you want a spicy version. You can also dress it up with a drizzle of chocolate, once cooled.  So many ways to enjoy it.

 

Stored in a covered container, in a cool, dry place, the brittle will stay crunchy for weeks.

 

 

 Homemade Cashew Brittle

2 c. cashews*

1 c. sugar

1/2 c. corn syrup

1/8 t. salt

1 t. butter

1 t. vanilla

1 t. baking soda

Butter or oil a large baking sheet and set aside. In a 3-4 quart glass bowl combine the nuts, sugar, corn syrup and salt. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Remove from microwave, stir well and return to microwave. Cook 3 more minutes in microwave. Remove and stir in butter and vanilla, stirring until butter has melted. Return to microwave and cook for 2 more minutes. Remove from microwave and stir in baking soda. Stir until well blended and pour mixture onto prepared baking sheet. Spread out quickly, then allow to cool. Once cool, break into pieces. Store in a cool, dry place. I normally store it in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid.

* I used salted cashews but feel free to experiment with other nuts

Note: Use high power setting on microwave.

 

Six Quick Breads for Gift Giving

Cinnamon Apple Bread

Quick breads are a great food gift for the holidays. I have collected six of my favorite quick bread recipes. There is something to suit any taste. Rather than giving one large bread, I often divide the batter into smaller pans, and give a few different breads as a gift.

When making the bread in smaller pans, bake at the same temperature as you would normally, but reduce baking time. Depending on the size of the small pans, baking time can be cut in half. Check the breads after thirty minutes of baking. If not done, check at five minute intervals after that.

For gift giving, I often bake them in foil pans. I leave the breads in the pans, then slip into a bag and tie shut with a pretty ribbon.

They also freeze well. You can bake them ahead of time, then you have gifts at the ready, as needed.

Cinnamon Apple Bread

This bread is one of my favorite recipes. Not too sweet, it is moist from the shredded apples, flavored with cinnamon and studded with raisins and nuts. This apple bread makes a great breakfast or snack. I have been known to top a slice with cinnamon ice cream and a little caramel sauce for a simple dessert. This recipe makes one loaf, but I often double it- so I can freeze the second loaf for later. Enjoy!!

 

1/3 c. butter, softened

2/3 c. sugar

2 t. grated lemon or orange peel

1 t. cinnamon

2 eggs

3 T. milk

1 t. lemon juice

1 t. each baking powder and salt

1/2 t. baking soda

2 c. flour

1 1/2 c. peeled shredded apples, about 2 large apples

1 c. raisins*

1/2 c. chopped nuts

Topping:

3 T. sugar

1 t. cinnamon

 

Cream together butter, sugar, peel and cinnamon. Beat in eggs until light and fluffy. Stir in milk and lemon juice. Stir in dry ingredients then fold in apples, raisins and nuts. Pour batter into greased 9×5 – inch loaf pan. Combine topping and sprinkle over the top of the batter.  Bake in a preheated 350 -degree oven for 1 hour. Use a toothpick to test for doneness. Cool 15-20 minutes before removing from pan. Yield: 1 loaf.

*You can use other dried fruits. I sometimes use dried cranberries or cherries.

 

Pumpkin Bread

While the recipe calls for cooked pumpkin, other winter squash can also be used. I like butternut and Hubbard squash, but feel free to use what you like.

1 ¾ c. flour

1 ½ c. sugar

1 t. baking soda

¾ t. salt

1 t. each cinnamon and nutmeg

½ c. butter, softened

2 eggs, beaten

1 c. pumpkin

1/3 c. water

Mix dry ingredients and set aside. Beat together butter and eggs until fluffy. Beat in pumpkin and water until smooth. Stir in dry ingredients until smooth. Pour into a greased 9×5-inch loaf pan. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 60-65 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes before removing from pan and placing on cooling rack. Wrap in plastic, best served the next day. Freezes well. Makes 1 loaf.

 

Zucchini Bread

This recipe makes two loaves. When divided into smaller pans, you can get quite a few loaves baked up in no time at all.

 

3 c. flour

3 eggs

2 c. sugar

2 c. shredded zucchini

1 c. oil

1 c. chopped nuts or raisins

½ c. sour cream or strained yogurt

1 t. each vanilla, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and baking soda

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 2 (9×5 inch) loaf pans. Set aside. Place flour in large bowl. Beat eggs and add with remaining ingredients to flour, mixing well and scraping bowl. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until browned and toothpick in center emerges clean. Cool in pans on wire rack. Freezes well. Makes 2.

 

This bread is a favorite of mine. It is not too sweet and pairs nicely with coffee or tea, so it can be a breakfast or brunch dish. It makes a nice dessert, too. The bread is studded with raspberries with hints of cinnamon and vanilla. It can be eaten plain or served up with fruit topping or maybe some whipped cream.  I have used it as the base for a pretty good shortcake. I topped slices of the raspberry bread with ice cream, more berries and a dollop of whipped cream. Like most quick breads, it is better if you wrap it up in plastic or foil, once cooled, and eat it the next day, if you can wait that long!!

 Raspberry Bread

The raspberries make this a special bread, for sure. I normally use fresh raspberries, but frozen work fine, too.

1 ¾ c. flour
½ t. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
½ t. cinnamon
½ c. butter, at room temperature
¾ c. sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
½ c. sour cream, room temperature
1 t. vanilla
1 c. raspberries, fresh or frozen
¾ c. chopped nuts, optional

Grease an 8×4 inch loaf pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine dry ingredients. Set aside. In small bowl beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and beat 1 minute. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in sour cream and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture until just moistened. Fold in berries and nuts and place batter in prepared pan. Bake 60-65 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack. Makes 1 loaf. Freezes well.

 

Banana Bread

You can use fresh or frozen bananas in this bread. When my local store has bananas marked down because they are getting brown, I buy them, then freeze until I am ready to bake with them. Bananas can be frozen right in their peels, but I peel and mash them, to save freezer space. I freeze them in one cup amounts.

1 ¾ c. flour

1½ t. baking powder

¾ t. salt

½ t. baking soda

2/3 c. sugar

1/3 c. butter, softened

2 eggs

2 T. milk

1 c. mashed ripe banana

¼ c. chopped nuts, optional

Combine dry ingredients and set aside. Combine sugar with butter and beat until fluffy. Beat in eggs. Beat in eggs until mixture is smooth. Beat in flour mixture alternately with bananas. Fold in nuts, if desired. Pour batter into greased 9×5 -inch loaf pan. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 60-65 minutes. Use toothpick to test for doneness. Cool in pan 10 minutes before placing on rack to cool. Store in plastic wrap to preserve moisture. Makes 1 loaf.

Strawberries and Cream Bread

This bread requires fresh berries. I make it when local berries are in season. It always reminds me of a warm summer day.  Luckily, even in colder months, I can often find nice fresh berries at the store.

1 ¾ c. flour

½ t. baking powder

½ t. baking soda

½ t. salt

½ t. each  cinnamon and nutmeg

½ c. butter, at room temperature

¾ c. sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

½ c. sour cream, room temperature

1 t. vanilla

1 c. fresh strawberries, coarsely chopped*

¾ c. chopped nuts, optional

 

Grease an 8×4 inch loaf pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine dry ingredients. Set aside. In small bowl beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and beat 1 minute. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in sour cream and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture until just moistened. Fold in strawberries and nuts and place batter in prepared pan. Bake 60-65 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack. Makes 1 loaf. Freezes well.

*  frozen berries are not recommended in this bread.

Pumpkin Bread

Raspberry Bread

Zucchini Bread

Banana Bread

 

Cranberry Liqueur

Cranberry Liqueur or Cranberry Bounce

You can do more with cranberries than make sauce. Not that I don’t like cranberry sauce, I do. I love cranberry season and find myself using them in all sorts of recipes. This is one of my favorites.

I got the recipe from my sister Cindy, many years ago. It is also called Cranberry Bounce. It tastes amazing and makes a great gift, too.

Cranberries, sugar and vodka. What a great combination. It’s simple to make and it makes a nice gift, too. The color is absolutely beautiful. The sweet/tart finished product can be enjoyed by just sipping, on the rocks, or mixed with club soda.

Often after Thanksgiving, the price of cranberries goes down. I stock up on them, freeze some and make a batch, or two of cranberry liqueur.

I hope you give it a try. I am sure you will be pleased with the results.

 

 Homemade Cranberry Liqueur – Cranberry Bounce

1 lb. fresh cranberries (most bags are 12 oz.)

2 c. sugar

4 c. vodka- at least 80 proof

Grind berries fine in food mill or food processor. Place in large jar and combine with the sugar. Let stand, covered until sugar is dissolved completely, several hours or overnight. Add vodka and let steep 1-3 weeks, stirring occasionally. Strain and filter. Makes 5 cups.

Note: Fruit can be saved in fridge and used, sparingly, in desserts, fruit salads and on cake or ice cream.

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