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What's Cooking?: A Season of Giving

With all the amazing dishes, mouth-watering baked goods and dazzling decorations that inspire our creative senses, one of the best things I love about this holiday season is the time of giving.  I appreciate the thought and care people take in choosing their gifts.  Homemade culinary gifts offer a more personal and satisfying touch to gift giving.   Friends and family who are food lovers like me value the effort.  The expression of delight and joy when they take a bite of something that is scrumptious makes all the difference.

What I love to give as gifts are baked goods, especially cookies.  I would usually choose 4 or 5 types of cookies that vary in ingredients, texture, and color.   My very favorite is the rainbow or tri-color cookies which are so beautiful with their Christmas colors.  They are made with almond paste which can be bought in any supermarket.  Originally, the colors of these Italian cake-like cookies are made to reflect the colors of the Italy’s flag (green, white, red).  Although it is not a simple recipe, this triple layered cookie is worth all the time and effort.  They are sooooo delicious!  In addition to this cookie, my collection of tasty morsels this year includes pecan tartlets, cranberry chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, almond lace cookies, buttery lemon spritz cookies and rugelach with its wonderful cream cheese pastry.  My family loves the sweet scent of cookies baking in the house.  It is a reminder that Christmas is here.

Although it can be a daunting task at first with all the baking, the occasion can be a catalyst to a lot of fun especially when family help is involved in this exhuberant organized “chaos”.  With some preparation and organization, it comes together with less effort each year.  To make it less overwhelming, start out with a choice of 2 or 3 cookie recipes.  Kids love the jewel-like thumbprint cookies and snowy almond crescent cookies.  No-bake rum or bourbon balls are sure to please the adults.  Since these “cookies” are not baked, the alcohol taste and content are retained (I think I’ll make these for New Year’s).  I often double or triple the recipes and work in stages.  I prepare ahead of time the doughs for each of the cookie recipe on one day and refrigerate them.  Some recipes allow you to even freeze the dough.  Then I choose a cold wintry (optional) day to bake them.  This way it will be less hectic.  Quick breads like banana bread, cranberry orange muffins, and brownies are also great gifts.  Try baking them in mini loaf pans.  Lastly, assemble these addictive sweets in holiday cookie tins, and decorative cellophane bags.  You can add them to gift baskets along with cookie cutters, and other food items such as fruits and jars of honey or jams.  Wrap the gift baskets generously in colorful cellophane sheets.  And don’t forget to add a bright lavish bow as a finishing touch. 

Perhaps cooking or baking is not your thing.  It is not for everyone.  Choose something else you enjoy making.  It could be knitting or crocheting, origami ornaments, wood carving, floral arrangments or other crafty skills.  How about the gift of time and service?  Offer a service like food shopping for an elderly neighbor or babysitting for friends’ children.  Or it could be as simple and lovely as a note or letter expressing your sentiments that will be cherished during this special time of the year.  It is all a good thing because giving in whatever form comes from the heart! 

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Baking Illustrated: A Best Recipe Classic by Cook's Illustrated

Cookies for Christmas by Jennifer Darling

I'm Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas by Marcel Desaulniers

Swedish Cakes and Cookies by Melody Favish

The King Flour Cookie Companion: The Essential Cookie Cookbook

Cookies to Die For by Bev Schaffer

Martha Stewart's Cookies: The Very Best Treats to Bake and to Share

A Baker's Field Guide to Christmas Cookies by Dede Wilson

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