Christmas time.

He's got the spirit, do you?
I still don't believe that Christmas is only two days away. I'm usually on top of everything (gifts, cards, food) by mid-December. This isn't because I'm a planner (I'm famous for my procrastination), it's because I love all things Christmas. The music, the clothing, the decorations, and the overall spirit of giving (all while trying to avoid the mall...crazies). If you're looking for last minute gifts (especially if you're on the cheap, like us, "it's a Tiny Tim Christmas!"), and you're not interested in fighting for that last snuggie for two. I have a couple of suggestions that I tried to pass as gifts (warning, when I told a co-worker of said gifts, her response was "how cheap of you!" proceed with caution).
Fact: No one wants this.
Chocolate & Peppermint Bark Cookies adapted from Cookin' canuck who adapted it from Bon Appetit magizine

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 finely chopped peppermint candy canes (about 3 ounces)
2 oz. high-quality white chocolate

3 candy canes = about 1/2 cup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with parchment, letting it hang over the sides of the pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt and set aside. In the bowl of a mixer, beat butter until creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in sugar. Continue to beat until the mixture is light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla extract and egg yolk. Turn the mixer to low speed and gradually beat in the flour mixture, until just combined. Do not overmix.

Scatter the dough over the bottom of the prepared pan and gently press it, with slightly moistened fingers (this is important, dough sticks to dry hands), to form a flat layer. Prick all over with a fork.

Bake the cookie layer until golden brown and slightly puffed, and edges are beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan, 25-30 minutes. Place on a cookie rack and immediately sprinkle chopped bittersweet or semisweet (or a combination of the two) over the cookie layer. Let the chocolate sit for about 3 minutes. Using an offset spatula (I don't have one of these, I found that the back of a large spoon works quite well), spread the chocolate into an even layer over the surface of the cookies. Immediately sprinkle crushed candy canes, over the chocolate layer.

Place chopped white chocolate in a medium metal bowl (I used a glass bowl, worked just as well) set over a simmering pot of water. Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Using a fork, drizzle the white chocolate over the peppermint candies. Chill for approximately 30 minutes.

Gripping the overhanging parchment paper, lift the cookies out of the pan and place on a work surface. Using a large, sharp knife, cut the cookies into irregular pieces. This can be stored in an airtight container in a refrigerator for one week.
Highly addictive, don't say I didn't warn you.
Italian-Herb Party Mix
Adapted from Noble Pig, who adapted from Cuisine at Home

For the party mix-
2 cups each: Chex Corn, Chex Rice and Chex Wheat cereal squares
2 cups mini pretzels*
1 cup peanuts

For the Butter-Spice Mixture-
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon each dried oregano, thyme, parsley
1/2 teaspoon each: red pepper flakes, salt, garlic powder and onion powder

For the Cheese-Herb Mixture-
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 250o F.  Mix cereal, pretzels and nuts for the party mix in a large bowl; set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add oil, vinegar, Worcestershire, Italian seasoning, pepper flakes, garlic salt, garlic powder and onion powder; stir to combine.

Off heat pour butter-spice mixture over party mix and keep tossing until it is fully coated.

Transfer party mix to a baking sheet.  Bake mix 1-1-1/4 hours (I did mine for 1 hour only), stirring every 15 minutes.

Combine Parmesan, basil and rosemary in a bowl, sprinkle over party mix and toss together while mix is still warm.  Cool mix on a baking sheet and store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

*For the pretzels you can use any shape, just make sure they are small, I went with the sticks.
**The recipe suggested using slivered almonds, I used peanuts because I love peanuts in party mixes, but any nuts will do.

Tie a little bow around this, and you have yourself a nice (albeit cheap) gift that everyone will enjoy. 

Happy holidays everyone!


Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Sorry to be all about empty promises and let downs, but remember that post where I said that I'd be cooking Thanksgiving? Well, now it's looking like we're going to Tom's parents for the holiday (which is good, because I don't actually have any of the necessary Thanksgiving equipment, like a roasting pan, turkey baster, and a bottle of bourbon). I did get a chance to make one dish, for Tom's holiday party at work. I never actually tasted it, but I heard it went over pretty well.
This recipe comes from Rick Rogers, who is well known in the culinary world as a teacher, writer, and critic. He's written over 35 cookbooks, many of which are about holiday meals. I decided on his mashed potato casserole mainly because it was considered a "make ahead" dish. I knew Tom had to take it into work the next day and it would taste best out of the oven there. I included roasted garlic in the recipe to add some depth of flavor to the dish. I only added one head for fear of it being too garlicky (that's actually not possible for me, but I was cooking for others), but I think next time I would add two or three.  I apologize profusely for the photos. It was nighttime and my kitchen has some pretty terrible lighting.
Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes adapted from Rick Rogers Mashed Potato Casserole

Makes 8 to 12 servings
The casserole can be prepared up to 1 day ahead.

1 (or up to 3) head(s) of garlic
Olive oil for drizzling
5 pounds baking potatoes (such as russet, Idaho, Burbank, or Eastern)
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into chunks, at room temperature
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk, heated
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Chopped chives or parsley, for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Peel off the outer layers of the garlic, leaving the skins of the individual bulbs intact. Slice off the top 1/2" of the pointed end, exposing the individual garlic cloves. Place garlic on aluminum foil and drizzle 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil over the bulb and let it sink in between the cloves. Cover the clove with the aluminum foil and bake on a baking sheet from 45-60 minutes, or until the cloves are browned and soft throughout. Remove from oven and set aside.
2. Fill a large pot (at least 5 quarts) halfway with cold water. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1"chunks and drop them into the pot. Add more cold water to cover the potatoes by 1 to 2 inches.
3. Stir in enough salt until the water tastes mildly salty. Cover tightly and bring to a full boil over high heat, allowing at least 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and set the lid askew. Cook at a moderate boil until the potatoes are tender when pierced with the tip of a small, sharp knife, 15 to 20 minutes. Do not overcook the potatoes.
4. Drain the potatoes well and return to the warm pot. Stir over low heat to release more steam, about 2 minutes. Remove the individual garlic cloves from their skins (I found it works best to just squeeze them out), and add them to the pot. Also add the cream cheese and butter. Using a hand-held electric mixer, mash the potatoes until the cream cheese and butter melt. Beat in the sour cream and milk. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Transfer to a buttered 9 X 13-inch baking dish. Cool completely. (The potatoes can be prepared up 4 hours ahead, covered loosely with plastic wrap, and stored at cool room temperature, or cool, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to 1 day.)
5. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Bake until the potatoes are heated through 30 to 40 minutes. Serve hot, sprinkled with the chives, if using.