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Ok, so I was terrible with keeping up with the 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats this year. Call me lazy if you’d like. I’ve been super busy and frankly, exhausted over the past few (the first trimester does that to me, apparently!). It’s a wonder I’ve been able to get any posts out over the past few months.

Now that the first trimester has past, I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. If you’re still looking for a holiday cookie for a party, some care packages, or just to have around the house, then this week’s post, something “gingerbread,” to satisfy the What’s Baking? theme chosen by Catherine of Pursuing Domestic Goddess-ness, will work for you. I’ve never been particularly interested in gingerbread flavored baked goods, but I did have to stop myself from eating these. The flavor was fairly subtle and the cookies were super soft, just the way I like them.

Enjoy!

Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread Cookies

Adapted from All Recipes via One Little Project At A Time

Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

  • ¾ c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 c. + 4 Tbs. granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbs. water
  • ¼ c. molasses
  • ¼ c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.Gingerbread Cookies

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and 1 c. sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Lower speed slightly and one at a time, add egg, water, and molasses. Scrape down sides of mixer and add all remaining ingredients (except for the 4 Tbs. sugar), mixing until just combined.

Use a cookie scoop to form 1-inch balls, shaping them between the palms of your hands as needed. Roll in remaining sugar. Place on the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until edges are browned slightly. Allow to cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

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Unlike some people, I never really had any strong Christmas traditions of watching a particular movie. When my brothers and I were little, we would watch Christmas specials that my mom recorded (on VHS!) – the Smurf’s Christmas Special, Frosty the Snowman… the homemade movie had all of those amazing Coca Cola polar bear commercials (seriously, why did those every go away?).

But at a certain point, we got too old for the Christmas specials. I don’t know when we stopped watching – junior high? High school? It wasn’t until college that those Christmas specials were replaced with a movie. Elf.

I remember coming home from college and talking about the movie. My mom rolled her eyes at me, but my brother jumped right into the conversation about what a great movie it was. Needless to say, Mom had to watch it with us. Several times that Christmas vacation. Thus began my newest Christmas movie tradition.

These cookies are inspired by that movie. For those of you that don’t know the movie, stop reading right now, and check out Netflix, On Demand, whatever. Watch it, and then finish reading this post. You should be picturing the scene where Will Ferrell is making a breakfast of pasta, candy, and maple syrup for his father’s wife. These cookies aren’t as sickly sweet as I imaging that breakfast would have been.Not surprisingly, I felt like I was eating a handful of candy when I ate a cookie.

I can’t wait to turn my Christmas movie tradition into a movie + baking event with my daughter!

Buddy the Elf Cookies

Buddy the Elf Cookies

Adapted from Spoon or Foon

Makes 2-3 dozen cookies

Ingredients for the Cookies:

  • 1½ c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 14 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 c. old-fashioned oats
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • ½ c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. M&Ms
  • ½ c. mini marshmallows
  • 1 c. Sno-Caps
  • 4 S’mores Pop Tarts, chopped

Ingredients for the Maple Glaze

  • 1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar
  • 1-2 Tbs. pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper an set aside.2013_12.Weeks.Of.Christmas.Treats

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and vanilla, beating until combined. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, mixing well and scraping down sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce speed to low and add oats, Sno-Caps, Pop Tarts, M&Ms, and marshmallows. The batter will be very thick. You’ll want to finish stirring with a wooden spoon to make sure the candy is evenly distributed.
Using an ice cream scoop, portion out cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets. Bake 14-16 minutes, until lightly golden. Allow to cool for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack (set on top of a paper bag to minimize the mess) to cool completely.
Make the Glaze. While cookies are baking, whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle over cooled cookies.
Store in an airtight container.
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Apple Cinnamon Granola

I love granola and really believe that the homemade kind is the best. It’s a softer texture than most store-bought granola and the flavors are always much bolder.

Granola is not only a tasty breakfast or snack but it’s a great gift. Put it in a cute jar and tie with a pretty ribbon or make it rustic with a mason jar and a little twine. No need for a hostess gift or prefer not to give food this holiday season? Then whip up a batch and store it for a few weeks for your own holiday entertaining.

Apple Cinnamon Granola

Two Peas and Their Pod via Southern Pink Lemonade

Makes 5 cups of granola

Ingredients:2013_12.Weeks.Of.Christmas.Treats

  • 3 1/2 c. old-fashioned oats
  • 4-5 oz. dried apples, chopped small
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • dash of ground nutmeg
  • dash of ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 c. unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 Tbs. honey
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbs. vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 300F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to mix together dry ingredients (oats, apples, sugar, spices, and salt) until thoroughly combined. In a separate small bowl, stir together wet ingredients (applesauce, honey, vanilla and oil).

Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until coated. Spread evenly onto prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. Allow granola to cool completely on baking sheet.

Store in an airtight container. Granola will keep for at least a few weeks.

Serve with milk, over yogurt or ice cream, or eat by the handful on its own.

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Welcome to another week of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats, a weekly blogging event hosted by Meal Planning Magic. If you haven’t been by in the past, you probably don’t know that I love dressing up nuts for a quick, easy, and super tasty snack at parties. It’s become a staple at my annual holiday party. I’ve done Crock-Pot Sugared Nuts and Mixed Spiced Nuts in the past, but I think this recipe is my favorite. I love the sweet vanilla flavor. And it’s done in 30 minutes – a nice little recipe to keep in your back pocket for last minute guests this holiday season.

Vanilla Almonds.

Vanilla Almonds

Adapted from Taste of Home via That Skinny Chick Can Bake

Makes 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/3 c. light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla
  • 1/2 Tbs. vanilla paste (optional)
  • 4 c. unsalted almonds

Preheat oven to 300º. Line two baking sheets with Vanilla Almondsparchment paper and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together both sugars, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk egg whites until frothy, about a minute. Whisk in vanilla and vanilla paste (if using).

Stir in almonds until they’re completely coated. Pour half of sugar mixture over almonds and stir. Pour remaining sugar mixture over almonds and stir until almonds are evenly coated.

Spread almonds in an even layer on the prepared baking sheets. Bake 20-25 minutes, stirring the almonds and rotating the pans midway through baking.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on baking sheets before moving to an airtight container.

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Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

I don’t remember pumpkin picking with my family as a kid- I’m sure I did because I have memories of my dad carving pumpkins. At least one year, some grew in the compost ditch in our backyard from the previous year’s discarded pumpkins.

Anyway, last year, I decided that I wanted to make pumpkin picking with our children a family tradition. While my hubby initially rolled his eyes and went just to humor me, he enjoyed carving the pumpkin as much as I enjoyed the process of choosing a pumpkin (or more accurately, photographing the baby in the pumpkin field).

Roasting the pumpkin seeds was super easy and provided a great snack. I couldn’t walk by the counter without grabbing a few. My only regret is that the giant pumpkin had so few seeds in it!

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Adapted from Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. pumpkin seeds
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne powder

Preheat oven to 350.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, toss all ingredients until pumpkin seeds are evenly coated.

Bake 30-45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until pumpkin seeds are golden brown.

Remove from oven.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Pumpkin seeds will keep stored in an airtight container for 3 days.

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Cranberry Orange Bread

Welcome to the first in 12 weeks of Christmas treats, a weekly blog hop hosted by Meal Planning Magic. Now I know it’s early to be thinking about Christmas, but the holiday season is a particularly busy one for me and I like to get a jump start on those holiday care packages and the big holiday party that my hubby and I host each year. So I’m already making lists of goodies that I want to make, and trying to pencil in some time to get baking.  This particular bread recipe freezes well without the glaze (and tastes great without it, if you prefer) and will definitely be making an appearance in some of my care packages this December.

Cranberry Orange Bread

Adapted from Fine Cooking

Makes 1 standard loaf (or two smaller, half loaves)

Ingredients for the Bread:

  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for panCranberry Orange Bread
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbs. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/4 c. cranberries, halved
  • 1 c. buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. finely grated orange zest

Ingredients for the Glaze:

  • 1 c. confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 4 tsp. freshly squeezed orange juice

Preheat oven to 350F. If using a standard loaf pan, grease the pan with 1 Tbs. softened butter and lightly flour. Same thing for a disposable aluminum pan. (My pans, purchased from Michael’s craft stores, did not need to be greased, so I omitted this step.)

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in cranberries.

In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, vanilla and orange zest. Pour mixture, as well as melted butter, over dry ingredients. Gently fold in until no dry ingredients remain.

Pour into prepared baking pan and bake until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50-60 minutes for a standard loaf pan, and 35-45 minutes for a half-loaf.

Allow to cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Invert bread onto a rack to cool completely before adding glaze.

If using disposable liners, cool completely. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze, without glaze.

Glaze Bread: Whisk together confectioners’ sugar and orange juice until smooth, adding extra orange juice by the teaspoon, if needed, to thin glaze. Drizzle over loaf. Store at room temperature, covered, for up to 2 days.

If glazing after freezing, allow bread to thaw completely before adding glaze.

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Dark Chocolate Almond Brownies

Although I don’t follow any special diet, apart from trying to make healthy choices, I’m fining the an increasing number of friends and family are changing their eating habits. Recently, a very good friend started eating gluten-free. I know it’s been a bit of a challenge for their family, but it’s also been an adjustment for me as I’ve brought dishes to their house or invited them over for a meal. For me, it’s a change in the way I bake and also an education process. So many foods are naturally gluten-free, but it’s taken a little bit of reading for me to feel comfortable picking out meals without double-checking the ingredients. Baking has been more of a challenge, since you can’t really swap in and out ingredients as easily. It’s too much of an exact science. Luckily, I’ve been following Jenn Cuisine for a long time, and knew she’s help me out with a good recipe.

These brownies were a decadant, gluten-free treat. While a slightly different texture than most brownies, these were super moist and rich. The almond flavor was subtle but enjoyable.

Dark Chocolate Almond Brownies

Adapted from Gluten Free Goddess via Jenn Cuisine

Makes an 9×9 pan

Ingredients:

  • 150 g. dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla paste (or, seeds scraped from 1/2 a vanilla bean)
  • 3/4 c. almond meal
  • 1/4 c.  cocoa powder
  • 1/1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9×9 inch baking pan or pyrex dish with parchment paper and set aside.

In a double broiler, melt chocolate, butter and vanilla, stirring until smooth.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk eggs until foamy. Continue whisking and gradually add sugar, until sugar is incorporated.

When chocolate and butter are melted, slowly add to eggs-sugar mixture, continuously whisking. Sprinkle in almond meal, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder. Stir with a whisk until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Serve warm or at room temperature (the longer it sits, the cleaner the edges are when you cut). Dust with confectioner’s sugar, if desired.

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TheBookOfLifeThis review is for the final book in the All Souls Trilogy (aka the Discovery of Witches Trilogy). If you haven’t read my review of the first (or second) book, I recommend you start there.

Book Review:

The Book of Life

By Deborah Harkness

In this final book of the All Souls trilogy, Diana and Matthew return to the present so that they can start their own family and to finish their quest of finding the legendary ancient text desired by witches and vampires alike, Ashmole 782.

But nothing is ever easy. Diana and Matthew must beat other witches and vampires to the book, as well as deal with Matthew’s disowned son, who seeks to destroy the de Claremont family.

Review/Recommendation: If you want my opinion in a nutshell, well here it is. I loved this book – I seriously couldn’t put it down.

When I started The Book of Life, I was a little worried that it would be hard for me to get into it, that I wouldn’t remember everything from the first two books. I debated rereading them, but honestly, with an 18-month old running up the stairs every time I turn my back, I knew I wouldn’t have time to do so. As it turns out, I didn’t need a refresher – the story and characters came back to me within a few pages of starting the final book in the trilogy. From that moment on, I could barely put it down. Seriously. The baby got to play in the iPad more than usual that week.

While the whole story was fantastic, I really appreciated the ending of the book. Not only did Harkness ties everything together nicely, she managed to leave me feeling satisfied, which I think is rare in many series (serieses?) that I read. Definitely an awesome end to an amazing trilogy.

Grade: A

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What's_Baking_BadgeThis month is my first to participate in a blogging event called What’s Baking? Every month or two, a blogger will choose a theme, and the rest of us will bake something that fits in with the theme. It’s a great way to try out new recipes, sometimes out of your comfort zone.

This month, the theme of “Heritage Dish” was chosen by Ali from Sparks from the Kitchen. This theme couldn’t have come at a better time, as I recently saw my Polish grandparents. What’s Baking? was the perfect excuse to make something that my grandpa always enjoyed – babka.

Babka is a sweet yeast bread or cake from Eastern Europe. Growing up, my family served the Jewish version, a bread (the cake version is associated with Christian Easter and other holidays). I don’t recall anyone ever making it but it was ordered from bakeries a time or two around both Easter and Christmas.

This version is streaked with semisweet chocolate. My coworkers polished off two loaves of this bread before noon one day. My grandfather, however, was not as impressed. He reminded me every time he had a slice, that I should have used raisins in it, and that it was a little heavy. But he ate two or three slices a day, so it couldn’t have been that bad. :-)

Baking Note: The original recipe made 4 loaves of bread. I halved the recipe below, because even though it’s freezable, four loaves is quite a lot. If you choose to freeze the dough, it can be frozen for up to a month. Defrost in the fridge 24-hours before using. Then roll out the dough, allow it to rest and rise, and bake.

Chocolate-Flecked Babka

Chocolate-Flecked Babka

Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois), p. 221

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients: 

  • 1 1/2 c. lukewarm milk
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3/4 Tbs. granulated yeast (1 packet)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 6 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 3 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. finely chopped or shaved semisweet (or bittersweet) chocolate
  • 1/8 c. rum, divided (for soaking the bread)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together milk, yolks, salt, and butter with a wooden spoon until fairly well combined. Attach bowl to mixer and fit with dough hook. Add flour and stir on speed 2 (the highest speed my mixer could handle using the dough hook) until all of the flour has been incorporated. The mixture will be fairly loose.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), about 2 hours. (I tend to place the bread near the oven/stove, when it’s turned on to help it along a little).

When the dough has risen, brush with half of the rum and refrigerate (still covered loosely with plastic wrap) until chilled.

Here, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to a month. If using dough from the freezer, allow to defrost in the fridge for 24 hours before resuming recipe below. 

On baking day, grease a standard loaf pan and set aside. .

Lightly flour a work surface with flour. Remove dough from fridge and cut dough in half. Dust with flour and shape into a ball by stretching the surface of the below around to the bottom. Roll out into a rectangle, approximately 1/4-inch thick. Sprinkle the entire piece of the dough (including edges) with half of the shaved chocolate (1/2 c.). Roll into a log, starting at the short end. Fold the ends of the log into the middle, so that the ends meet. Place in prepared loaf pan and allow to rise and rest, about 2 hours.

Repeat with the second portion of dough, if you’re baking both at once.

Shortly before before baking, ensure that a rack is in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350F. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown and firm.

Remove from the oven and brush with rum. Allow to rest for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve at room temperature.

Store, tightly wrapped, at room temperature.

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Cherry Margaritas

For someone who isn’t interested in fresh cherries, my hubby got interested in these margaritas real fast. There I was, making myself one of these margaritas to enjoy with a book. I was looking forward to savoring 30 minutes of quiet time to myself when he strolled over and starts eyeing the counter.

Hubby: Whatcha making?

Me: A cherry margaritas

Hubby: Oh. I’m not a fan of cherries.

Me: I know. That’s why I didn’t offer to make you one.

Hubby: Maybe I can just try some of yours Me:

Go away, I want my cocktail and my book.

Ok, so that last line isn’t true. I kindly let him taste my margarita and then started over to make him one of his own. I  guess cherries + tequila aren’t that bad after all. While pitting the cherries was annoying (I’ve got to get myself a cherry pitter), it was worth it for these margaritas. Brilliant red, the margarita is light and refreshing, just sweet enough to feel like it’s a real treat.

Fresh Cherry Margaritas

Adapted from Fine Cooking June/July 2010 (p. 80)

Makes 2 Drinks

Ingredients:

  • 24 fresh sweet cherries, pitted, plus 2 whole cherries for garnish
  • 2 1/2 oz. tequila
  • 2 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 oz. agave nectar
  • 1 oz. maraschino cherry juice

In a jigger, crush cherries with wooden spoon to release juices, about 1 minute. Top with ice. Add remaining ingredients, except the cherry garnish and shake for at least 30 seconds. Pour into a glass with about 1/2 c. of ice. Garnish with a cherry, if desired.

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