Gift-Giving Part II: Chocolate Coffee Mix

Here’s another quick and easy homemade gift idea: chocolate coffee mix. It’s so simple to throw together and tastes so good on cold winter mornings! In fact, I think a jar or two of this, a jar of spiced tea mix and some delicious homemade treats like cookies, peppermint bark or Chex Mix would make one heck of a gift basket for your friends, family and coworkers! Everybody loves gift baskets full of homemade goodies, right? Right!

This is another one of my mom’s yummy recipes (she has a ton of awesome holiday drink mix recipes!), and somehow I only just discovered it this year! I made a double batch of it and every morning I have a big cup- it’s a perfect way to start my day (believe me, when you teach high schoolers how to sing, you need something a little more special than regular coffee to get you geared up in the mornings…..maybe coffee with liquor in it…..or maybe just straight liquor…). ;) Make this chocolate coffee part of your gift-giving this year- your friends will thank you!

Chocolate Coffee Mix
-from my mom’s recipe collection (not sure of the original source)

1/2 cup instant coffee (I’m sure espresso powder would be great as well!)
1 1/2 cups powdered Coffeemate creamer (original flavor)
1/2 cup Nesquik (powder)
1/4 cup sugar
dash salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Mix all ingredients in a blender or food processor until well combined.
To serve: use 1-3 heaping teaspoons per cup of boiling water.

*Also tastes delicious with a little crushed peppermint thrown in the mix!

**For gift-giving, I recommend making a double (or even triple!) batch since the recipe doesn’t yield very much


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Gift-Giving: Spiced Tea Mix

I’m a big fan of homemade gifts. Mainly because I enjoy food and drink so much, I guess I just expect everyone else to as well (that’s not always the case, but nevertheless, if you’re friends of ours, you can bet your gift will be edible). ;) My mom makes this spiced tea every year at Christmas and it’s just scrumptious. Really. There’s nothing more comforting than sipping a big cup of this while watching a Christmas movie, and I imagine it would be perfect after an afternoon of playing out in the snow….just a guess, seeing as how we don’t get much snow ’round these here parts!

As luck would have it, this recipe makes a very large amount, so there’s plenty to go around! It looks great in glass jars with a little ribbon or even cute little gift bags. Pretty much everyone who’s ever tasted this loves it- my father-in-law especially! It really is the perfect gift!

Holiday Spiced Tea
-I think this recipe has probably been around a very long time, but I got it from my mother, who got it from Baba many Christmases ago!

1 cup instant tea (unsweetened)
2 cups Tang (or any powdered orange drink- just NOT Gatorade)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves

Stir all ingredients together in a large bowl.
To serve: stir in 2 rounded teaspoons for every cup of boiling water. Enjoy!

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A Little Christmas Spirit…

BOY, do I love Christmastime!!! And you’d better believe I squeeze out every second I can- I’m not letting one single holly, jolly moment go to waste! And based on your emails, tweets and facebook comments, I happen to know that there are quite a lot of you out there that get into the spirit of things just as much as I do! So, I decided (just for the fun of it) to post a few pictures of some of my favorite Christmas keepsakes. Ornaments are a very big deal to me- I’m not one of these people who decorate their tree in one shade of glass balls. Nope. I need colored lights, candy canes, precious glass balls of every color and all the funky homemade stuff my husband and I made as kids for our parents’ trees. I love every single bit of it. If this doesn’t get you in the holiday spirit, you probably need a good smacking. ;)

First up, my great-grandmother, Baba’s bells. I have about 30 of these little white bells; they used to be on Baba’s tree. I treasure anything that was once on Baba’s tree!!

This is my little kitchen tree. All the ornaments are food-related (yes, that’s a taco ornament you see in the background). ;)

Yikes. I made this in elementary school. And no, those are not giant striped turkey legs roasting on the fire….they’re stockings. Obviously.

An homage to my quirky side- our Christmas tree wouldn’t be complete without all my Nightmare Before Christmas ornaments!

I think these are my favorites. Joel and I each made these in Sunday school (at different times) as kids…before we even knew each other. They hung on our parents’ trees for years and years; and now they hang our own tree side by side every year.

From our first married Christmas…

Just one of many, many cupcake ornaments!

Baba gave this to me as a wedding gift. It’s significant because she and Pop were married in car (it’s a great story, I just don’t have time to go into right now!). My sister has one too and we both cherish them.

Joel’s mother bought this for me

This is the most special one of all. When we were in high school (long before we had even started dating), Joel brought this to me as a Christmas present. There’s a little button on the bottom that plays jingle bells when you push it; I sat in the floor pushing the button over and over again wishing Joel were my boyfriend! I knew right then I wanted to marry him! I can never hang this on our tree without crying…

So there you have it! Some of my favorite, most precious ornaments and keepsakes. And those don’t even scratch the surface- I have SO much more! I hope everyone is enjoying the Christmas season so far…baking, decorating, singing carols, and being with friends and family! Thanks for letting me share my memories with you!

Happy Baking!

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Oatmeal Cranberry Delights…

Some of you may remember me winning a cookie contest last year with my Toasted Oatmeal Cookies with Golden Raisins, Pecans and Coconut. It was pretty cool- got my picture in the paper (a boat-load of times!) and they now sell my cookies at a local bakery. Well, this year they asked me to come back as a judge- neat, huh? I got to judge cookies alongside some of DFW’s most prestigious bakers and bakery owners! Very cool! We tasted 7 different yummy cookies, and I came away with some great recipes to share with you! My favorite being these Oatmeal Cranberry Delights. These were the runner up (although they had my vote for 1st place!) and everyone really liked them. They’re slightly chewy, spicy, a little chocolaty and the cranberries and white chocolate add a whole other level of flavor! A perfect holiday cookie- they’re so pretty (and extremely easy to make!). I highly recommend these for your next Christmas party or cookie exchange!

Oatmeal Cranberry Delights
-adapted from Debbie Nicks, Joshua, TX (runner up of the Ft. Worth Star Telegram Very Merry Cookie Challenge 2010)

1 cup (2 sticks) butter (softened)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups self rising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups oatmeal
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 bag of dried cranberries (6 oz.)
1 cup grated milk chocolate bar
1/2 cup melted white almond bark

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla. Mix flour, oatmeal, salt and cinnamon together and add to butter mixture. Stir until ingredients are well mixed. Fold in pecans, crasins, and grated chocolate bar. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes, until golden brown. Move to cooling rack until completely cooled. Drizzle melted almond bark over cookies. Serve after almond bark has dried. Makes approximately 40 cookies.

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Peppermint Kisses…

Well, after a nice long week off, I’m very well-rested and ready to get back to blogging! I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and family! We sure did! However, I’m feeling QUITE guilty about my pie-intake over the past few days…I’m not proud to admit I’ve pretty much single-handedly polished off two whole pies without help. SO, no more pie for me for awhile….I’ll just switch to cookies! ;)

I’m thrilled to say, I think I’ve just found my new favorite Christmas cookie! These are soft and chewy with the tiniest bit of crunch, and they have a delicate kiss of peppermint flavor- thus their name. They’re absolutely delicious and perfect for the holidays! But what makes these so special?? Why, the use of candy cane flour, of course! Never heard of candy cane flour? That’s because I made it up! ;) When I was finished crushing my peppermints for the topping, I sifted out the dust (it’s a flour/powdered sugar consistency, which is why I deemed it ‘candy cane flour’) and stirred it into my flour/baking powder/salt mixture. It adds a delicate, subtle peppermint flavor without being overpowering- sometimes at Christmas, lots of “pepperminty” things tend to be a little too “pepperminty” for my taste. This was perfect. I even stirred a little of my leftover ‘candy cane flour’ in my coffee this morning! Delicious!

Peppermint Kisses
-basically just an embellished adaptation of Dorie Greenspan’s “Grandma’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies”

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup candy cane flour**
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

crushed peppermints, for garnish (about 1/2 cup)
6 ounces (3 squares) white chocolate flavored almond bark or candy coating

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Whisk the flour, salt, baking powder and candy cane flour together.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably one fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for a minute or so, until smooth. Beat in the sugar and continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and pale. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute or two; beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and steadily add the flour mixture, mixing only until it has been incorporated. When mixed, the dough will be soft, creamy, and malleable.

Drop the dough onto the baking sheets by rounded spoonfuls.
Bake the cookies for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the sheets at the midpoint. The cookies should feel firm, but they should not color much, if at all. Cool completely.

Heat the almond bark in the microwave in 30-second intervals until melted and creamy. Drizzle over the cooled cookies (I used a ziploc bag with the tip snipped off, but you could also just drizzle with a spoon), then sprinkle with the crushed peppermints.
Makes about 40 cookies.

**Like I noted above, “candy cane flour” is just finely crushed candy canes- you can make it with your food processor or just use a hammer (or rolling pin) and a ziploc bag (which is what I did). Try it in your coffee,  stir it into cookie dough, sprinkle over cakes or even dip the rim of your martini glasses in it for a festive cocktail! So fun! :)

Thanks to Jana, Jeff, Carol and Albert for suggesting the name of these cookies! ;)

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Gingerbread Truffles…

Cake/cookie truffles (or ‘cake balls‘, as they’re more commonly referred to– I’m not a big fan of serving ‘cake balls‘) make some of the best party food. I’m very fond of serving finger foods at parties- it makes mingling so much easier.  And goodies like this are always SO popular! I’ve made cake/cookie truffles many times- just using different ingredients, like different flavors of homemade cookies, different cakes, and now spicy gingerbread. This time around, I started with my great-grandmother’s recipe for gingerbread and mixed in some cream cheese- SO good! I always prefer using the almond bark coating (instead of white chocolate), just because it drys so quickly and creates a great crunchy outer shell. A quick sprinkling of nutmeg and you’ve got a beautiful, totally delicious two-bite treat! Perfect for holiday parties!

Gingerbread Truffles
-gingerbread recipe from my great-grandmother

For the Gingerbread:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup boiling water

Mix together the butter and sugar, then add the egg and molassess, mixing well. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, spices, soda and salt, then add to wet mixture. Stir to combine, then add the boiling water and mix. Pour batter into a greased 9×13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes or until springy. Let cool completely.

You will also need:
1 package almond bark or white candy coating
1 8-oz. block cream cheese, at room temperature
nutmeg, for garnish

When cake is completely cooled, crumble into the bowl of a stand mixer (you could also use a hand mixer for this; even your hands!) and add in the cream cheese. Mix until the cake and cream cheese is totally combined. Roll out into walnut-sized balls and place on a sheet pan lined with wax paper. Chill for 1 hour.
Melt the almond bark in the microwave in 1 minute increments, stirring in between, until it is completely smooth. Dip the balls in one at a time (I use a toothpick for this) and coat with the almond bark. Set on a sheet of wax paper and sprinkle with nutmeg. Allow to harden completely. At this point you can serve immediately or freeze for later use.

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Man Pleasin’ Buttermilk Pie…

Continuing with my Thanksgiving-inspired week, I’ll post every man’s favorite: buttermilk pie.  It really is man pleasin’. Really. Every male that has ever eaten this pie has gone ape for it. I don’t know if it’s the sugary-sweet filling or the creamy, buttery texture, but men seriously adore buttermilk pie. In fact, the primary reason I’m posting this right now is because my friend Michael recently sent me a text saying, “you need to make buttermilk pie!” Done and DONE, Mikey! It’s a holiday staple in our family, too. There has never been a holiday get-together that didn’t include this pie. In fact, every Thanksgiving and Christmas my mom is sure to make extra so that my dad will be able to have plenty of leftovers. This is one of Baba’s most famous and requested recipes and I’m so proud and happy to post it here for you. Make this part of your Thanksgiving dessert table- trust me.

Baba’s Buttermilk Pie
-old family recipe (really, really old!)
*makes 2  9-inch pies

2 9-inch pie crusts, unbaked
3 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 eggs, beaten
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
1 cup buttermilk
**a little lemon zest and a squeeze of juice is a nice addition, but my dad hates lemon in his buttermilk pies, so we’ve never really done it. I did this time and it really adds a nice, subtle tartness.

Mix sugar, flour and salt. Add eggs, butter, buttermilk and vanilla. Pour into two unbaked pie crusts and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees (check them at 50 minutes- if they’re too jiggly put them back in for a few more minutes. They shouldn’t jiggle very much at all when they’re done). If the tops are getting too brown, cover loosely with foil for the remainder of baking time. Let cool for at least 1 hour before slicing.

Now, to those of you thinking, “what the heck?! Buttermilk?!” Don’t worry- there isn’t even the slightest hint of buttermilk taste. It’s just sweet, thick, and buttery. A delicious Southern tradition. Man, it’s so great to live in the South. ;)

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Our Favorite Coffee Cake…

I hope everyone had a wonderful, happy Christmas! We certainly did – we witnessed our very first White Christmas (in Texas!)!! It was totally wonderful (except the part where we had to drive home on frozen highways…not so much fun…). The weather lately has been totally unbelievable and completely wonderful – I’m sitting here typing this post watching the snow fall outside again! It’s SO cool! And this time I’m very thankful to be watching it snow from the comfort of my home, instead of driving in it.

Anyway, this post is all about a wonderful tradition. Coffee cake. The coffee cake my family has eaten for breakfast every Christmas morning since the 80′s (at least!).  It absolutely wouldn’t be Christmas without it. Yuuuuummmm.  And yes, I realize Christmas is over, but I wanted to share the recipe because really, there’s nothing “Christmasy” about this cake. It’s just a simple, normal coffee cake that can be enjoyed any day of the year – we just choose to eat it on Christmas. But that doesn’t mean you have to!

coffeecake1

(If you’re wondering why only half of it has pecans, hubby hates nuts, so I made it half and half….silly boy!)

This couldn’t be easier to make – 5 ingredients total. Just assemble the night before, let it sit out overnight and bake it the next morning, and you’ve got delicious, gooey, coffee cake! Too easy! You’ve got to try this one!

Overnight Coffee Cake

1 package frozen white dinner rolls (I use Rhodes brand)
1 package butterscotch pudding (not instant!)
1 cup chopped pecans
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar

Spray a bundt pan with cooking spray and sprinkle chopped pecans over the bottom of the pan. Arrange the frozen rolls in the pan and sprinkle with the butterscotch pudding mix. Mix the melted butter and brown sugar together in a small bowl and pour over the frozen rolls. Grease a piece of foil and cover the pan; let sit out overnight (do not refrigerate).

The next morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the coffee cake for 30 minutes, covered loosely with foil. Let sit out for 10 minutes before inverting on to a platter and serving.

coffeecake2

I really don’t recommend omitting the nuts – it just doesn’t turn out the same (as you can see on the left side of the cake…) – they’re really necessary, in my opinion. This is a wonderfully delicious breakfast treat – give it a try this weekend! It would make a great New Year’s Day breakfast!

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Adventures in Decorating…

decorate8

This weekend, we had a our friends Michael and Andrea over for a little while and Andrea and I decided to get in the kitchen and do some cookie decorating (a first for both of us!). Luckily I had some gingerbread dough already chilled in the fridge, so we set out to decorate gingerbread men – so much fun! I used Katie’s recipe for her Soft and Spicy Gingerbread Cookies – SO good!! I’m only sorry I didn’t double the batch…these were the best tasting gingerbread cookies I’ve ever had! Here’s the recipe:

Soft and Spicy Gingerbread Cookies
-seen on Good Things Catered, adapted from Allrecipes.com

1 c. butter
1 c. sugar
1 c. molasses (I didn’t have enough molasses, so I used half honey)
1 egg
4 c. sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Stir in molasses and egg.
Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg; blend into the molasses mixture until smooth.
Cover, and chill for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.
Bake for about 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm. Let cool for 10 minutes on pan. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks.
Frost or decorate when cool.

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I’m quite proud of my little gingerbread boys!

decorate4

So is Andrea! Hers were super cute – she actually made little outfits for her cookies; including a cute little bikini! I decided to play it safe (and boring) and keep all mine the same (snoooooooooze….).

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I do love the pearl buttons, though – we had a ton of fun with those pearl non-pareils!  And no, these aren’t the most professional-looking gingerbread men, but I thought it was pretty good for our first try!

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All of Andrea’s cute little outfits…

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And Michael destroying it….. ;-)

We had a really fun time, and I can’t wait to learn more about decorating cookies and hopefully get better one of these days! This will probably be my last post before Christmas, so I want to go ahead and wish everybody a happy and wonderful Christmas! Enjoy your time with your family and friends, and don’t forget the reason we celebrate – the birth of our Lord! Merry Christmas!

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Assorted Truffles…

truffles1

Yes, that’s right – I’ve been truffle-making! Last night I realized I had everything on hand to make 4 kinds of chocolate truffles, and things like that tend to excite me…it almost never happens that I have everything on hand to make anything. So I turned on my Harry Connick, Jr. Christmas music (love me some HCJ..), got busy and came up with 4 very tasty assortments of truffles:

Peppermint Crunch Truffles

Peppermint Crunch Truffles

Orange Truffles

Orange Truffles

S'Mores Truffles

S'Mores Truffles

And lastly…

Raspberry Truffles

Raspberry Truffles

Truffles are really so simple. Start by making a chocolate ganache (chocolate and cream melted together), let it chill, then roll out little balls and voila! Here’s how I did mine:

Chocolate Truffles

1 cup heavy cream
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup sugar (I like mine a little sweeter)

Bring the cream and sugar to a boil over low heat, pour over the chocolate and stir until smooth. (At this point I separated mine into 4 different bowls; one for each flavor.)

For the Peppermint:
Add 1 or 2 drops peppermint extract to the ganache and stir to combine.

For the Orange:
Add a sizable splash of Grand Marnier orange liquer and stir to combine.

For the S’Mores:
Add 1 or 2 drops pure vanilla extract (I used vanilla paste) and stir to combine.

For the Raspberry:
Add a sizable splash of Chambord Raspberry liquer and stir to combine.

Cover and chill the bowls for at least 4 hours or overnight. Roll into walnut size balls, roll in desired topping and chill until ready to serve. As far as toppings, I used crushed up candy canes for the peppermint, powdered sugar for the orange, and cocoa powder for the raspberry. For the S’Mores truffles, I chopped up marshmallows and placed a small piece inside of each truffle, then rolled them in graham cracker crumbs.

So simple! I think I might take these to my hubby’s office for his co-workers this afternoon….I thought it might be a nice surprise for everybody. I hope they go over well!

truffles6

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