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by Caitlin Saniga

One Christmas, my mom's dear friend Mrs. Swartz had my brother over to make Christmas cookies. Who knows what else we made that day (It was 20 years ago perhaps), but I'll never forget these easy graham crackers with the salty-sweet coconut-toffee topping. I added a messy drizzle of dark chocolate this time because it never hurts ...

One Christmas, my mom’s dear friend Mrs. Swartz had my brother over to make Christmas cookies. Who knows what else we made that day (It was 20 years ago perhaps), but I’ll never forget these easy graham crackers with the salty-sweet coconut-toffee topping. I added a messy drizzle of dark chocolate this time because it never hurts …

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by Sarah Steimer and Caitlin Saniga

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Sarah’s package of cookies to Caitlin included cranberry-pecan shortbreads, apple slice cookies (below the shortbreads, wrapped up), gingerbread anise biscotti (recipe here) and peppermint-chocolate swirl cookies. Sarah also included a few chocolate-covered pretzels (another recipe we posted in the past).

We love making cookies for the holidays and sharing photos and recipes of them on the blog (most notable was our 2010 Holiday Dozen guide). We often email or text each other to rave about how good the other’s photos look, or to say how good our own cookies tasted. On a few very rare occasions, we’ve been able to try each other’s creations. This year, we decided to send cookies directly to one another so we didn’t have to be too jealous when the pictures and recipes hit the Web! 

Below are the recipes for the cookies Sarah sent to Caitlin this year:

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Cranberry-pecan shortbreads

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Sarah: These cookies freeze incredibly well — and they’re the first ones I made this season, so how well they stored was very important.
Caitlin: I enjoyed the toasty, earthy flavors of these cookies. I can picture using raisins and walnuts instead of cranberries and pecans as alternative.

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk (I used skim)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the milk and vanilla, mixing until just combined.

Gradually add the flour, salt, cranberries and pecans. Continue to mix until everything is well combined.

Divide the dough into two equal pieces on a clean workspace. Roll each piece into an 8-inch log, and wrap each log in wax paper. Refrigerate the dough until firm, about two hours.

When ready, use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 1/4-inch slices. Place the disks on a parchment-lined baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart.

Bake at 375 degrees until the edges are golden, about 14-16 minutes, rotating the pans about halfway through.

Let the cookies cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Recipe adapted from: Martha Stewart

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Apple slice cookies

  • 7 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon light cream (as a substitute, I used 1 tablespoon skim milk and added about a 1/2 tablespoon extra butter)
  • 1/3 cup thick applesauce
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Sarah: The cookbook I found this recipe in said it “won an award in 1945,” but gave no details as to why or how. If you’re looking for a mysterious, World War II-era fan favorite, look no further.
Caitlin: I loved these because they remind me of something my Baboo would have made. They’re slightly sweet and not too rich. Delicious!

Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Add the flour and cream (or substitute), mixing well.

Divide the dough into two pieces. Roll each out to 12-inch logs and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Use your finger to make a deep indentation (although all the way to the sheet pan) down the center of each log length. Fill the indentation with the applesauce – you may not use all the applesauce.

Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes, or until the cookie itself begins to turn golden. The cookies will still feel relatively soft when you remove them from the oven and have flattened out a bit.

While still warm, cut the cookies into 3/4-inch-wide diagonal slices. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Store in the refrigerator.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Recipe adapted from: Swedish Cakes and Cookies

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Peppermint-chocolate swirl cookies

  • 3 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg yolk

    Sarah: I love the little flecks of candy in these cookies — but there's a heck of a lot of steps involved in making these.Caitlin:

    Sarah: I love the little flecks of candy in these cookies — but there are a heck of a lot of steps involved in making these.
    Caitlin: I opened the box, and my jaw dropped at the sight of these pinwheels. How pretty! They look and taste perfect.

  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1/2 cup crushed candy canes (use Caitlin’s advice and grab the little candy canes, they’re way easier to crush)

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and milk. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Divide the dough in half and refrigerate, wrapped in plastic wrap or wax paper, for about two hours.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature to soften a bit.

Place one half of the dough in a bowl and add the chocolate and vanilla extract. Using your hands, combine the mixture well until the chocolate has been fully incorporated into the dough.

In a separate bowl, combine the second dough half with the egg yolk, peppermint extract and the crushed candy canes. Combine with your hands once again until the candy is well distributed throughout the dough.

Chill both of the doughs in the refrigerator for five minutes. Roll each half out on a clean surface over a sheet of wax paper. Each half should be rolled out to about a 1/4-inch thickness and about the same shape.

Place the sheet of peppermint dough on top of the chocolate dough, removing the peppermint’s wax paper. Press the edges of the dough together. Using the wax paper underneath, roll the dough into a log (working length-wise).

Wrap the log in wax paper and refrigerate for another two hours. Cut the cookies into slices a little thinner than a half inch-thick. Arrange about 1-inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake at 375 degrees for 12-13 minutes, rotating the pans about halfway through. Remove from the oven and let sit on the pan for about 2 minutes before letting fully cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Recipe adapted from: Alton Brown via the Food Network

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xxx

Caitlin: I was so impressed with Sarah’s cookies! Each variety looked and tasted perfect even after a trip in the mail. And cookies weren’t the only thing I found in my package of goodies. She snuck a few Christmas presents into the box as well, including this Scrabble letters tray with a customized nod to the blog. She also sent a pretty blue and white bowl and a gorgeous bird-themed tea towel — both of which you’re likely to see in blog photos sometime soon.

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by Sarah Steimer

Dried cranberries are great, but fresh berries make for a much better bite in baking.

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (for drizzling)

Whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. In another bowl, beat the butter, sugar and brown sugar. Add egg and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, along with the oats, chocolate chips and cranberries.

Drop rounded tablespoons onto a cookie sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until the edges start to brown. Allow the cookies to cool on the pan for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Once the cookies have fully cooled, melt your remaining chocolate over a double boiler. Once melted, use a spoon to drizzle the chocolate over the cookies. Let the chocolate set before serving or storing the cookies.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Recipe adapted from: Sweet Tarte

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by Sarah Steimer

This is my first time making these cookies, but they may make my yearly Christmas cookie list. They would probably rule with a chocolate drizzle, too.

  • 2 cups cranberries
  • 2 cups pecans (could substitute walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoon orange zest
  • 3 cup flour

In a food processor or blender, add cranberries, pecans and brown sugar – I doubled this from the original, by the way, so you can cut this in half if you so please. Blend well until only small pieces remain. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add baking powder, salt, eggs and orange zest. Beat for about 1 minute. Add flour a little at a time, mixing on medium speed. Cover and chill for at least one hour.

Divide dough in half. On a floured surface, roll dough out to a rectangular shape until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Lift the dough as you roll to make sure it does not stick to the surface. Spread half of the cranberry-pecan mixture on the dough, stopping 1/2 inch from the edges of the dough.

Begin rolling from one of the short ends, making sure to seal it at the ends. Wrap in plastic wrap and repeat with the other half of the dough and cranberry mixture. Chill for at least 24 hours. Every once in awhile roll the logs to avoid a flat end.

Slice the logs into 1/4-inch thick slices. Place on a lined cookie sheet 1 to 2 inches apart. Bake at 375 for eight to 10 minutes or until the bottoms of the cookies begins to brown. Let cool for five minutes on the sheets then transfer to cooling racks.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Recipe adapted from: Baked by Rachel

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by Sarah Steimer

Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts are a gift from the holiday party gods.

  • 1 can water chestnuts
  • about 8-10 pieces of bacon
  • soy sauce and/or teriyaki sauce – whatever you use, shoot for reduced sodium as you’ll get enough salt from the bacon
  • sugar

I’m not sure if this is the norm, but the water chestnuts I’ve been finding are sliced and not whole. If this is the case, stack slices three at a time and place in any dish or pan that has sides – i.e. a cake pan, cooking dish, etc.

These are absurdly good. I don't even know what to say. They're easy to put together and they make your home smell great and you'll eat 15.

Add either the soy sauce and/or teriyaki sauce (I actually had both so I combined the two) so the sauce(s) come about halfway up the chestnuts. Place in the refrigerator and let sit for about 30 minutes.

Roll the chestnuts in sugar to coat. Wrap with bacon and trim the excess bacon off – you should be able to wrap about two chestnuts with each strip of bacon. Skewer with a toothpick and place on a foil-lined baking sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. The cooking time varies depending on the bacon. I used a thicker cut so it took more like 20-plus minutes.

Allow the chestnuts to cool slightly before serving.

Makes about 20.

Recipe: Jacob Yundt via Emily Wolfe

*Throughout December, “Merry and Bites” will feature finger foods with seasonal flair. All of them can be found here. Happy holidays!

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by Sarah Steimer

These potatoes are stuffed with gouda, roasted red pepper and caramelized onions. By the way - those dots on the napkin aren't grease, it started raining while I was shooting.

  •  20 fingerling potatoes
  • 1/2 cup shredded gouda
  • 1 small-medium roasted red pepper, diced small
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons nonfat plain yogurt
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Pierce the skins of your potatoes and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft enough to easily insert a knife. Do not turn off the oven.

While the potatoes are in the over, caramelize the onions in a pan with olive oil. Set aside.

Once the potatoes have cooled so you can touch them, slice off the top 1/4 of the spuds, length-wise. Scoop out enough potato from the remaining 3/4 so you are left with about /14-inch before you reach the skin. Careful not to scrape all the way through. I found it’s actually easiest to sort of stab the insides of the potato with a fork to loosen it up before scooping.

Place what you cut off/scooped out of the potatoes into a bowl. Add the cheese, yogurt, peppers, onions, salt and pepper. Mash together using the tines of a fork.

Scoop the filling back into the potato “shells” and bake in the oven for another 15 minutes, or until the top is golden.

Everything can be assembled  – except for the last baking – the day before the party and kept in the refrigerator. Right as the party starts, place the potatoes in the oven for their final 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Serves 10 if everyone takes two.

*Throughout December, “Merry and Bites” will feature finger foods with seasonal flair. All of them can be found here. Happy holidays!

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by Sarah Steimer and Caitlin Saniga

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There are only five more days until Hanukkah and 10 more days until Christmas, and according to a few informal surveys – a lot of people out there aren’t ready yet.

So on top of offering recipes for your holiday parties and charitable ideas for your yearly donation, we’ve also kindly put together a list of great holiday gifts for the food love in your life – whether he or she likes to entertain, is a seasoned pro or is just getting started.

Small kitchen appliance

  • Crock-Pot slow cooker
    • You really, truly cannot go wrong with a slow cooker. It’s so simple to use and does all the work for you. A slow-cooker can make anything from chili to dessert, or just simply keep your punch warm at a party. —S
  • Cuisinart 7-cup food processor
    • I’ve had my eye on this mid-size food processor for quite some time. Right now I use a blender to do many tasks, but a food processor opens up so many more possibilities! It can chop nuts, cut up meat, mix ingredients for bread dough, churn out pesto, etc. Consumer reviews say this machine does great work for the price and size. —C

Everyday cooking tool

  • Wooden spoon set
    • I think the safest bet for any type of pan is to use a wooden spoon instead of any metal or plastic spatula. It’s one of the handiest utensils I own and you’ll never burn your hand because you left your wooden spoon on a hot surface. I wouldn’t imagine, at least. —S
  • Glass citrus juicer
    • My mom has one, and now that I’m living on my own, it would be nice to have one, too. Citrus juicers come in a number of shapes and sizes (My current juicer is a fork!), but I like using glass because it is easy to clean. And if it chips or dings, it only adds to the character of the piece. —C

Entertaining item

  • Cork trivet set
    • Cork trivets are great to have around if you ever serve food straight from the oven or the stove. Instead of rooting around for a kitchen towel that will match your table scape or putting a bulky cooling rack on the table, place a few cork trivets underneath your hot pots and pans. The cork is simple enough that it can match almost anything. —S
  • Stemless wine glasses
    • I like this set because it include glasses for white (skinny) and red (fat) wines. And they have the potential to hold so many things other than wine: juices, iced coffee, layered salads, layered pudding desserts, ice cream sundaes, even votives or flowers. —C

Cookbooks

  • “Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets” by Deborah Madison
    • The recipes in this cookbook are extremely simple, as they should be when you feature seasonal foods. It’s a fantastic reference for any time of the year, especially when you’re stumped in the winter months or grab an odd vegetable at the farmer’s market on a whim. Madison also incorporates stories from markets she’s visited around the country. —S
  • “The Bon Appetit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh” by Barbara Fairchild
    • My three favorite words! I’ve cooked recipes from the magazine, and while they’re always delicious, they’re not always the simplest or quickest to prepare. I’ve tried a few recipes from the cookbook, and I can definitely tell that “fast” is emphasized in most of the dishes, as many can be prepared in 30 minutes or less (so they say!). —C

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