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Along with the Tree, the Lights and lots of Candles; nothing says Christmas like Christmas Cookies.
They're different from regular cookies; they're richer, prettier, fancier, more decadent.
My favorite Christmas breakfast is a big, steaming mug of dark, Spanish Chocolate and a big plate of Christmas Cookies. (Actually, I could do it every morning but we all know where that would lead, now, don't we?)
I remember the Christmases when my older brother was in the Navy. My mother would start right after Thanksgiving, making the candy: fudge and divinity; the bread: pear, date and nut; and the cookies: drops, crinkles, snaps, icebox and cut-outs. The package needed to be sent by the first week in December if it was to reach my brother in time and my mother was determined that her oldest son, with an insatiable sweet-tooth, would have a happy Christmas.
I would spend the evenings helping decorate the cookies. My mother also had a sweet-tooth and her cut-outs were simple sugar cookies with butter-cream frosting. (I prefer molasses, or lemon). I was allowed to put the frosting base on, then my mother piped the decoration. I finished with the colored sugars, silver balls, and hot, red pepper candies.
Each cookie was carefully wrapped in tissue paper and packed in the center of the box. The softer cookies, breads and candies were on the outside, protecting the prizes.
The first Christmas, my brother was a very popular fellow when he opened his package…even though most of the cookies were crumbs, they were very good crumbs. He managed to eat most of the fudge, himself (he always did eat most of the fudge, regardless of where my mother hid it), and, sharing the rest, the huge box was empty within hours. Getting that box of cookies was the highlight of Christmas for him and his shipmates.
The second Christmas, someone on ship remembered my mother's cookies and the box didn't get to my brother until it was half empty. He was not pleased.
Mother sent him a another, smaller package of just fudge.
The next year he took appropriate precautions!
When I started pretending to be a grown-up I started baking Christmas cookies. It's the only time I really love baking, and, back when I was gainfully employed, I went all out!
I spent several weeks pouring over cookie books (yes, cook books with just cookies), choosing, planning, getting ready for the big weekend. I would bake 8 or 10 different kinds; some fancy, some plain, some new, some family favorites.
What does gainfully employed have to do with baking, you ask?
Simple. I baked because it was a Christmas tradition and because I love Christmas cookies. But what do I do with 50 dozen Christmas cookies!?!? Keep a half dozen of each kind and take the rest to the office. 'Nuff said!
Now there is another way to satisfy the Christmas Cookie Urge. Make them for those who can't! Lydia, of The Perfect Pantry is doing just that. She has the full story and details on how to organize your party on her site, NineCooks but the quick version is this:
Get your friends together and have a cookie baking and decorating party. Make them simple or fancy. Have fun. Be kids. When you're all done, keep a few for you and wrap the rest up and brighten someone else's Christmas. See the "Drop in and Decorate" link on my sidebar for more details.
And if you're looking for something easy to make ahead for your party, how about a new take on that old, Wisconsin, standby: Spaghetti Pie?
The original version, with 10 pounds of cheese (a Wisconsin recipe, remember) and 9 pounds of sausage was wonderful. In the interest of preserving calories to be used for Christmas cookies I've tweaked it a bit…'cause that's what I do!
In hopes that everything is back to normal after the hurricane I'll send this up to Halifax to the indomitable Ruth, of Once Upon A Feast, for Pasta Nights. Visit her blog on Friday for all the yummy pastas.
Tuna Spaghetti Pie This is for 2 or 3, but could easily be doubled, tripled, whatever. If you make it ahead, you'll need to add 10 minutes to the baking time.
3 oz mushrooms
1 medium onion
1 stalk celery
black olives, optional
2 cloves garlic
1 tbs olive oil
1 lg can tuna – 9 oz (290 gr), drained
spaghetti – make a circle with thumb & index finger, a little less than 1" (2.5 cm) in diameter
you're own personal pasta measurer that you can never misplace!
3/4 cup ricotta
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 cup ( 2 oz, 60 gr) shredded cheese
Cook pasta according to package directions. Chop onion, celery, and mince garlic. Slice mushrooms. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion, celery, mushrooms and garlic sauté until tender. Open and drain tuna. Put it into a bowl and break it up with a fork. Add half of the ricotta and mix lightly. In large bowl lightly whisk the egg. Add the rest of the ricotta and herbs and whisk. When pasta is done, drain well. Toss to cool a bit (do not rinse) then add to the egg mixture along with 1/4 cup of shredded cheese. Mix well and put into a glass baking dish (mine is 9 inches square). Pat into place. Spread onion/mushroom mixture evenly over the top. Sprinkle with olives, if using. Spoon the tuna/ricotta mixture on top. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of cheese. Bake, covered with foil (or lid) at 400 F (200C) for 20 minutes. Remove foil (or lid) and bake 5 minutes longer. Serve.
Is everyone thinking about cookies? I'm making Ginger Chocolate Chunk, Triple Chocolate Drops and, for the cut-outs, Stone-jar Molasses. I have to limit myself, sigh….I only have a few neighbors I can give them to….and the French don't really 'get' Christmas cookies….