Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Okay: officially the worst blogger ever.  I am trying not to notice the last time I posted, but I know it's a loooong time ago.  In my defense, it has been insane these past couple weeks.  It all began with the cookie swap - the topic of this post - and then moved right into preparations for Christmas Eve here at our house, and then Christmas Day... oh, and toss in MY ENGAGEMENT TO MARK, and I think I have some good excuses for being too busy to blog.  It has been a crazy, busy, wonderful week of holiday insanity!

I do have a ton to catch you up on, but for now, I wanted to just discuss the cookie swap, which we held on December 19.  It was a Wednesday, so we still had a couple days left of school before vacation, but we were starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Our house was beginning to get prepared for hosting all 50 family members here for Christmas Eve, and Anne, Kenzie, Mom and I decided that we always want to get invited to cookie swaps but never do, so why not throw our own here?  We sent out Facebook invitations to family and a few friends, and voila: the cookie swap was born.
Cookies galore!
I would say the party was a success.  Here is what we came up with for directions as to How to Throw a Cookie Swap (because we had no idea what we were doing!)

1) Invite people.  This is rather obvious, but you need a good number of cookies to have a swap.  We decided to invite about 10 people.  If you have too many, the amount of cookies to taste test is overwhelming, and too few and it's awkward.  We also told people right off the bat to bring 2-3 dozen cookies.  We felt it wasn't necessary to have people bring a dozen cookies for everyone invited, like some cookie swaps suggest.  A few of each kind of cookie was plenty.  Next time, I might have people bring a recipe card of their cookie; we didn't this year, and I wanted some of the recipes!

2) Decide on which awards will be given.  We were kind of half-assing the awards for this swap, considering I frantically created 4 ribbons using Paint on my work computer during dismissal one day. We decided to give an award for best tasting, worst tasting, prettiest, and ugliest.  My mother thinks that next year, the negative awards should be nixed, but I thought it was kind of funny.

Here are the ribbons for prettiest and ugliest, and the winning cookies!
Lots of chocolates and candles for prizes!
3) Buy prizes.  In addition to awards, it would be nice to hand out prizes for each award.  Again, we half-assed this as well, so we bought no prizes.  Luckily, I am a teacher, and it was the week before Christmas, so I may or may not have given out some of the gifts I had already received :)  Sorry kids, I am allergic to artificial scents!

Voting... Kelsey is not pleased with the results...
4) Prepare the house, snacks, and drinks.  You need to decide where the cookies will be set up, figure out appetizers and beverages, and make sure you have something that people will be able to use to pack up cookies to take home.  We moved our kitchen chairs into the other rooms and pushed our table against the wall for more room in the kitchen.  The cookies all went on the table, and there was enough room for us to all stand in the kitchen to vote (although most swaps do a silent ballot... we were paperless, just like we are at work!).  A few people brought appetizers, but we provided cheese and crackers, a delicious goat cheese pomegranate crostini appetizer, a Mexican layer dip, and a cocoa bar, where we had marshmallows, candy canes, and whipped cream!  All of these were a huge hit. 
Marshmallows for the cocoa bar!

Cocoa bar

4) Party!  We had a wonderful night - especially me and Susie, as the top winners for prettiest (my linzer cookies) and best tasting (Susie's almond biscotti).  Kelsey was the big winner of the night, with two awards!  Unfortunately, they were for ugliest and worst tasting.  Haha!  A for effort, Kels.  Again, my mom is now against the "mean awards" but as long as your guests have a good sense of humor, I think it is just fine.
Here are the recipes for the winning cookies (okay, except for Kelsey's!):

Linzer cookies (won the award for prettiest!)
from Martha Stewart
5 ounces unblanched hazelnuts (1 cup)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon table salt
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
2/3 cup raspberry or cherry jam
1)  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and immediately transfer nuts to a clean towel. Vigorously rub the nuts in the towel to remove as much of the skins as possible. Set nuts aside until completely cool. Place nuts in a food processor, and process until finely ground. Set aside.
2)  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, and beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla.
3) Whisk together reserved hazelnuts, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add to butter mixture; beat on low until combined, about 2 minutes. Form dough into two flattened disks, wrap each with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.
4)   Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have ready two baking sheets lined with Silpats or parchment paper. Also have ready one 2 1/2-inch round fluted cookie cutter and one 3/4-inch cookie cutter (or a Linzer set!  I think my cookies are a bit smaller). On a lightly floured work surface, roll out half the dough to a scant 1/4-inch thickness. Using the 3-inch fluted cutter, cut out cookies. With a wide spatula, transfer cookies to the prepared baking sheets. Using the smaller cutter, cut the centers out of half of the cookies. Repeat rolling and cutting with the other half of the dough. Combine the scraps from both batches, reroll and cut.
5) Bake until the edges are golden, 12 to 16 minutes, rotating halfway through. Remove from oven; place on wire racks until completely cool.
6)   Lightly sift confectioners' sugar over the decorative tops; set aside. Spread a scant tablespoon of jam on the bottoms of each cookie, and sandwich with the sugar-dusted tops.
almond biscotti  (won the award for best tasting!)
from a mystery source (Susie saved it into a Word file!)

Almond Cookies

1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons almond extract
1/2 cup oil
2 tablespoons. cold water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 1/2 cup flour
2 tsteaspoons baking powder
10 oz. slivered almonds
6 oz. chopped almonds
1 egg white, lightly beaten (for wash)
sugar or melting chocolate (optional)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat first 6 ingredients until creamy.
2) Sift in cinnamon, flour, and baking powder and mix by hand until well combined.
3) Fold in almonds. Shape dough into 3 small loaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment and brush with egg wash.
4) Sprinkle with sugar and bake 20 - 25 minutes or until loaves are golden. Cool slightly and slice each loaf into bars. If desired, drizzle with melted chocolate.


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