Newlyweds navigating their way through married life – and the kitchen

Tag Archives: Holiday Gifts

Lemon Surprise CookiesMy Uncle Jimmy is a great and funny guy – a creature of habit if you will.

On summer days when I’d be over playing with my cousins Erin and Jen, he’d come home from work every day at noon on the dot, watch t.v. for a bit, and eat his lunch with one of ten bags of ‘Tri-Sum’ potato chips on top of the fridge.  At every holiday, when stocking the fridge or cooler, you’d see at least 1 liter or a few cans of Coke, an Uncle Jimmy necessity.  There’s a comfort in people like my Uncle Jim, in their predictability and routine – they make you feel like in this crazy world we live in that changes every hour of every day, that as long as there’s ice-cold Coke in the fridge and potato chips for lunch, than all will be o.k with the world.

But….since he’s retired….he’s gone a little crazy….

Lemon Surprise Cookies

…doing things like growing goatees – going to Ireland for bachelor parties and drinking whisky! WITHOUT Coke! And much to my delight, he’s developed a knack for baking, which I discovered at Thanksgiving.

Of 75 desserts on the table, you really need to strategize your plan of attack.  But there was one dessert on the table that I noticed was new, not one of the old stand by’s like my Aunt Kathy’s Eclair Ring or my cousin Jen’s picture perfect trifle.  These little bite size, ball shaped cookies with chocolate drizzle.  I popped one in my mouth, and not only was it delicious, but it had a surprise chocolate kiss interior – and after I ate about 1/2 dozen of them I said “ok, who made these?”  And who was the culprit?

Uncle Jim.  Who knew?

Now this past weekend, I tried making them for a cookie swap.  I followed the recipe to a T and waited with baited breath for them to come out of the oven.  But when it was time to take them out, they looked NOTHING like Uncle Jim’s – TASTED nothing like them either – they were a hot mess of cookie, pun intended.  Honestly, I have no idea what happened.  My theory is that perhaps I chilled the dough for too long (the original recipe called for some chilling time to make the dough easier to handle, which is pretty standard with shortbread recipes) Disappointed was an understatement, because I was so excited to showcase these.

I woke up Sunday morning though, feeling determined to get these right, so I tried AGAIN using a different shortbread recipe, this time not chilling the dough and making a few other changes here and there, and B.I.N.G.O! Success!

Lemon Surprise Cookies
*Uncle Jim (and pillsbury & simple bites)

INGREDIENTS
*makes about 6 dozen

3 sticks of unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon lemon extract

3 & 1/2 cups  all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 bag (13 oz) KISSES® milk chocolates, unwrapped

Powdered sugar

8 oz. milk chocolate, melted
(about 1/2 bag chocolate chips – I used Trader Joe’s 1lb Milk Chocolate Bar)

Lemon Surprise Cookies

1) Preheat oven to 350°F.

2) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and sugar until they are just combined. Add the lemon extract.

3) In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together.

4) Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and bring everything together with your hands.  Take about 1/2 tbsp. of the dough and wrap it around the hershey kiss.
*This step is key, as you really only want enough dough to just cover the hershey kiss.  If you use too much dough (which is another mistake I made first time around) the shortbread will flatten out on the bottom, making the finished product look more like little hats instead of balls. 

5) Take the dough-wrapped hershey kiss and roll it in between the palms of your hands to form a ball.  Place them on an ungreased cookie sheet.

6) Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set and bottom edges are light golden brown. Cool 1 minute then remove from cookie sheets. Cool completely, about 15 minutes on wire racks.

7) Lightly sprinkle cooled cookies with powdered sugar. In a double boiler or microwave, melt the chocolate and drizzle over each cookie.

Lemon Surprise Cookies

While being slightly labor intensive, the end result is well worth it as this slightly lemon flavored shortbread has a chocolatey surprise center and the recipe makes a TON, so they’re perfect for gift giving or swapping – 1 batch will make more cookies than you’ll know what to do with!

So thanks for the recipe Uncle Jim! Keep livin’ that ‘crazy’ retired life – it looks good on you 🙂

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y Chocolate Covered Pretzels

I’ve mentioned before that my family is pretty serious about desserts – well, they’re even more serious about cookie swaps, or so I learned this weekend.

My Grammy Murphy is quite the grandmother – she was the first of anyone to get AOL, email and a ‘screen name’, her recipes for things like whoopie pies and pecan rolls are legendary (even though they never taste quite as good as when she makes them), and at 84, she still manages to have more style than I will ever have in my entire lifetime.  AND, her new digs at the Assisted Living facility she just recently moved into are straight up 5-star, making Dave and I’s ‘love nest’ look like just that – a nest – made of sticks – where birds live.  But if anyone deserves a sweet pad to hang their hat, it’s grammy Murphy – so that makes me just a little less bitter about it 🙂

My mom organized a cookie swap with all my Aunt’s this weekend to put some trays together for all those fab people who are there to help my grandparents on a day -to-day basis and everyone dawned their best baked goods and prettiest bows and ribbons to make some seriously good looking goody trays.  cookie swapComing from a family that loves to bake, I think that the best part of the holiday season is that a huge tray of freshly baked treats wrapped up in cellophane and tied with a bow can be just as great a gift as a cashmere scarf or that blender you’ve been eyeing all year – and appreciated just as much, if not more, because there’s the added ingredient of TLC in them!

One of my favorites are these amazingly easy to make Chocolate Dipped Pretzels.  I can’t remember when my cousin Jen started making these, but like many other things in the Murphy Family, they must be present on the dessert table for at least one Holiday to avoid stomping, shouting and crying fits – and that’s just my reaction!  Pretty basic I know – pretzel – chocolate – dip – let dry – repeat.  But, she took them to a new level by adding fun toppings and even hidden surprises like a slab of peanut butter hidden under the chocolate.  So while being visually appealing, they’re equally as tummy appealing, especially when you bite into one and say “Wait, is that….is THAT what I think it is?”.

Holiday Chocolate Pretzels
* Adapted from my cousin Jen (if you think these are good, you should see her Trifle!) and Twist, A Unique Approach to Pretzels

INGREDIENTS

mini salted pretzels

milk/dark/white chocolate (one or all three!)
*again, I use the Trader Joe’s 1lb chocolate bars and Ghiradellis’ White Chocolate Chips

Toppings galore!
*For today, I chose Holiday Sprinkles, Heath Bits, Chopped Almonds, Coconut, Peanut Butter, Fluff and Nutella, but seriously, sky is the limitChocolate Covered Pretzels

1) Lay out your pretzels on wax paper-lined cookie sheets or wire racks.

2) In a double boiler (or in the microwave), temper your chocolate.  To temper, take about 2/3 of the chocolate and place it in the double boiler (or microwave-safe dish). When the chocolate starts to really melt, remove it from the heat and add the remaining unmelted chocolate to the pan, stirring constantly until it melts into the melted stuff.  The tempering will provide a nice shiny looking chocolate and avoid those unsightly little white spots that can sometimes pop up on chocolate.  If you’re doing 2 or 3 different kinds of chocolate, be sure to repeat this process with each kind.

3) Assemble your pretzels:

For the Peanut Butter/Fluff pretzel – on one half of your pretzel, take about 1/2 tsp. of peanut butter and 1/2 tsp. of fluff, and stick them on the 1/2 of the pretzel that will go in the chocolate.  Then dip that side in the chocolate and place on wax paper to dry.  Top with sprinkles (or if you’re feeling really fiesty, mini peanut butter chocolate chips or rescees pieces!)

For the Nutella Pretzel – repeat the same process as above, only with Nutella.  Top with sprinkles like I did, or for the fiesty (and not cheap like I am) dipper, sprinkle some chopped hazelnuts on the top.

For the Heath Bar Pretzel – dip pretzel in chocolate (with no filling) and sprinkle with Heath Bits (you can find those in the baking section a the grocery store)

For the Almond Joy Pretzel – same as above, and sprinkle with chopped almonds (I used the sliced almonds) and coconut

y Chocolate Covered Pretzels

Honestly people, I think the thing I love so much about these is that your options are essentially endless – I had soooo many other ideas but 1) it’s a week night and 2) I still have a sugar hangover from the swap yesterday, so I kept my pretzels to a minimum.  But really, you could do a spin on the last post, and do Dark Mint Chocolate with either Oreo crumbles or Peppermint bits.  These are fun, so easy, and a serious crowd pleaser.  Who doesn’t love Chocolate Covered Pretzels? I mean, really?  They also wrap/travel really well, so load them into a holiday tin with some wax paper, or a fun jar with a snap top!

ay Chocolate Covered Pretzels

So shake up your Cookie Swap this year – be the mysterious swapper that brings Chocolate Pretzels instead of Chocolate Chip Cookies or Peanut Butter Kisses – make them wonder – and drool at the same time 🙂


Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Cookies

So I just got all the Saltine Toffee Brittle out of my system, so onto the next sweet treat!

Everyone has that one thing that indicates that the holiday season has begun –  it could be black friday shopping – putting up your twinkle lights – hanging your stockings by the chimney with care or ornaments on your newly cut christmas tree.

For me, it’s when that one thing I’ve waited for all year dawns the shelves at Trader Joe’s – their Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe’s.  And all of a sudden, I’m a kid again on christmas morning who just opened their brand new Nintendo Power Pad! (orrr um….iPad…right…iPad!)

There’s those special treats reserved for the holiday season that never taste quite as good at any other time of year as they do those few weeks leading up to Christmas.  And Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe’s are no different – Trader Joe makes them specially (just for me) for the Christmas season, and that alone is what makes them taste soooo good.  That and the fact that it’s a combination of 2 of my favorite things on earth – chocolate and cookies.

But, another good thing about them is that they’re easy as pie to make! I mean no offense TJ, but I could whip these bad boys up in no time.  And that my friends, is exactly what I’m gonna do.

Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Cookies
*Inspired by Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe’s

INGREDIENTS
*yields about 2 -1/2 dozen

30 (or so) Double Stuff Oreo Cookies or Trader Joe’s Joe Joes (their version of the Oreo)

1 lb. dark chocolate
(I used the Trader Joe’s 1lb Dark Chocolate Bar)

1 tsp. mint extract

6 or 7 large candy canes, crushed

pepporeoswithinstruction

1) Line a wire rack with wax paper and lay out your Oreo cookies.

2) In a double boiler (or in the microwave), temper your chocolate.  To temper, take about 2/3 of the chocolate and place it in the double boiler (or microwave-safe dish).

3) When the chocolate starts to really melt, remove it from the heat and add the remaining unmelted chocolate to the pan, stirring constantly until it melts into the melted stuff.  The tempering will provide a nice shiny looking chocolate and avoid those unsightly little white spots that can sometimes pop up on chocolate.  When the chocolate is just about all melted, you can mix in the mint extract.

4) Place your candy canes in a ziplock bag and with a hammer or the butt of a large knife, crush them into tiny pieces/crumbs and set aside.

5) With a pair of metal tongs, give each cookie a ‘bath’ in the mint chocolate (best.bath.ever), covering it completely with chocolate.  Let the excess chocolate drip a bit, and then place them back on the wax paper.  When all have been ‘bathed’, sprinkle the tops with peppermint crumbles.

Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Cookies

For the cost of 1 package of TJ’s version, you could make almost THREE TIMES as many of these yourself in the comfort of your own kitchen!

And then, after you eat about a dozen yourself, making sure they’re just right, wrap them up and give them away – but, make sure you wipe the ‘evidence’ off your chin 🙂


Saltine Toffee Brittle

Saltines get a bad wrap – they’re square with little holes in them, hard to swallow if you eat too many at once, kind of an ugly color, and for some reason I always associate them with having a stomach ache (that and flat ginger ale).  For a while I thought all you could do to spice them up was slap peanut butter on them – until one fateful December when I discovered that they are the base for one of the easiest and most delicious sweet treats I’ve ever had in my life.

It was Sophomore year of college, right before Christmas break when Ash’s mom invited us gals out to the ‘burbs’ from Providence to have dinner with her family – a delicious pork dish with all the fixings was on the menu, a welcome change to the slop du jor we were used to at school.  And then after dinner she put dessert on the table – I saw chocolate – YES.  But then what in the…saltines? Are those saltine crackers under that chocolate? I was skeptical, but went in head first thinking “How bad can they be?”.

Saltine Toffee Brittle

Since then, this ‘brittle’ as Ash’s mom called it has been a staple for every occasion imaginable – at bachelorette parties, we hover over the ziplock bag of it after a night out thinking “who needs pizza when you have brittle!”  During the holidays, it’s perfect for wrapping up on a plate with pretty cellophane and ribbon and giving to co-workers, family members, or neighbors.  And the best part is that it doesn’t take a lot of time or money to make – 5 basic ingredients – you can top it with pretty much anything imaginable, or just leave it plain and simple.

Saltine Toffee Brittle

INGREDIENTS

Saltine crackers
(about 2 sleeves)

2 sticks unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 bag semi-sweet (or milk) chocolate chips

*chopped pecans, M&M’s, holiday sprinkles, etc. etc. for topping are optional

Saltine Toffee Brittle

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large cookie sheet (preferably with sides) with aluminum foil.  Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray and line the tray with the saltine crackers.

3) In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, brown sugar and vanilla together.  Let them come to a rolling boil for about 3 minutes.

4) Pour butter/sugar/vanilla mixture over the saltine crackers and place in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes, until the sugar/butter mixture starts to bubble.

5) Pour the chocolate chips over the saltines.  Throw back in the oven for another minute, just to melt the chocolate chips a little more so they become more spreadable.  Remove from the oven and spread the chocolate to cover the saltines entirely.

6) Place in the fridge to let cool and then break into pieces once completely cooled.

When I say this stuff is addicting, that is a total understatement.  I couldn’t even wait for the stuff to cool last night and boom, 1 row of brittle, in my belly.

It can be served at room temperature, but it tastes really good cold/frozen as well.  It freezes fantastically too, so break it up, toss it in the freezer, have a piece (or 2 or 3) every night for dessert, or you can save it for that holiday party you’re hosting.  While no ones looking, take it out of the freezer, arrange it on a pretty Christmas plate, and say “Ohhh I just whipped this up! Enjoy!”.

Even puppies want in on it 🙂

Saltine Toffee Brittle



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