Now that I have your attention, it is time for a sleigh full of sweets. No, I’m not talking oranges, pears or pomegranates. Oh yes, I know Harry and David love December and they are so grateful for the many companies that keep them the number-one fruit mail-order company in the United States. They make holiday gift giving for many effortless as online holiday orders for coworkers, clients and friends are filled and delivered before Dec. 25 in perfectly ripe, unblemished and unbruised condition. However, upon consulting with several of my readers, although they know they should eat more organic whole fruits, they say Christmas is a time to splurge and go for the buttery, chocolate, caramel and sugar-laden desserts and snacks. Family favorites from our ancestors passed down for generations keep the traditions and their memories alive in our hearts, homes and stomachs. I always make tried and true family favorites, but a few years ago I got adventurous. You see, my husband is not a sweets eater. He doesn’t eat much bread either, but when he does he prefers rye. And since he loves rye bread, a few years ago a rye cookie recipe caught my eye. I did adjust the ingredients a bit, hoping he would really like it. He enjoyed a cookie or two, but said he will stick to rye bread. As for me, I don’t care for rye bread but I loved these cookies. I have added them to my book of tried and liked recipes. After you make a batch, please let me know what you liked about them. For now, Ho! Ho! Ho! “Please Join our table” and make a few holiday goodies that are so delicious they will keep Santa jolly and full when he stops and enjoys a few with a mug of hot cocoa.

My Reindeer Rye Chocolate Cookies

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (not artificial flavoring)
1 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 cups dark rye flour, preferably heirloom such as Bobs Mill or Abruzzi rye flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tablespoon coarse ground sea salt for topping
1 tablespoon granulated sugar for topping

In a large bowl add granulated sugar, dark brown sugar, salt, butter and vanilla. Using a hand mixer beat until smooth. Gradually add flour, baking soda and cocoa powder and mix well. Fold in chocolate chips. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in fridge for 1-2 hours. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a large tablespoon, scoop big heaping tablespoons of the chilled dough onto a parchment-lined cookie/baking sheet. Gently flatten the cookies. Top each with a sprinkle of the salt and sugar. Bake for 15 minutes or until set. Remove from oven, let them rest 5 minutes and remove from pan to cooling rack.

Dealing with a dairy allergy is not fun, especially around the holidays. I hope this recipe satisfies all …

My Not So “New Orleans” Dairy-Free Pralines

2 cups toasted pecan pieces
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup non-dairy creamer (I like Ripple Barista, in the coffee aisle at H-E-B or a non-dairy liquid hazelnut creamer)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (not imitation)
1 tablespoon vegan butter
1 dash salt
1/4 teaspoon unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder

Note: Before starting be sure you have a candy thermometer.

In a tall Dutch oven-size pot, place the candy thermometer on the inside top and attach to the rim. In the pot add the sugar, creamer and baking soda; mix well and place on stove over medium heat. Stir constantly and slowly. Scrape the sides and bottom of the pot to avoid scorching on the bottom and crystalizing on the sides. It will start turning caramel colored as it heats up. When it reaches 240 degrees quickly remove it from the stove, place it on a heat-safe surface and stir in remaining ingredients. Quickly, using a big serving spoon, drop pralines onto 2 cookie/baking sheets. Let them cool completely. Remove from cookie/baking sheets and place in an airtight tin or container.

I love cranberries. My grandkids love raspberries and the older kids love upside-down cake. So here I combined all three …

Cran-Raspberry Upside-Down Cake

For the topping
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces fresh cranberries
3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons raspberry jam (I like to use Bonne-Maman but you can use any store bought or homemade)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (not imitation)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

For the cake
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup slivered almonds, finely ground
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup half-and-half or evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (not imitation)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
6 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan, then line with parchment paper and spray parchment paper with non-stick spray. In a 12-inch, non-stick skillet heat the cranberries, sugar and raspberry jam about 4 minutes, until cranberries are soft and a bit mushy. Remove from heat and place in a strainer over a bowl. Do not rinse the pan. Strain cranberries, reserving the juice. Now put cranberries back into the pan and simmer 4 minutes; they should be really thick and syrupy. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract. Carefully arrange the cranberries in the prepared pan. Gently pour the saved juice over the cranberries and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. For the cake; in a medium bowl, mix well the flour, finely ground almonds, baking powder and salt and set aside. In a large bowl, mix the egg yolks, butter and sugar, beating until fluffy with a hand mixer. Combine the milk, vanilla and almond extract in a small bowl and add it alternately to the egg/butter mixer with the flour. Using a hand mixer beat until well combined. Slowly add the eggs whites and beat mixture on high. Pour batter over chilled cranberry mixture and bake 35-40 minutes until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool in pan 10 minutes. Run a knife around the cake, invert it onto a plate and serve.

Karen Boughton
Author: Karen BoughtonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
I grew up in a big, Greek, cooking family. I married my high school sweetheart and soon had three daughters. My husband and I worked in the family’s Greek restaurant, “Zorba’s,” for several years before moving to Baton Rouge and eventually Corpus Christi. There I taught microwave cooking classes for studio and on television for three years before moving to Kingwood in the late '80s. I reached out to learn more about regional and international foods, spending 16 years in management in private athletic/dining/country clubs for ClubCorp, where I embraced health and cooking. In 2008 I joined the Tribune Newspapers as food editor, the same time that I became a nutrition advisor and USANA Health Sciences Associate. These two passions have given me better health and the freedom to live life my way.

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