Each year, we make treats to share with our neighbors, friends and family. In the past, I have made bread for teachers, snack mix for neighbors and bundles of sweets for friends and family. These are recipes for a few of our favorite holiday gift items.
This is my most requested recipe and Christmas treat. The ingredients are simple but the recipe can be a little tricky and temperamental. The most important ingredient is a good, high-quality candy thermometer. If you have ever made candy, you know that it is a necessity and you will need to be careful with the hot candy.
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups (12 oz.) chocolate chips, use milk or dark depending on your preference
1 cup finely ground walnuts
Line a jelly roll pan with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray. Spread almonds in a single layer on the jellyroll pan. In a heavy-duty sauce pan, melt butter and next four ingredients over high heat, stirring mixture constantly, for about 15 to 18 minutes or until a candy thermometer reaches 310°. Quickly remove mixture from heat and immediately pour candy over the almonds. Do not scrape the pan. Sprinkle the candy immediately with the chocolate chip morsels. Allow chocolate to sit and melt for a few minutes. Then, spread chocolate evenly over the candy. Sprinkle the ground walnuts on top of the chocolate and allow to cool until firm. Break into small pieces and store in an airtight container.
Smoky Comeback Sauce
Several years ago, my neighbor and great friend, Don Crawford, gave me an old Grolsch beer bottle to use for storing homemade salad dressing. If you are not familiar with these bottles, they are the “old fashioned style” glass bottle with the metal swing-top lid and make a perfect vessel for dressings or sauces. I decided that for Christmas I would give all our friends a bottle filled with homemade Comeback dressing in it. Well, it was a tough job but Don and Ron “worked” all season empting Grolsch bottles for me to use. By early December 1, I had several dozen ready to go. They claimed it was tough job but sacrificed all the “effort” for a good friend!!
In the bowl of a food processor, mix:
1/2 cup onion
2 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons regular paprika
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
Juice of four lemons
Zest of four lemons
1 teaspoon dried mustard powder
1 teaspoon chili flakes (more or less depending on your heat tolerance)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
1/2 cup ketchup
1 cup mayonnaise
Mix all in the food processor until well blended. Feel free to add a little water or canola oil to thin the sauce. Best made at least a day in advanced and stored in the refrigerator.
This is truly a labor of love but worth the extra time and effort. Several times, I have asked my kids to help me wrap the caramels. We would cut up small pieces of parchment paper and they would wrap each one as I cut the caramels in the small bite-size pieces. I think my son always manages to eat more than he wraps.
3 cups sugar
2 cups of heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Spray a 9 x 13 baking pan with nonstick spray and set aside. In a large heavy bottom sauce pan, combine sugar, cream, corn syrup and butter. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally until butter is melted and mixture comes to a boil. Cook until mixture reaches 248° on a candy thermometer, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and carefully star in vanilla.
Each year, I would make these yummy cookies and give them out to the students in my preschool class. The cookies are not “cake-like” but resemble more of a gingerbread shortbread cookie.
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons grated orange peel, optional
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Cream butter then mix in sugar and egg. Mix well and add other ingredients until dough is formed. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface and cut into desired gingerbread man shapes. Brush off any flour from the cookies as even a trace can spoil the look. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 375° for 8 to 10 minutes. Allow to cool and then decorate with icing. You can add raisins for eyes before baking but we prefer candy eyes.
Trash (or Carol’s Chex party mix)
This is an old homemade party mix recipe that my mom would send to me and my friends during college exam week to use as a study snack. All my friends were crazy about the mix and at graduation she finally shared the recipe. I think they all almost died when they saw the secret ingredient: It is bacon drippings!! I still save any bacon drippings in my refrigerator and use it around Christmas to make this delicious snack mix. The flavor cannot be beaten. I think it is called Trash because you mix everything in a large garbage bag.
One box each:
Corn Chex cereal, Rice Chex cereal, Wheat Chex cereal, Cheerios, Crispix
2 bags Bugles
2 bags of pretzel sticks
*Add any other additions including: small Melba toast crackers, oyster crackers, pecans, or peanuts.
Put all dry ingredients in a large garbage bag and toss to mix.
Meanwhile in a heavy duty sauce pan mix the following:
1 1/2 pounds margarine or butter
1 1/2 cups bacon drippings
4 Tablespoons or more Worcestershire sauce
2 to 3 tablespoons of Tabasco, less if you do not like it hot
1 to 2 tablespoons red pepper, less if you do not like it hot
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic salt
1 1/2 tablespoons celery salt
Mix all wet ingredients on your stove top until it is melted and thoroughly mixed.
Spread cereal out in single layers in multiple roasting dishes or baking pans. Carefully spoon butter mixture over cereal, mixing thoroughly and being sure to get some of the spices from the bottom of the pan thoroughly coating all mixture.
Bake at about 250° for one or two hours stirring every 15 minutes.
This makes a lot so you will have plenty to share.
Theresa’s Holiday Nut Mix
Theresa is my sister‘s next-door neighbor and she shared this recipe one Christmas along with a bag of the most delicious nuts I have ever tasted. I love the combination of sweet, salty and spicy. These are always great to bring as a hostess gift for any Christmas celebration.
2 1/4 cups assorted nuts: You can use cashews, almonds, pecans, peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts or any store bought but mix.
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon salt (Store bought nuts are often times already salted so you may need to omit.)
Preheat oven to 350° spread nuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about eight minutes. In a large bowl combine all the other ingredients and then thoroughly tossed the warm nuts in the butter mixture.
Store in an airtight container.
Cream Cheese Braids
I honestly cannot tell you how many dozens of these were made when my kids were in school. It all started very simple: they wanted to give one to their teacher when they were in preschool. However, as they got older and got more teachers, they insisted that we never leave off any teachers from the past. One year, I think we made over 50 braids. They took up our entire freezer.
To make the dough:
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
2 packages of dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups all-purpose flour
Cream cheese filling
2(8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
To make dough, heat sour cream over low heat in a medium sauce pan, stir in sugar, salt, and butter. Cool to lukewarm. Mix yeast with warm water in a large mixing bowl and stir until dissolved. Add sour cream mixture, eggs, and flour to yeast mixture and mix well. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator overnight.
Combine cream cheese and remaining filling ingredients with electric beaters and set aside. Divide dough into four equal parts and roll out one piece on a well-floured surface to form an 8 x 12” rectangle. Spread 1/4 of the cream cheese filling and roll up jelly roll style beginning at the long end. Place rolls, seam side down on a well-greased jelly roll pan. Repeat the process with the three other pieces of dough. Cut 3 large slashes in each roll to resemble a braid, cover and allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour. Bake at 375° for 12 to 15 minutes.
Combine glaze ingredients and drizzle over rolls while warm.
These can be made ahead and wrap tightly and put in the freezer.