Tag Archives: cookies

Halloween Entertaining/Spice and Basic Cut-Out Cookies

Halloween is just around the corner! However you celebrate it, with adults, children or both, spookily or more “Fall Festival-ly”, have a good, safe time.

I make two types of cookie dough, refrigerated cut-outs, but I only use half of the recipe and freeze the other half to use for Thanksgiving, or, if there are too many goodies, I even wait and use them at Christmas.
I also used to make a cake, usually chocolate. I would decorate it with a twisted tree and fallen leaves, and mix or match any of the following: a jack-o-lantern, moon, cat, ghost, spider, spider web, depending on the size of the cake or my mood. However, I have not made one in years and made the half-recipe cookies because I found that with all the candy, it was real food that people would go looking for after a while. Even at church parties, and lots of kids, a large cake would not be completely gone at the end, but all of whatever meat they served would be wiped out.

Candy is the sweet of choice for Halloween.

When we moved into the house we have now, there was a ‘chicken house’ in the back yard, behind the garage and a storage barn. It was about 7X11 feet, with three or four doors on one side, (that looked like screened prison cells), and a loft. After a few years, my sons decided to make it into a ‘haunted house’ for any trick-or-treater who wanted to give it a try. It was clever, (if at times a bit cheesy), but a good time was had by all: the boys, whatever friends they had that came to help them and the brave-enough neighborhood kids who went through. And before, after and in between sets of doorbell ringers, the teenagers ate.

I would have a soup and chili, sausages, hot dogs or sliced meats, snack crackers, chips and pretzels. I’d have hot cocoa and tea and sodas, but mostly food they could eat quickly and still get warm, as most Halloweens here get cool if not cold, at least, by the time they stopped. Usually the soup would be Baby Meatball Stew or Fiesta Day Soup (September Archives).
And, of course, some cookies.

Here are two very reliable cut-out cookie recipes. The Spice Cookies are perfect for Autumn. The Basic Cookie is just that, so basic you can do anything with it. It is very popular with all ages and was the biggest seller in my bakery for any holiday and as a Sugar Cookie in-between. Both are very good with coffee, tea or cocoa.

Pumpkin-shaped cookies are perfect for Halloween with or without Jack-o-lantern features.
I often make bats and ghosts; there are many types of shapes .For Thanksgiving, I use the pumpkin –shapes without faces, turkeys and I always make Autumn leaf-shaped and colored cookies. You can make scarecrows out of gingerbread men shapes, (or as I have seen recently, mummies for Halloween.)

Basic Cookie

One cup (=2 sticks) of softened butter (preferable to margarine)
1 cup of sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. baking powder
4 tsp half and half or whole milk
3 cups of sifted flour

Chose the flavoring:
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. pure almond extract
or my favorite
1 Tbsp Brandy, plain or Apricot (Apricot is good for Easter and Spring)

In a mixer or with hand mixer, cream butter, add sugar and mix well. Add the baking powder and flavoring of choice. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl often. Add the eggs and beat until very fluffy. Add the mild or cream, blend thoroughly. Add the flour, one-half cup at a time and beat until smooth before adding the next half-cup. Beat an additional two minutes, Place in a smaller bowl and chill for at least 4 hours, (it can remain in the refrigerator for several days). Dough will be soft; do not be tempted to add more flour. If you are going to make a half-batch, divide at this point; wrap in plastic and put into a freezer bag .It will keep nicely for many months, ready to be thawed in the refrigerator and used as you need it.
When chilled, take a small amount out at a time and place on a well-floured board or clean table. Roll gently with a well-floured rolling pin, adding flour as needed, (but not too much, as it will make the cookies hard.) Roll to ¼ inch thick. Cut with floured cookie cutters and transfer to greased, cooking-spray covered or parchment paper covered baking sheets. Do not put them too close as they will rise, grow and run into each other. (If you are making sugar cookies, sprinkle with granulated sugar at this point.)
Bake in a pre-heated 325F oven for about 15 minutes or until slightly browned on the bottom and edges.
Remove, place on baking racks and cook completely. These may now be wrapped well, placed in a freezer bag with the air removed and frozen for several months, plain or iced with Royal Icing, (directions below)

Spice Cookies

1 ½ cups of butter or margarine (3 sticks), softened
1 1/4 cup of white sugar (or 1 cup white, ¼ cup brown)
½ cup mild-flavored molasses (NOT black-strap)
1 large egg
2 ½ tsp baking powder

Ground spices {1 tsp. cloves
1 ½ tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. allspice
1 Tbs. cinnamon
2 Tbs. ginger
or 6 Tbs. allspice

Cream the butter and sugars plus molasses and baking powder. Add spices. Scrape bowl. Add flour ½ cup at a time, beating well between additions and scraping sides of the bowl often. Dough will be soft and firm after it is chilled (If dividing, do so now. Wrap half of the dough in plastic wrap, place in freezer bag with all the air removed. Freeze up to 4- 6 months. Thaw in refrigerator when ready to use.) Chill dough for at least 4 hours before rolling, cutting and baking as in directions above for Basic Cookies. Bake at 350F for approx 12 minutes or until firm, (finger will not leave a dent when touched). Cool and freeze or ice with Royal Icing.

Decorate with Royal Icing made with 6 Tbsp. meringue powder, or dehydrated egg whites, ¼ cup water and 3 cups sifted powdered sugar, flavorings and colorings. (Royal Icing mix is available in some areas where cake decorating supplies are sold. Original Royal Icing is made with raw egg whites and should not be used as it is unsafe with possible contaminants and also will spoil.) You may have to adjust the firmness, (more sugar or water). Too thin and the icing may run or the designs may blend; too thick and you may not be able to work with it. If your designs are not perfect, go ahead and blur them with two or more colors swirled together. This is especially effective with leaf shapes for Autumn, Christmas bells, Easter eggs…you get the picture. Use a pastry bag or a zipper-close sandwich bag with a corner snipped-off to simply outline the cookie with icing, (good for bats and pumpkins).
Or spread icing and top with nuts, sprinkles, colored sugars or jimmies.

The Chicken House was torn down a few years ago, ravaged by time and termites. Although my sons only did the Haunted House in it for three or four years over 10 years ago, the neighbors still talk about it.We’ve had fun.I hope you do, too.

Pitfalls and Parties/Savory Bread Rolls

These easy bread rolls can be made with meat and cheese or as vegan- vegetable.They eaten warm or cold.

I know that the thought of hosting puts fear into many people. I may have jumped into telling you what to serve instead of how to serve guests.
When I had dinner parties, showers or receptions, I found that some people were downright intimidated by my offerings. You may have seen a buffet and thought, “I could never do that!” You probably can, but you don’t have to. Hosting can be fun, rewarding and make everyone think you are something, or it can stress you out, make you swear ‘Never again!” and make everyone think you are a witch, (and it wasn’t even a Halloween party.) You can make offerings short and simple, or pull out all the stops. We will approach all of these, and let you decide which is appropriate and when.  It may take me several postings, but I will try to give you tips and hopefully, some confidence.

 

Plan as far ahead as possible and do whatever you can as far ahead as possible. When you find the confidence, it will come easier each time. You will not only know the pitfalls and learn from your mistakes,( you will make mistakes), but you will have things in mind and on hand that you need, whether it be figuring out what to serve to where overnight guest will sleep. We’ll talk about it all upcoming in this blog.

 

You can over-do a good thing.

The first shower I threw was for an expectant mother. I made homemade cake with homemade filling and decorated it with blue and pink flowers. I molded flavored candy in bootie, rattle, baby bottle, (etc.), shapes in pink and blue. I made Madeline cookies dipped in pink and blue icing. I made finger sandwiches, nut cups and tea; I made coffee with all the amenities .I put up pink and blue streamers, made pink and blue sock dollies. I had several games, one of which was a basket filled with small baby items which I had the guests look at for 30 seconds and whoever remembered the most, got a prize; the mom got the items. It was something, I can tell you. But I did several things wrong:

#1. For whatever reason, when I have asked schools or churches to use their facilities, my group has been bumped at the last minute for someone else. Something about me and my plans seem to scream “Expendable”! Try to have your affairs in your home or pay for a site. In the occasion of the baby shower, I was supposed to have use of a school cafeteria. I was bumped for an Irish step-dancing class. As big as a book-lover as I am, I hated  but was desperate enough, to ask to use the school’s library. The library was on the third floor; the stairs leading directly to it were closed so the dancers’ bored-and-waiting siblings would not wander the school. So I had to all the food, decorations, gifts, etc, across the school, up one flight, across again, up another flight, then across the school again. I had to carry the hot coffee and tea from the cafeteria in the same pattern, very carefully and very slowly.

#2.I just plain over-did it.

I did not hear, “Oh, how lovely” or “How nice”. What I heard was, “I can’t believe how much you did”, to the point that a week later at another function I heard, “I kept telling Jim, (Julie, Bob), that I couldn’t believe how much you did”. It looked like I worked hard. Hosting should never look like you worked hard, and I want to see that you work as little as possible when pulling off your parties. I was not a close friend of the mom-to-be; I had taken it upon myself for the group from the school, but it may not have been my place, which may have added to the discomfort level of the others.

Don’t be too eager to please; only host when appropriate.

#3. I presumed on help.

Now, you should have everything under control, I mean, things happen. But if you accept help, make sure it is something that you can do without, or have a back-up plan. A friend of the mom’s volunteered a special punch. I planned on it; she changed the type without telling me.  What she made did not go with the food I had and the guests drank it because it was too warm for the coffee and tea. I felt stressed; it was a problem as the taste combinations were really being off.

AND I failed to be sure that some of those who attended, (whom I had always stayed to help), would/could stay there to help me. So I ended up doing the hallway-stair set-up marathon in reverse, by myself.

 

On the other hand, for years afterward I hosted a Christmas piano recital in my home for several years running, which were always a huge success.

Always be ready with extra food:

My sons were homeschooling at the time and they were studying with the same piano teacher as some of their homeschooled friends. The piano teacher had stopped having Christmas concerts but I decided that the kids needed to gain confidence and show off their skills, so every December we had our own little recital with their friends, the parents and a few adult guests.

I made my batches of Christmas cookies, candies and bread early, and froze either some of the dough or some of the finished goods for Christmas; (I did this up to a week in advance; the candy, maybe earlier.)

The day before the recital, (or the day of, if I held it on a weekday evening instead of a weekend afternoon),

I took the coffee table out, gathered every chair I could find and even a bench, (on which I put a folded quilt), and made several layers of seating in the living room behind the piano. We do not have a large living room; everyone understood when they sat knee-to knee at times.

While people gathered, I had Christmas music playing softly in the background on a CD. And I had small gifts for the performers.

Just before everyone arrived I made tea and coffee and spread them out on my dining table with the goodies for after the recitals. The children did whatever made them comfortable besides playing the piano; some sang, one played the guitar, one read a poem as well.

After one of the afternoon recitals a few of the guests lingered. I could see that the cheese ball and few other non-sweets were gone and the folk looked hungry. Fortunately, I was ready. I knew that I had savory bread roll-ups in my freezer. I pulled them out, warmed them in the microwave them and they were a hit, as expected. These are so handy and good. Make more than one type at a time. Slice, wrap well and freeze. These are great for snacks, late company, late-night movie watching, brunches and are our family’s traditional holiday morning breakfast. They are easy to get ready, are not messy, are a little special and will hold you over while you are waiting to eat a big mid-day meal. Guests will be impressed with the taste, the heartiness and the fact that you have them ready with next to no effort when you need them.

 

Savory Bread Roll-ups

 

If bread making is your thing, make basic dough. If you have a bread machine, pull it out. If not, use frozen bread dough, (thawed, of course).

Roll into a rectangle about ¼ inch thick on a floured surface. Brush with melted butter or margarine. Spread fillings (recipes to follow), to within two inches from all sides. Fold in the short sides; roll up from one long side to another, Pinch ends and press to close. Place on a cookie or baking sheet, which has been brushed with butter or margarine,(or lined with parchment paper); curve bread roll  if necessary. Slice or snip slits through top layer about 3-4 inches apart. Cover with clean kitchen towel , waxed paper or foil; let rise to double in size in a warm spot. Uncover and brush with melted butter or margarine. Bake at 325F for about 45 minutes- 1 hour, or until the bread is thoroughly browned.(Do not cook at a higher temperature; the middle will not bake).

Meat Filling Suggestions:

Chopped roast beef, or shredded roast beef lunch meat with shredded medium–to sharp cheddar cheese; (a little prepared horseradish sauce optional).

Shredded ham with mild cheddar cheese

Shredded turkey (or turkey lunch meat) with pepper jack cheese

Pepperoni or salami with mozzarella or provolone cheese

Cheese Filling Suggestions:

Any cheese, preferably with sautéed onions

Soft cheeses, (cream cheese, Neufchatel, mascarpone) with herbs and or dried vegetables:

[ Italian blend, or basil, parsley and marjoram;

Southwest blend or any favorite chili powder, (chipotle, mesquite, etc), cumin,for example]

Mixed with red or green salsa

Seeded,(poppy, pumpkin, caraway, sesame)

Mixed with red hot sauce

Mixed with sautéed vegetables; onions

Any favorite cheese spread, (pimento cheese, onion dip, avocado)

 

Vegetable Filling Suggestions:

Sautéed or caramelized onions

Hummus,( regular or vegetable, or mixed with seeds)

Sautéed vegetable combinations, (mix & match): onions, tomatoes, peppers, artichoke hearts, asparagus

Dehydrated vegetable flakes, (available often mixed in supermarkets or separate, (tomatoes, peppers), usually in specialty markets

Drained, mashed white beans (canned or homemade) with onions or garlic; chives, parsley, white pepper; dehydrated vegetables

Experiment and enjoy!

Note: Sometime after I posted this Fae, of “Fae’s Twist and Tango” posted a lovely alternative: use puff pastry instead of bread dough.Fae ‘s post with her version of fillings can be seen  here: Fae’s Savory Braided Puff Pastry.

If you have not visited Fae’s blog, please do!She not only has lovely recipes, but  photos and fascinating  stories from her many travels.

Thank you for letting me share this, Fae!

And please join me and fellow writers on a shared blog: “Four Foxes, One Hound” here, on WordPress.Four Foxes, One Hound