Tis the season for cookies!

December 17, 2011

So everyone knows that the holidays are really just an extended excuse to bake and eat. Basically for a month, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, diets, as well as common sense is suspended in favor of childhood memories. We always make a LOT of cookies-mostly to give away, but there’s plenty of eating too. Two childhood favorites of mine are dipped pretzels and peanut butter cups. These recipes are both fast and easy, as long as you know how to turn on your stove, you can probably do both of these things, but they look fancy enough to give away.

To make the peanut butter cups, you start by melting together 9 oz white chocolate with 3/4 cup of peanut butter in a double boiler or mixing bowl over a pot with a little boiling water. While you’re waiting for that to heat up, chop a decent handful of roasted, salted peanuts. Once your peanut butter and white chocolate is melted and combined, fill the bottom half of mini cupcake papers in a cupcake pan. Then sprinkle with the chopped peanuts.

After that, combine 8 1/2 oz milk or dark chocolate with 3/4 cup peanut butter and melt together. I generally use the same bowl as I used to melt the first half. It doesn’t matter if there’s a little left over in the bowl since you’re going to be eating it together, and the darker color of the chocolate will cover the color of any white chocolate left. Once that round is melted together, fill the top half of the papers. Stick them in the fridge and let them set. If you can’t wait, try not to burn yourself.

In this picture, you can see the two layers, as well as one of the sprinkle of peanuts. Having the peanut layer in the middle gives you a little texture, and helps make these a step above other peanut butter cups. I also put a few holiday sprinkles on top just to make them look festive.

Dipped pretzels require the same skills as peanut butter cups. The candy coating goes by various names in the grocery store. Some times it’s called “bark” or “vanilla bark.” It also gets called just “candy coating” or “vanilla candy coating.” All of these products are basically the same thing. Break off a few squares, and melt them in your double boiler or mixing bowl. I generally use at least 3 squares to have enough melted candy to dip into, and not more than about 6 so I can fit it all in a bowl.

This is about 6 squares, just starting to warm up. Once you have your candy melted, you can turn down the heat a bit. This isn’t actually white chocolate so it’s not overly temperature sensitive, but you can make it too hot and cause it to seize. If everything seems to be going fine, and all of a sudden you start seeing lumps, turn your temperature down! Similarly, if the bark is starting to just run off or puddle, your bark is too hot.

Another trick I learned from Rachel is to place a skewer between the bowl and the pan to let steam out. It keeps the bowl from bumping around as the water boils, as well as to keep moisture from bubbling up the side.

Once the candy is melted, take a handful of pretzels, and dip them in. We typically use stick pretzels, and dip them about halfway. This is easiest, because you’re not trying to fish around and make sure you got all of the pretzels out of the candy. Also, the sticks break less then the twists, so you’re not digging around for nice looking pretzels. Once they’re dipped, lay them out on a wax- or parchment-paper lined cookie sheet.  I put holiday sprinkles on these while they’re warm too, because why not? Pop your cookie sheet into the fridge for a few minutes, until they’re set.

So pretty! We also have a few other kinds of cookies in the works, but in a vain attempt at holiday rationality, we’re trying to limit ourselves to two kinds a day!

It’s that time of year

December 5, 2011

Winter. Holidays.

I hate snow. I kind of hate winter generally. However, I do get sucked in to the holidays. Now, my parents stopped celebrating Christmas as a corporate abomination when I was pretty young. It was something like. There’s no Santa, p.s. there’s no Christmas either.

I grew up loathing all things Christmas and was righteously offended by anything Christmas. You’d think it was eating children or something. However, it eventually became the doorway through which I became part of Katie’s family, so it now holds a lot of meaning for me. I love their traditions. I love the visiting and the food. I love being a part of something bigger, and welcomed so thoroughly.

And of course, I love presents.

Last year we started what might become a new tradition for us – our friends introduced us to the idea of acquiring a permit to go cut our own tree down from the National Forest. Given our love of doing things on the cheap, $10 for a permit and an adventure sounds like a good deal.

It starts by meeting up for breakfast and ridiculously fancy coffee. We then drive in and tromple around up a mountainside looking for just the perfect tree.  It’s harder than you might think.

First off, there are several requirements about size, there is shape and density to consider, and then you cut it down. Mountainside forest trees are just not lot trees. They’re a little more Charlie Brown. Anyhoo, once you cut it down, you then have to drag it back out the half mile, hopefully without falling, and strap it up to the car.

This year, we decided to lop down a 19′ tree for our 6′ ceiling room. Since you can’t “top” trees and leave the stumps, we cut it in two and dragged both pieces out. It was heavy. And hard. And there were several inches of snow on the ground. All in all, a good time, if you like noodley appendages.

However, we got the tree out and it was graciously driven home by our friends’ parents. It was during this time that I realized the tree was about 6′ across at the bottom and still about 13′ tall.  More lopping. Then I had to get it through the door, downstairs, and manage to fit under our lower-than-average basement ceiling. I knew I shouldn’t have bought the 18″ tree topper.

Anyway, it’s all set up now and I find that lots of lights and dangley things help take up the CB space, but really, it’s about the best tree you could ask for.