Cran-Almond Snowballs - Christmas Gift Giving

Here's another recipe on our list for the Christmas gift giving party project we did as a team building project for the Eisenhower Foundation's staff . . . plus we've included a clever idea for presentation . . . . 

Team building project -- creating easy Christmas gifts from the kitchen!
Cran-Almond Snowballs    Yield:  two 3” diameter balls.
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon milk
1/3 cup snipped dried cranberries or dried cherries
1/3 cup toasted almonds, chopped  (another type of nut may be substituted, or omit nuts)
3/4 cup flaked coconut, optional
Dippers: graham cracker sticks, shortbread cookies, vanilla wafers, etc.

1.  Combine cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and milk in a medium mixing bowl.  Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed about 1 minute or until combined. Stir in dried fruit and nuts.  
2.   Shape mixture into 2 equal-size balls, 3” diameter (or may be shaped into smaller balls). Roll balls in coconut or sprinkle top with coconut . . . or omit coconut.
3.   Cover and store in the refrigerator up to 1 to 1 1/2 weeks. 
4.   Serve with assorted dippers.
Holiday dessert buffet -- from right: Iran-Almond Snowball w/ dippers, Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls,
Rolo Turtle Pretzels
GIFT GIVING IDEA: 
Add a “snowball” to a martini glass (Dollar Stores sell them for just $1.00 each), 
purchase a holiday spreader and dippers (such as graham sticks, gingersnaps or shortbread cookies).

Recipe without photos . . .
Cran-Almond Snowballs    Yield:  two 3” diameter balls.
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon milk
1/3 cup snipped dried cranberries or dried cherries
1/3 cup toasted almonds, chopped  (another type of nut may be substituted, or omit nuts)
3/4 cup flaked coconut
Dippers: graham cracker sticks, shortbread cookies, vanilla wafers, etc.

1.  Combine cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and milk in a medium mixing bowl.  Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed about 1 minute or until combined.  Stir in dried fruit and nuts.  
2.   Shape mixture into 2 equal-size balls, 3” diameter (or may be shaped into smaller balls). Roll balls in coconut or sprinkle top with coconut . . . or omit coconut. 
3.   Cover and store in the refrigerator up to 1 to 1 1/2 weeks. 
4.   Serve with assorted dippers.

Savory Brown Sugar Sage Shortbread People

Saw this idea on Food Network's The Kitchen and had to give it a try. I wondered about adding sage; thought I might substitute rosemary. At the last minute I did go with the sage . . . the savory shortbreads are DELICIOUS! Maybe I'll try the recipe with rosemary sometime but the sage was definitely added a pleasing flavor. 
I had the gingerbread boys made and then we decorated them during a  team building holiday cooking class party for the Eisenhower Foundation's staff.




Savory Brown Sugar Sage Shortbread People  Yield: I made 20 (5") shortbread people         1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar 
4 teaspoons minced fresh sage 
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt 
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes and softened 

Special equipment: gingerbread boy (or girl) cookie cutter

For decorating: sliced meats and cheeses, softened cream cheese 

1.   In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dark brown sugar, confectioners' sugar, minced sage and salt. Use your fingers and rub the sage into the sugar to release its flavor. Add the flour and mix to combine. Add the butter and blend on low until a smooth dough forms. Scrape the bowl and paddle and blend for another 15 seconds.




2.   Place the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, flatten into a disk and wrap. Allow the dough to chill for at least two hours or up to overnight. (If you leave too long the butter will harden and you'll need to allow dough to soften before trying to roll.)

3.   When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350° and line sheet pans with parchment or silicon baking sheets (I used 4 sheet pans.)
4.   Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Working on a lightly floured surface (or between two pieces of parchment), roll the dough to 1/4-inch thickness and cut out desired shapes with a 2 1/2-inch people-shaped cookie cutter. Transfer cutouts to the parchment-lined baking sheets and bake until the edges are a deep golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely on the sheet pans.


Cook’s Note
To decorate with meat and cheese: using the same people-shaped cookie cutter, cut out clothing from sliced meat and cheese such as salami, Cheddar or provolone. Use cream cheese in a piping bag to draw on faces.




Recipe without photos . . .
Savory Brown Sugar Sage Shortbread People  Yield: I made 20 (5") shortbread people         
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar 
4 teaspoons minced fresh sage 
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt 
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes and softened 

Special equipment: gingerbread boy (or girl) cookie cutter

For decorating: sliced meats and cheeses, softened cream cheese 

1.   In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dark brown sugar, confectioners' sugar, minced sage and salt. Use your fingers and rub the sage into the sugar to release its flavor. Add the flour and mix to combine. Add the butter and blend on low until a smooth dough forms. Scrape the bowl and paddle and blend for another 15 seconds.
2.   Place the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, flatten into a disk and wrap. Allow the dough to chill for at least two hours or up to overnight. (If you leave too long the butter will harden and you'll need to allow dough to soften before trying to roll.)
3.   When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350° and line sheet pans with parchment or silicon baking sheets (I used 4 sheet pans.)
4.   Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Working on a lightly floured surface (or between two pieces of parchment), roll the dough to 1/4-inch thickness and cut out desired shapes with a 2 1/2-inch people-shaped cookie cutter. Transfer cutouts to the parchment-lined baking sheets and bake until the edges are a deep golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely on the sheet pans.
Cook’s Note
To decorate with meat and cheese: using the same people-shaped cookie cutter, cut out clothing from sliced meat and cheese such as salami, Cheddar or provolone. Use cream cheese in a piping bag to draw on faces.

Hot Ham & Cheese Wreath

This is  festive holiday appetizer (or even lunch sandwich) I found on Food Network's The Kitchen TV show. I made a few adjustments and here are the results . . .

Hot Ham & Cheese Wreath    Yield: 10 to 12 servings                
Two 8-ounce cans refrigerated crescent roll dough
1/4 cup jalapeño jelly 
6 ounces deli ham, sliced paper thin 
3 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded 
3 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded 
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced or use jarred jalapeños

1.  Preheat the oven to 375°.
2.  Line a large baking sheet or pizza pan with parchment paper or nonstick aluminum foil. Place a 4.5-inch diameter bowl upside down in the center of the baking dish and use it as a guide (it will be the center, empty area of your wreath). Arrange triangular sections of the crescent dough on the parchment in a circle around the bowl with the long points facing outward as the "rays" and the wide bases in the center with the edges overlapping. Brush the jalapeño jelly on the dough. Remove the bowl.


3.  In a small bowl, mix the ham, Cheddar and pepper jack, then layer the mixture on the dough, creating a ring around the center of the circle. Pull the points of dough from the outer edge over the filling and tuck under the center rim of the dough circle. The filling will show and that's ok! Top with jalapeño slices all around.


4.  Bake, rotating halfway through, until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool before transferring to serving tray. Serve hot or at room temperature. 
Recipe without photos . . .Hot Ham & Cheese Wreath    Yield: 10 to 12 servings                
Two 8-ounce cans refrigerated crescent roll dough
1/4 cup jalapeño jelly 
6 ounces deli ham, sliced paper thin 
3 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded 
3 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded 
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced or use jarred jalapeños

1.  Preheat the oven to 375°.
2.  Line a large baking sheet or pizza pan with parchment paper or nonstick aluminum foil. Place a 4.5-inch diameter bowl upside down in the center of the baking dish and use it as a guide (it will be the center, empty area of your wreath). Arrange triangular sections of the crescent dough on the parchment in a circle around the bowl with the long points facing outward as the "rays" and the wide bases in the center with the edges overlapping. Brush the jalapeño jelly on the dough. Remove the bowl.
3.  In a small bowl, mix the ham, Cheddar and pepper jack, then layer the mixture on the dough, creating a ring around the center of the circle. Pull the points of dough from the outer edge over the filling and tuck under the center rim of the dough circle. The filling will show and that's ok! Top with jalapeño slices all around.
4.  Bake, rotating halfway through, until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool before transferring to serving tray. Serve hot or at room temperature. 

Cinnamon Roll Cookies

I tried to convince myself that I'd done enough baking  for the holidays—Pumpkin DonutsPumpkin Cinnamon Rolls, several kinds of peppernuts. Pecan Snowballs, and also some Homemade Marshmallows. It almost worked . . . until I saw the Pioneer Woman making these cookies. That was yesterday and by today I had them made! They are absolutely delicious—the best of a sugar cookie combined with cinnamon roll goodness. 

Cinnamon Roll Cookies   Yield: About 40 cookies
Cookie Dough:
2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter
1 cup granulated sugar 
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract 
1 large egg 
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg 
Filling:
3 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon 
1/4 cup granulated sugar 
Glaze:
2 cups confectioners' sugar, plus more if needed
5 tablespoons whole milk 
2 tablespoons salted butter, melted, plus more if needed
1 teaspoon maple extract 
  1. For the cookie dough: Cream together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. 
  2. Add the vanilla and egg and continue to mix until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. 
  3. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and nutmeg until well combined. 
  4. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture slowly until incorporated and the dough has come together. 
  5. Cover and chill for 15 for 20 minutes.
  6. For the filling: Tip the dough out onto a floured surface. Roll out into a 16-by-8-inch rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. 
  7. Pour over the melted butter;  spread the butter evenly over the dough. 
  8. Mix cinnamon and sugar; sprinkle evenly over dough. 
  9. Starting with the long edge, carefully roll the dough tightly, just as you would with cinnamon rolls, and pinch the seam together when you reach the end.  (I used a dough scraper to gently ease the dough as I rolled and to keep it from sticking.)
  10. Cut the log in half. 
  11. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap, put on a baking sheet and chill until firm, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  12. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. (I used 4)
  13. Unwrap the cookie dough and transfer to a cutting board. With a sharp knife, cut the logs into 1/2-inch pieces. 
  14. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets (about 9 to 12 cookies per sheet) and bake until set and the edges begin to brown slightly, 12 to 13 minutes. I set the cookie sheets on a cooling rack and let them remain on the sheet to set.
  15. For the glaze: Meanwhile, whisk together the confectioners' sugar, milk and melted butter in a large bowl until smooth. Add the maple extract and taste. Add more confectioners' sugar or butter as needed; the glaze should be thick but still pourable. 
  16. Drizzle the glaze back and forth over the cookies and allow to set before serving, 10 to 12 minutes.
Recipe without photos . . .
Cinnamon Roll Cookies   Yield: About 40 cookies
Cookie Dough:
2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter
1 cup granulated sugar 
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract 
1 large egg 
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg 
Filling:
3 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon 
1/4 cup granulated sugar 
Glaze:
2 cups confectioners' sugar, plus more if needed
5 tablespoons whole milk 
2 tablespoons salted butter, melted, plus more if needed
1 teaspoon maple extract 
  1. For the cookie dough: Cream together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. 
  2. Add the vanilla and egg and continue to mix until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. 
  3. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and nutmeg until well combined. 
  4. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture slowly until incorporated and the dough has come together. 
  5. Cover and chill for 15 for 20 minutes.
  6. For the filling: Tip the dough out onto a floured surface. Roll out into a 16-by-8-inch rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. 
  7. Pour over the melted butter;  spread the butter evenly over the dough. 
  8. Mix cinnamon and sugar; sprinkle evenly over dough. 
  9. Starting with the long edge, carefully roll the dough tightly, just as you would with cinnamon rolls, and pinch the seam together when you reach the end.  (I used a dough scraper to gently ease the dough as I rolled and to keep it from sticking.)
  10. Cut the log in half. 
  11. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap, put on a baking sheet and chill until firm, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  12. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. (I used 4.)
  13. Unwrap the cookie dough and transfer to a cutting board. With a sharp knife, cut the logs into 1/2-inch pieces. 
  14. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets (about 9 to 12 cookies per sheet) and bake until set and the edges begin to brown slightly, 12 to 13 minutes. I set the cookie sheets on a cooling rack and let them remain on the sheet to set.
  15. For the glaze: Meanwhile, whisk together the confectioners' sugar, milk and melted butter in a large bowl until smooth. Add the maple extract and taste. Add more confectioners' sugar or butter as needed; the glaze should be thick but still pourable. 
  16. Drizzle the glaze back and forth over the cookies and allow to set before serving, 10 to 12 minutes

Deconstructed Green Bean Casserole

This recipe was inspired by several recipes including Alton Brown's Best Ever Green Bean Casserole and Damaris Philips sheet pan green bean dish . . . I used the parts I liked best from each and created my version of a deconstructed green bean casserole  . . .

Deconstructed Green Bean Casserole     4 to 6 servings
1 pound green beans, trimmed
4 ounces button mushrooms, stems removed, sliced 
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil 
Kosher salt 
Cheese Sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and paprika
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup whole milk or half and half
1/2 to 3/4 cup grated Cheddar cheese
Garnish:
1/2 cup crispy French-fried onions
  1. Green beans: Preheat the oven or a toaster oven to 400°.
  2. Place the green beans on a sheet pan. Add the mushrooms, garlic and olive oil, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and toss to coat. 
  3. Roast the green beans until tender and the skins blister, 8 to 10 minutes depending on the thickness of the green beans. If they are not tender, add a little water, cover with foil, return to oven and steam for 5 to 10 minutes longer. 
  4. Sauce: (Click on this link for step-by-step photos for making a basic white sauce). Melt butter on low heat. Stir in flour, creating a smooth mixture. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes to develop flavor. Add seasoning. 
  5. Add liquids and cook over medium heat until thickened. 
  6. Add cheese and stir into mixture until melted.
  7. Serving and to garnish: Pour the cheese sauce on the bottom of a platter. 
  8. Top with the roasted green beans; drizzle with remaining cheese (or as much as desired) and crispy fried onions. Serve immediately.
Recipe without photos . . .
Deconstructed Green Bean Casserole     4 to 6 servings
1 pound green beans, trimmed
4 ounces button mushrooms, stems removed, sliced 
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil 
Kosher salt 
Cheese Sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and paprika
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup whole milk or half and half
1/2 to 3/4 cup grated Cheddar cheese
Garnish:
1/2 cup crispy French-fried onions
  1. Green beans: Preheat the oven or a toaster oven to 400°.
  2. Place the green beans on a sheet pan. Add the mushrooms, garlic and olive oil, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and toss to coat. 
  3. Roast the green beans until tender and the skins blister, 8 to 10 minutes depending on the thickness of the green beans. If they are not tender, add a little water, cover with foil, return to oven and steam for 5 to 10 minutes longer. 
  4. Sauce: Melt butter on low heat. Stir in flour, creating a smooth mixture. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes to develop flavor. Add seasoning.
  5. Add liquids and cook over medium heat until thickened. 
  6. Add cheese and stir into mixture until melted.
  7. Serving and to garnish: Pour the cheese sauce on the bottom of a platter. 
  8. Top with the roasted green beans; drizzle with remaining cheese (or as much as desired) and crispy fried onions. Serve immediately.

Honey of a Recipe—Salted Honey Walnut Bars


Lisa Tokach gave me this recipe when we were working on the story about bees and honey for KANSAS! magazine. It's a variation of a candy-like bar that shows up on several websites and in several cookbooks. A buttery shortbread crust is topped with a honey-infused walnut filling; bars are then drizzled with dark chocolate and finished with flakes of salt. It is very rich but it is delicious—a honey of a recipe!

Salted Honey Walnut Bars
Yield: 30 to 36 sweet treats 

INGREDIENTS:
For the crust
2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 cup powdered sugar 
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the filling
12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup packed brown sugar 
1 cup (12 ounces) honey 
2 1/2 cups walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (4 ounces) heavy cream 
2 teaspoons vanilla 
3/4 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
For finishing
4 ounces dark chocolate, cut or broken into pieces for quick melting
1/2 teaspoon large flaked sea salt or other finishing salt 

DIRECTIONS:
To make the crust 
1.   Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with foil, extending the foil up and over all four side for easy removal of bars from pan; spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.
2.   Combine the flour, powdered sugar, and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer; mix until ingredients are just blended and begin to come together as a soft dough. 
3.    Press the crust evenly into the prepared pan. 
Above - I covered the crust mixture with waxed paper and then used my hand to press the mixture into place as show in the next photo.


4.   Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes, until it is golden brown around the edges.

5.  Cool the crust while you prepare the filling.
To make the filling
6.  Combine the butter, brown sugar, and honey in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

7.  Stir while the butter and sugar melt. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it boil, stirring only occasionally, for five minutes. After five minutes, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the walnuts, cream, vanilla, and fine sea salt.



8.   Pour the filling over the crust and bake the bars for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating halfway through the cooking time, until the bars are bubbling all over. They won't be completely set, and should still jiggle when you move the pan, but the filling should have bubbles over the entire surface. Remove from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack.


9.   The bars will firm up as they cool. Once cool, lift the edges of foil to remove bars from pan. For the cleanest cuts, the bars should be completely cool—either by letting them sit at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours, or by placing them in the refrigerator until set. Cut them into small squares or slim rectangles.
To finish
10.  Melt the chocolate in the microwave, and drizzle the chocolate over the tops of the bars. 
11.  Sprinkle a big pinch of large flaked sea salt over bars. 

12.  Refrigerate them again, briefly, to set the chocolate before serving.
13.  Store bars in refrigerator or freeze. 

How to substitute honey for sugar—according to the National Honey Board . . . When substituting honey for granulated sugar in recipes, begin by substituting honey for up to half of the sugar called for in the recipe. For baked goods, make sure to reduce the oven temperature by 25°F to prevent overbrowning; reduce any liquid called for by 1/4 cup for each cup of honey used and add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda for each cup of honey used. Because of its high fructose content, honey has higher sweetening power than sugar. This means you can use less honey than sugar to achieve the desired sweetness.

Recipe without photos . . .
Salted Honey Walnut Bars
Yield: 30 to 36 sweet treats 

INGREDIENTS:
For the crust
2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 cup powdered sugar 
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the filling
12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup packed brown sugar 
1 cup (12 ounces) honey 
2 1/2 cups walnuts toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (4 ounces) heavy cream 
2 teaspoons vanilla 
3/4 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
For finishing
4 ounces dark chocolate, cut or broken into pieces for quick melting
1/2 teaspoon large flaked sea salt or other finishing salt 

DIRECTIONS:
To make the crust 
1.  Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with foil, extending the foil up and over all four side for easy removal of bars from pan; spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.
2.  Combine the flour, powdered sugar, and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer; mix until ingredients are just blended and begin to come together as a soft dough. 
3.  Press the crust evenly into the prepared pan. 
4.  Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes, until it is golden brown around the edges.
5.  Cool the crust while you prepare the filling.
To make the filling
6.  Combine the butter, brown sugar, and honey in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
7. Stir while the butter and sugar melt. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it boil, stirring only occasionally, for five minutes. After five minutes, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the walnuts, cream, vanilla, and fine sea salt.
8. Pour the filling over the crust and bake the bars for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating halfway through the cooking time, until the bars are bubbling all over. They won't be completely set, and should still jiggle when you move the pan, but the filling should have bubbles over the entire surface. Remove from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack.
9. The bars will firm up as they cool. Once cool, lift the edges of foil to remove bars from pan. For the cleanest cuts, the bars should be completely cool—either by letting them sit at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours, or by placing them in the refrigerator until set. Cut them into small squares or slim rectangles.
To finish
10. Melt the chocolate in the microwave, and drizzle the chocolate over the tops of the bars. 
11.  Sprinkle a big pinch of large flaked sea salt over bars. 
12.  Refrigerate them again, briefly, to set the chocolate before serving.Store bars in refrigerator or freeze.