Cioppino

Cioppino is a Christmas Eve tradition in my family. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother would throw it together every Christmas Eve and serve it with salad, white rice, and freshly baked bread rolls. It is a dish everyone expects when the holidays come around. Cioppino is the Italian equivalent of Paella seafood casserole.

My sisters and I would normally join her in making this dish. Now that my grandmother is gone, it is my turn to take on the cioppino and prepare it for Christmas Eve. Thankfully my grandmother left helpful notes on the recipe, like to triple to recipe in order to feed the 12 person group that gathers at her house on Christmas Eve. And to cut the salt in half to avoid it being too salty. The nice thing about this recipe is that you can prepare the sauce a few days before and freeze it. Then on the day you are ready to serve, simply heat up the sauce and pour over the fresh seafood, cooking it for about 20 minutes more. You serve it immediately, but it also reheats very well as leftovers.

Rating 5/5

 

Cioppino

Cooking Time: 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours

 

1 minced large onion

1/2 cup minced celery

1/2 cup minced green pepper

1 or 2 minced garlic cloves

1/2 cup olive oil

2 1/2 cups canned tomatoes

1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce

1 tsp dried basil

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

1 small bayleaf

6 black peppercorns

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine (find a cheap dry wine like pinot grigio)

2 lb fresh fish (halibut, cod, sea bass, or rockfish), cut into 2-inch squares

1/2 lb mussels in the shell (live and scrubbed)

1/2 lb clams in the shell

2 large king crab legs

1 lb shelled raw shrimp

1/2 lb scallops

Cook the onions, celery, green pepper, garlic cloves and olive oil in a large deep pan until translucent. Add the canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, parsley, bayleaf, peppercorns, salt and pepper; stir. Cover the pan and simmer for one hour, thinning with hot water as needed.

Add white wine and cook for 10 minutes, bringing it to a boil.

Place the seafood in layers in a deep stock pot and pour the boiling sauce over it. Cover and simmer for another 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Enjoy.

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Christmas Cookie Gift Boxes

Oh you know how I love giving away sweet treats for Christmas. Just remember back to when I tried the Christmas Cookie Challenge. I hoped that sharing the experience with all of you would motivate others to give it a try, just as the original blog did for me. I loved the way they turned out and everyone that received one was so surprised at how much work I had put into making them. This year I was lucky enough to have the time to do it all again! So here I am to share it all again and give you a step-by-step guide on how to do this yourself for Christmas!

1. First you will want to make a list of all of the people you plan on giving a cookie gift box to. Mine came out to about 15 people. Don’t make too large of a list or it’ll cost you more time and money. I would say don’t go over 20 people.

2. Begin collecting your favorite cookie, bar, and candy recipes. I went with a dozen recipes, pulling some family favorites and trying several new ones. I had to force myself to stop collecting recipes because there were so many I wanted to make!

3. Stock up on ingredients and supplies for the gift boxes. Here are some items to look out for:

  • Ingredients for baked goods (butter, sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla extract, nuts, etc)
  • Large freezer-safe tupperware or gallon-sized plastic zipper bags
  • Parchment paper
  • Gift tags
  • Bows
  • Bakers twine
  • Tissue paper
  • Gift boxes (I found a pretty good deal at Target in the Christmas section, less than $1 per box)

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4. Begin baking, storing everything in tupperware or plastic bags in the freezer to keep them fresh. I recommend saving the more delicate treats for last so they spend the least amount of time in the freezer. I start baking during the last week of November.

5. Decide how to decorate and label your boxes. I found a pretty template to print “Baked With Love” labels and create a list of what kinds of cookies are included in the box here. I also decided instead of bakers twine, I wanted to stick Christmas bows on top of each box alongside the label.

6. Pick a day to assemble your cookie gift boxes and deliver them. For me this was the week before Christmas. I drive around to deliver my boxes, but if you’re shipping them, you’ll have to pack them so that they don’t spoil or get squished. It is probably best to ship them in layers of wax paper in sturdy tupperware containers.

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7. Enjoy the gift-giving and seeing the excitement on your friends and family members faces! Turns out I had so many cookies left over, I  gave my friends a lot of extras and made several cookie trays to pass out at work. As long as you plan ahead, this whole process should be easy-peasy!

Cherry Chocolate Kisses

The peanut butter blossoms are the cookies I always thought of when using chocolate kisses. It was only a couple of weeks ago I spotted this recipe on Pinterest and realized this would be so much better (and prettier) for my Christmas cookie boxes. The idea of a cherry flavored cookie with a little bit of chocolate on top sounded very new and exciting to me. It led me to look up even more variations of this type of cookie, but I ultimately decided on trying this one and saving the others for another time.

They were very simple to make. I made the mistake of putting them down on parchment paper instead of just the cookie sheet when the recipe clearly said “ungreased cookie sheet”. This caused my cookies to spread out a little more than they should have, but they still looked very nice, especially when they were all in a big pile of chocolatey cherry goodness. I had to give one a try before sticking them in the freezer. If you like maraschino cherries and you like chocolate, this is such a good combo. You can roll them in red colored sugar instead of regular granulated white sugar to make them look even more festive!

Rating 5/5

 

Cherry Chocolate Kisses

Oven Temp: 350°F

Cooking Time: 10-12 minutes

 

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sifted powdered sugar

1/8 tsp salt

2 tsp maraschino cherry liquid

1/4 tsp almond extract

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup chopped maraschino cherries

white sugar for rolling

48 chocolate kisses, unwrapped

 

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and salt; combine. Beat in cherry juice and almond extract, scraping the sides of the bowl.

Slowly beat in flour until just combined. Stir in chopped cherries. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.

Using a cookie scoop or spoon, shape dough into 1-inch balls, rolling them in white granulated sugar to coat. Place each ball of dough about 2-inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet and flatten with the bottom of a drinking glass.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Immediately press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie while they are still hot. Transfer to wire rack and allow to cool and chocolate to set overnight (or place them in the freezer for about 20 minutes to speed up the hardening of the chocolate). Store in an airtight container.

Found the recipe here.

Enjoy.

White Chocolate Peppermint Butter Cookies

One of my favorite flavors of anything is peppermint. Peppermint frozen yogurt, peppermint mocha, peppermint candy, and peppermint baked goods. These little heart-shaped cookies were made possible with my cookies press. There is peppermint extract in the cookie dough and the candy canes on the outside add a crunch as well as more peppermint flavor. This is a variation of the Golden Butter Cookies using a cookie press. They are delicious, but keep in mind they are a little time consuming when you have to bake the cookies, wait for them to cool, then dip them in chocolate and candy crumbs and wait for it to set. A pretty, minty addition to any cookie tray.

Rating 5/5

 

White Chocolate Peppermint Butter Cookies

Oven Temp: 350°F

Cooking Time: 7-8 minutes

 

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

2 tsp peppermint extract

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

4 cups all-purpose flour

red food coloring

1 (12 oz) bag white chocolate chips

1 tbsp shortening

10-12 candy canes, crushed into small pieces

 

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Continue mixing on low, adding eggs, one at a time. Beat in peppermint and vanilla extract. Slowly add flour until just combined. Add a few drops of red food coloring and mix enough the swirl the red into the dough without turning the whole thing pink.

Bake for 7 to 8 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom. Cool for 1-2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. In a medium mixing bowl, microwave white chocolate chips at 15 second intervals, stirring in between, until melted and smooth. Stir in the shortening.

Once the cookies have completely cooled, dip half of each cookies into the white chocolate, shaking off any excess chocolate. Dip the chocolate-coated portion of the cookie into the candy cane crumbs and place on parchment paper to set. Allow to set for 2-3 hours or overnight. Store in an airtight container.

Enjoy.

Chocolate Peppermint Waffle Cookies

This past month has been all about cleaning out the garage and boxing up most of my grandmother’s things to donate. While I set aside those few, very dear keepsakes I wanted to keep of hers, she has a lot of junk left. My grandmother grew up during the Great Depression and could never get rid of anything she owned. That is just how she was. I’ve come across a ton of bakeware – very old, useful bakeware. One of the most exciting things I came across was a waffle maker! I’ve always wanted one, but it was never a priority for me when spending money.

Other than making waffles, I always thought it would be neat to make cookies in a waffle maker. Use a good enough cookie recipe that doesn’t burn easily or melt all over, you can get some pretty cookies with the waffle pattern. I used this recipe that I found here to make these chocolate waffle cookies with a peppermint glaze. You can easily switch out the peppermint extract for another flavoring to change the flavor of the glaze.

Rating 5/5

 

Chocolate Peppermint Waffle Cookies

Cooking Time: 1-3 minutes

 

1/2 cup butter, softened

2/3 cup white sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

6 tbsp cocoa powder

2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil

1/2 tsp espresso powder

1 cup powdered sugar

4 tsp water

1/4 tsp peppermint extract

Preheat a nonstick waffle maker. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract. Add the flour, cocoa powder, oil, and espresso powder. Beat until just combined.

Using a cookie scoop or spoon, drop a tablespoonful scoop of batter onto each section of the waffle maker. Close and cook until cookies are puffed up and spring back when touched, about 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

In a separate bowl, combine powdered sugar, water, and peppermint extract until smooth and glaze forms. Slowly spoon and drizzle glaze over cooled cookies. Allow to set before storing in an airtight container.

Enjoy.

Butterfinger Squares

Spotted a recipe for these butterfinger squares on Pinterest months ago. Who knew you could melt candy corn, stir in melted peanut butter, and it tastes like butterfinger! I waited until the day after Halloween and grabbed a couple of bags of candy corn at clearance prices. Thought these would be awesome in my Christmas cookie gift boxes. This recipe calls for the addition of cereal to add that extra crunch.

Once I tried it, I realized that if someone gave one of these squares to me and told me it was a butterfinger candy bar, I wouldn’t know the difference! You can cut it into small squares or go for bars to make it more of a candy bar. This would be awesome for a party or  as a gift.

Rating 5/5

 

Butterfinger Squares

 

3 cups candy corn

1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter

1 cup corn flake or rice krispies cereal

1 (12 oz) bag semisweet chocolate chips or melting chocolate

 

In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave candy corn at 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until completely melted. Stir in creamy peanut butter and cereal until smooth (microwave for 15 seconds if the mixture gets too stiff to stir).

Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with parchment or wax paper. Scoop the mixture into the baking pan and press flat with a rubber spatula. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Do NOT freeze or you will not be able to cut it into squares.

Lift the candy out of the pan and cut into 1-inch squares with a sharp knife. In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave chocolate chips at 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until completely melted. Dip squares into melted chocolate and set on parchment-lined cookie sheet to set. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the freezer.

Found this recipe here.

Enjoy.

Pie Crust Cookies

It is official! Baking for Christmas has begun! I stocked up on huge freezer-safe tupperware and plastic bags, unsalted butter, and sprinkles. From now until Christmas I’ll be baking away in my kitchen so I can build pretty little cookie gift boxes to give out to everyone I know. Now that I’m no longer working at a bakery, I can spend my time baking at home instead of baking hundreds of bundt cakes in 12-hour shifts. As much as I love to get paid to bake, I missed having the ability to get creative with what I make.

During a recent day trip to Julian, my sister and I noticed one of the local bakeries featured pie crust cookies. I never thought to use pie dough for cookies because it is normally a very bland tasting dough, but they looked pretty good. I didn’t try one. I looked up some recipes online instead. What a great idea to add to my Christmas cookies. You simply use pie dough, cut into shapes, and top with melted butter, cinnamon, and sugar. It would be a delicate, lightly sweetened addition to my other, more sweet, cookies. This recipe is pretty simple and you can cut them into any shape you’d like. The recipe below has a flaky texture. You can use other pie crust recipes for a more flat, harder cookie.

 

Rating 5/5

 

Pie Crust Cookies

Oven Temp: 450°F

Cooking Time: 8-9 minutes

 

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 1/4 cup (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted cold butter, cut into cubes

1/4 cup cold water

1/4 cup cold vodka

3 tbsp butter, melted

2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

 

In a food processor, add flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse for 2 seconds to combine. Add butter cubes and pulse for 10-20 seconds until dough moistens and forms. If you don’t have a food processor, combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and cut in the butter with a fork.

Move dough to a large bowl. Sprinkle the water and vodka over the dough. Carefully knead the dough just until a ball forms. Separate the ball in half and form each half into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.

On a floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness with a floured rolling pin. Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter or the rim of a drinking glass.

Place dough shapes onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon to create cinnamon sugar mixture. Brush each cookie with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture. Bake for 8-9 minutes and allow to cool completely before removing from cookie. They will be delicate.

Enjoy.