“Do we get candy for Christmas?” asked 4-year-old Graham. Well, I hope it’s not a hard-candy Christmas, but yes, son, there will be candy at Christmastime. He knows we get Valentines candy, Easter basket candy, Labor Day candy, Halloween candy, but he was unsure of how this stocking thing worked. Truth is Santa usually puts some small toys and a generous amount of fruit and nuts in our stockings. We actually get very little candy. But that’s not to say we don’t have homemade candy coming out of our ears.
I love getting treats from my students this time of year. It is interesting to see the differences between Texas trash, pralines, bourbon balls and cookies. I was at a party the other night and saw magic cookie bars with M&Ms! Abomination or genius creation? You tell me. I also enjoy seeing what emphasis kids (and adults) place on their favorite treats. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. My poor mother will slave over a stove and oven this time of year to create some amazing sweets that I may not give a second glance. Others would be heartbroken if she didn’t make them.
Here are some ideas for your last-minute Christmas party, or just to put on your buffet or sideboard for weary travelers and neighborhood guests to snack on as visitation increases over the next few days.
This recipe is an easy alternative to the painstaking process of making “real” divinity. You don’t have to wait for the humidity to drop, either. It’s as easy as it gets, and many will not know the difference. If you have a conscience for this sort of thing and feel like you’re cheating then be my guest and try your hand at the real deal. This one is good enough for me.
2 cups sugar
½ cup water
7 ounce jar of marshmallow crème
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 cup of chopped pecans
Boil sugar and water in a saucepan to a softball stage, about two minutes. In a mixing bowl pour this mixture over the marshmallow crème and beat well with a wooden spoon. Add the vanilla and mix well. Incorporate the chopped pecans with a spatula and drop soup spoonfuls onto wax paper for cooling.
For best results use two spoons, one for scooping, the other for pushing. You can get fancy with your presentation if you want to.
Some like to place a pecan half on the top of the divinity ball, others (like me) chop the nuts and put them inside. Another option is to crush peppermint and sprinkle on the cooling product.
Chocolate-covered Ritz sandwiches
This is by far the most bang for the buck, and so easy the kids can help. Long gone are the days of double boilers, stovetop messes, and stubborn mixing bowls with hardened Hershey products. Some genius created a microwavable tray of white chocolate that allows easy dipping and almost no cleanup. The peanut butter Ritz sandwiches are best in the white, but many of you may enjoy the milk chocolate versions.
These microwavable trays are great for everything that requires a chocolate bath. Pretzels, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, haystacks, I’ll eat it all. But if you have me in mind just remember: white chocolate, peanut butter, Ritz crackers.
Yes, I always say I love my Texas Trash (Chex mix) one-to-one-to-one corn, rice and wheat with butter, seasoned salt and Worcestershire sauce. Try adding Tobasco to that buttery mix! Any amount will do, but be careful. It’s a lot of work wasted if you overdo it. The result is a Buffalo style flavor. I can get behind that.
Every year it seems something is added to Chex mix for those who prefer the “everything but the kitchen sink” style. I’ve watched it grow over the few decades I have graced this Earth. Seems it started with pretzels. I remember the year Crispix cereal made an appearance. Peanuts, Goldfish crackers, melba toast, fragile Beddar Cheddars, and many others made the rounds mostly as fad additions, but a few stuck here and there. This year the addition is pita chips. We shall see if it sticks.
My favorite cheese straws come from Miss Betty Hightower. She uses a star disk on her cookie press and her recipe is the example of the classic Southern cheese straw. You can find a gazillion recipes online, and many will get you close. Part of the magic is in the maker. The tricks are to use butter instead of margarine, always grate your own cheese (they add stuff to the fancy shredded supermarket cheese so it doesn’t stick), and don’t be scared of the cayenne pepper.
Use this as a template.
1 ½ cups of butter
2 cups shredded cheese, I use sharp cheddar
1 teaspoon of salt
Cayenne pepper to taste, about 1 teaspoon
½ teaspoon garlic powder
4 cups all purpose flour
Basically you beat all of this in a stand mixer, adding the flour after everything else is blended. If you have a cookie press, make long ribbons on parchment paper with the star disc. Cut the ribbons into 3-4 inch long pieces. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 13 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
So go on out and make someone happy, be it at a party or entertaining in your own home. Without snacks it will be impossible to have yourself a merry little Christmas.
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