Mint Brownies

Mint Brownies

When I was in college, my best friend used to come visit me once a semester. Several times when she made the trip, she also lugged her baking equipment with her. We would wedge ourselves into the tiny, communal kitchen and whip up a batch of mint brownies. Later, we would sit ourselves down with the pan and two forks to watch chick flicks. By the end of the weekend, almost all the brownies would be gone and all of our clothes would be a bit tighter.

I have such fond memories of these brownies. Now that I am out of school, they have become a part of my Christmas tradition. With their pretty green, minty layer, they certainly fit right in with the season!

And hey, if they are easy enough to make in an ill-equipped college dorm, you can definitely pull them off, no sweat! The only hard part is waiting til after the frosting sets to eat them.

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How to Prepare a Special Feast (Without Wishing You Weren’t)

Feast Prep

This afternoon, as I was awkwardly stuffing the contents of four sacks of groceries into my fridge, it occurred to me that we haven’t really talked about Christmas dinner.

That’s partly because the entire first half of this month was a blur for me, as I spent it organizing and cooking for a multi-day party in the Outer Banks for my husband’s 30th birthday. Dave requested mostly meaty Asian foods (pho, moo shu, pad ka pow), which I made from scratch (no mixes of any kind!)…and then sat back and ate cookies while dinner was served. The main attraction was about 50 board games, which Dave and most of his friends and family proceeded to play for three days straight. It was a lot of work, but it turned out totally awesome!

And I learned something extremely valuable from feeding 20 people for three days: preparation is everything.

This is a lesson that really should be extended to all events, especially holiday feasts! Because, honestly, the last thing you want is to be running around frantically on what should be a day for family time and celebration.

Whether you are hosting Christmas breakfast or dinner, throwing a dinner party, or just bringing one dish to a potluck, planning—and doing—ahead will make your special feast relaxing and fun. So pour yourself a glass of wine, turn on your favorite Christmas music, and let’s get to work!

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Pistachio Spritz Cookies

Pistachio Spritz Cookies

I have to confess something…something that makes me feel a little embarrassed this time of year.

I dread making sugar cookies.

Don’t get me wrong, I love eating them! But rolling and cutting out cookies is simply not my thing. Sure, I have plenty of fond childhood memories of making sugar cookies with my mother. My mom would let me position and press the cutters into the sweet dough and go wild with the colored sugar (even though I actually think plain sugar cookies taste the best. But that’s less festive, isn’t it?). But now this just seems like an odious task that takes forever and usually yields slightly lopsided cookies.

I feel like this is a real weight around my neck. After all, Christmas cookies are mostly decorative! (That is, they are mostly variations on the same recipe, dressed up to be super cute.) How can I call myself a baker if I eschew making cut-out cookies? If there was ever a time of year that the balance between tasty and pretty shifts more toward the pretty side, it’s Christmas. Decorating cookies is simply a must.

So last year (also known as year 1 of motherhood), I dyed my favorite cookie batter green and stuffed it into a cookie press. Voilà! Festive cookies that require no rolling or cutting.

This year I am following suit, but adding pistachios. Because nuts are wonderful. And, just for you (and because somehow I have a whole basket full of decorative sugars and sprinkles, even though I prefer plain cookies…), I prettied those little Christmas trees up. Because that’s what Christmas baking is all about.

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English Toffee

English Toffee

Guess what?

Toffee is possibly the easiest Christmas treat ever. And it’s rather impressive, isn’t it? At least, I think so.

(Warning: This candy does have enough sugar and butter to knock a week or two off the end of your life. But I think it’s worth it this Christmas!)

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Viennese Sablés

Viennese Sables

I have a theory that almost all Christmas cookies are really just sugar cookies at heart. Sugar cookies with nuts, sugar cookies with spices, sugar cookies shaped and/or frosted thematically…

(Admit it, you know I’m right.)

Here are some sugar cookies with chocolate! They are deeply chocolatey and a little dry and crispy. I find these sablés totally addictive. And they go perfectly with a hot mug of your favorite Christmas drink!

Plus, if you are coordinated, you can pipe your squiggles in the shape of Christmas trees. Festive and delicious!

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Cookie Mix Jars

Cookies and Mix Jars

Have you ever met someone who says they don’t bake because they don’t like to measure?

(Are you that person?)

I have several friends who have confessed that or similar hang-ups about baking. But here’s how I see it: it’s Christmas! Everyone deserves fresh baked cookies, whether or not they wake up in the morning thinking about creaming butter and sugar!

That’s why this year, I am giving the gift of baking. Err…cookies.

This is a great gift, even for people who do love to bake. It’s sweet and inexpensive—I love finding little ways to tell someone I thought about them without breaking the bank or obligating them to give anything in return. It took me about 1 hour to put together 8 jars, and the cookies themselves are delicious! They are full of oats, spices, chocolate, toasted nuts, and cranberries. (Although I admit I subbed coconut for the cranberries in the batch I baked myself. That, too, was stupendous!)

You should go get some jars and make these cookies for your friends, too!

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Cream-Braised Brussels Sprouts

Cream-Braised Brussels Sprouts

At the beginning of this year, I decided I was going to read a new book every week.

Even though I had an infant.

That totally went according to plan…

But one of the fun side effects of this plan was becoming acquainted with a few new (to me) food blogs, as several of the books I purchased in my New Year’s resolution whirlwind of excitement were tales about food. One blog that I now know much better is Orangette, through the book A Homemade Life.

Although I feel like I have very little in common with Molly, I did find myself dog-earing several pages as I read…and I was so excited to make the creamy brussels sprouts she mentioned that I literally put the book down and went immediately to the grocery store. I’ve already made them twice since Thanksgiving (thank you, Molly, for the side-note about holidays being a time of indulgence), and, much like Molly, I can almost down an entire batch of these by myself. So good.

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Apple Caramel Hand Pies

Apple Caramel Hand Pies

Thanksgiving is over and now it’s Christmas season!

Do you even know how much I look forward to what I informally think of as “cookie month”?

Yet…for all the delights of Christmas cookies, sometimes it’s a little sad to say goodbye to pie week.

So why not make your pies into cookies? Ease the transition a little.

Plus, these are delicious (okay, that’s only hearsay. I don’t eat apples. But seriously, they disappeared in a twinkling).

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