Christmas


Alexander’s parents picked up the Christmas tree on Saturday and it’s all decorated now and glowing and the living room has a fresh pine scent. Present has been collecting under it since Sunday and it looks all ready for Christmas morning. If we’re lucky we may get more snowfall around Christmas.

But first, we’re off to Puerto Vallarta on the West Coast of Mexico for a couple of days of sun, margharitas and fantastic Mexican food. We’ll be back just in time for Christmas to prepare some more cookies, candy and snacks for all the gatherings on Christmas day!

Like these Eggnog cookies we baked the other night. They were a big hit in this house, as the fast-emptying cookie plates can attest.  They are real easy to make and fast too as the dough does not need any refrigeration.Which means we did not have to wait around for hours but could satisfy our cravings almost immediately.

To make these tasty treats you need to get together:

2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

a pinch of salt

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup eggnog

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large egg yolks

3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature and cubed

1 and 1/4 cup white sugar

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 300F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl beat together the sugar and butter until light and creamy. Mix in the egg yolks, eggnog and vanilla on medium until nice and smooth. Gently fold in the remaining ingredients until everything is just combined.

Drop teaspoonfuls onto the cookie sheets about 1 inch apart. You can sprinkle some ground nutmeg or cinnamon over the cookies if you like. Bake it for about 20 minutes and remember to rotate halfway through. Remove from the oven and transfer the paper to a wire rack to cool. The cookies are very soft when removed from the oven, but they set a little more once removed

Alexander created an eggnog frosting the next day to drizzle over our second batch of cookies for some added decadence. Just cream a little softened butter with powdered sugar and mix in a little eggnog, then drizzle over cooled cookies.

These cookies has a delightful chewy texture and are great on their own or accompanied by some warm milk or hot chocolate.

Told you I was going to get into the season. I found this recipe for cranberry and oatmeal cookies on Martha Stewart’s website and Alexander suggested we bake it to serve with the pumpkin pie as part of his dad’s late Thanksgiving dinner for the family (we were stuck in Thailand for the holiday).

As we’re back in a house with a fully stocked kitchen there was no need to rush around trying to find ingredients and I got to work right away. Sweet!

For the cookie dough you should collect:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons milk

2 large eggs

2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 cups oats

1 cup dried cranberries (I used half a cup cranberries and half a cup chopped almonds)

The process:

Start the process at least 2-3 hours before you want to bake it as the dough needs to be refrigerated.

Whisk together the flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder and soda in a medium-sized bowl and set aside. Whisk together the milk, eggs and vanilla extract in a small bowl and set aside. Combine the butter (cut into smaller pieces) and the sugar in a mixing bowl with the mixer on low (if you use a mixer without paddle attachment) or medium (if you have the paddle attachment) until it is light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, gradually add the milk mixture until well-combined. Next add the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Finally stir in the remaining ingredients and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours.

When it’s time to start baking, preheat the oven to 350F (yes I am in the US now and trying to convert). Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Shape 2 tablespoons of dough into a ball and place them about 3 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Martha suggests flattening them with the bottom of a glass, but we used the spoon to kind of flatten them, which gives them more of a home-made look me thinks.

Finally, bake the cookies for about 16  minutes (or less, my first batch burnt a little on the underside). Remember to rotate the baking sheets halfway through so they bake evenly. When baked, transfer the cookies with the paper to wire racks to cool and serve.

As I only remembered to start baking halfway through the fantastic turkey dinner, the cookies were still warm and fresh when they were served along with the pumpkin pie. In retrospect I found that I added double the cinnamon and salt! Luckily it did not ruin the cookies and they tasted pretty good, in fact, I thing the extra cinnamon made the cookies even better.

And they were even better the next morning with some soy nog!

Oh! My efforts to get more seasonal was rewarded this morning with the first snow of winter. It did not exactly stick, but it looked pretty drifting down and had me quite excited.

I am a bit of a Grinch. The season usually does not appeal to me and I’ve spent numerous holiday seasons grumbling about Christmas music, television commercials, red everywhere and family gatherings. My friend Nicole, who is a slave to the season, has tried to convert me while we were living in Taiwan and came pretty close in 2005. Since then I spent one Christmas in warm and sunny Hoedspruit and another in hot and polluted Bangkok, so I did not see any reason to celebrate.

This year, however, is different. I am spending Christmas in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Outside it is all wintry and freezing cold. There is the promise of a little snow. We drink warm drinks and dress up snuggly. All the colors of Christmas seem right. Alexander loves Christmas, so I am trying to get into the spirit. A little reluctantly, but it’s coming on. To help me get into the spirit, Alexander suggested we attempt a variety of Christmas baking and cooking. Smart Alexander.

Friday evening we had dinner at his sister’s and they decided we were going to make peppermint bark. Something I’ve never heard of before but it sounded good. I started off assisting in the process, unwrapping candy canes, but got distracted by X’s fourteen month old niece, so the first of our Christmas-cooking was done by Alexander and his sister. This recipe belongs to the two of them.

To make peppermint bark you need to pick up:

1 pound white chocolate for baking (get good quality white chocolate!)

12 candy canes

The process:

Crush the candy canes into small pieces, about a 1/4 inch. Cut the chocolate into chunks and melt in a double boiler. Turn off the heat and stir in most of the candy cane bits, reserving some for decorating. Pour the chocolate mix onto a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Sprinkle the rest of the candy cane on top and refrigerate for about 40-50 minutes until set. When it’s all set, crack it into pieces and serve. Heaven!

We enjoyed several pieces each and had a hard time restraining ourselves not to eat all of it in one go. And I am already getting more excited about Christmas, thinking of other things to make. Yes, my Grinch-heart is slowly warming to Christmas. If only someone could get the stores to stop playing Winter Wonderland.