Staff writer Clint Cooper has a drawer full of unused recipes in his kitchen. Once a month in Tossed & Found, he's pulling some out and giving them a try.
Every year around Christmas, we bake or make cookies, bars and other treats for family members, co-workers and other friends and neighbors.
Some are traditional ones we make every year, like Ritz cracker sandwiches dunked in dark or white chocolate, and No-Bake Cookies, which are stove-top drop cookies with oatmeal, cocoa, peanut better and coconut.
We used to make fudge, but we're not as big of fans of the dense chocolate treats anymore. Too sweet.
The rest of the goodies usually come from recipes my wife or I have seen during the year and want to try. Some years, there are more chocolatey items. Other years, we might use pretzels a lot or white chocolate or peanut butter.
Every year, we try at least to have a selection of treats that don't look the same - a lemon something here, something green and minty there, chocolate over there and also perhaps something multi-colored.
To me, goodies are an especially nice gift because they indicate you spent time in the making rather than grabbing the cheapest on-sale item at the drug store.
Personally, I enjoy my time in the kitchen every year around Christmas. Pandora is playing Christmas music on my computer, or my favorite CDs are getting me in the mood for the holiday.
Below are a few of recipes I pulled off Pinterest over the last few years but haven't tried. Include one or more of them in your Christmas baking this year, or try one for a neighborhood cookie swap.
After all, 'tis the season.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 rounded cup powdered sugar
4 tablespoon lemon juice
8 teaspoons lemon zest
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease/spray an 8-by-8-inch baking dish and set aside. Zest and juice two lemons; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the flour, sugar, salt and softened butter until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, lemon zest and lemon juice until combined. Pour into the flour mixture and beat at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Pour into baking dish and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until just starting to turn golden around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before glazing. Do not overbake, or the bars will be dry.
When brownies are cooled completely, make the glaze. Sift the powdered sugar, add lemon zest and juice, and whisk together all three ingredients. Spread 1/2 the glaze over the brownies with a rubber spatula. Let glaze set. This glaze does not harden like most. Cut into bars.
• Cook's changes: None, although I don't know if I had two tablespoons plus eight teaspoons of lemon zest from my two good-sized lemons.
• Result: These are indeed lemony. If lemon's not one of your favorite flavors, these are not for you. Since the glaze doesn't completely harden, they are a little messy, too. The consistency is like a typical chess square but with a heavy lemon flavor. Outside of the messiness of squeezing and zesting the lemons, they are easy to make.
- Pinterest (originally from Rita May's Recipes)
1 cup sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1-1/3 cups creamy peanut butter
4-1/4 cups Rice Krispies
1 pinch of salt
4 Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, chopped
1 handful chocolate chips
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the sugar, corn syrup and peanut butter until smooth and evenly combined. Remove from heat. Quickly add the salt and cereal and stir to combine thoroughly. Add the chocolate chips and stir again. Wait about 1 minute and add the candy, quickly folding the mixture together so as to not smash up the candy. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and drop by rounded tablespoons onto the sheet. Allow to cool before eating.
• Cook's changes: None, although I used 1/2 cup of chocolate chips, as one of the Pinterest posters suggested, instead "one handful."
• Result: Although I followed the directions to the letter, the Reese's pieces seemed to melt in with the other ingredients, and I never tasted them. In addition, the round treats were very chewy. If I make them again, I might cut part of the corn syrup and/or sugar. I prefer a recipe I've made since high school, which is just regular Rice Krispies Treats with chocolate icing. But if you're a real Reese's Cups lover, you could melt a bunch of them over the Treats instead of, say, semisweet chocolate. But these weren't bad. Just be sure your dental work is secure.
- Pinterest (originally from Oh, Sweet Basil)
16 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon mint extract (NOT peppermint), optional
Green food coloring
16 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 box (4.67 ounces) Andes Crème de Menthe thins, unwrapped and coarsely chopped
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Melt the white chocolate over a double boiler (or in 30-second intervals in the microwave on 50 percent power, stirring after each). Once the chocolate is melted, remove from the heat and let sit for a few minutes to cool slightly, stirring occasionally. Add the mint extract, if using, and stir to combine. Add a few drops of green food coloring and stir until desired color is reached. Spread the white chocolate mixture onto the prepared pan in an even layer (depending on the size of the pan and how thick you'd like your bark, you may not need the entire surface of the pan). Refrigerate for 15 minutes, until just about set.
Meanwhile, melt the semisweet chocolate over a double boiler (or in 30-second intervals in the microwave on 50 power, stirring after each). Once the chocolate is melted, remove from the heat and let sit for a few minutes to cool slightly, stirring occasionally. Pour over the white chocolate layer and spread evenly over top. Sprinkle with the chopped Andes mints and press down lightly to push the mints into the top chocolate layer. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes until completely set. Cut the bark or break into uneven pieces. Store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the refrigerator. When stored in the refrigerator, it will keep for at least 2 weeks.
• Cook's changes: I didn't have a pure mint extract, so I used part of one I had called Pure mint/Peppermint (despite the instructions) and part Chocolate Mint. I used a double boiler for the melting and was very happy with the result.
• Result: Several co-workers remarked how good these were, but I would like to try them with just the mint extract. It might cut the peppermint-y taste a bit. I was worried about how the white chocolate would do on the baking shape, but it spread out like a champ. And be sure to push the Andes pieces in the chocolate or they will crumble off. I'll probably do these again.
- Pinterest (originally from Brown Eyed Baker)
1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
5 (1.55 ounces each) Nestlé Crunch candy bars, chopped
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Beat butter, 3/4 cup powdered sugar and salt in mixer until creamy. Beat in vanilla extract; gradually beat in flour. Stir in chopped Nestlé Crunch bars. Shape dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are set and bottoms are lightly browned. Sift 1/4 cup powdered sugar over hot cookies on baking sheet; cool on baking sheets for 10 minutes. Carefully remove to wire racks to cool completely. Sprinkle with additional powdered sugar if desired. Store in airtight containers.
• Cook's changes: None.
• Result: The powdered sugar gives these an initial sweet taste, but the inner cookie is not that sweet. Then, when you bite into a Nestlé Crunch piece, it's like another surprise. My son loved these, perhaps, he said, even better than traditional chocolate chip cookies. With no eggs, the cookies have a consistency similar to Keebler Pecan Sandies. They crumble easily but are light and airy.
- Pinterest (originally from Very Best Baking)
Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at email@example.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.