Tuesday, December 28, 2010

cheese and olive appys

It probably isn't a well kept secret that one of my favorite food groups is cheese. And olives aren't too far behind on my favorites list. So, as usual, when cooking a big meal, I started to worry about people being hungry prior to sitting down at the table for the main event feast on Christmas Day. I mean, it had been a whole couple of hours since breakfast. So in between prepping and cooking, I got out some puff pastry and made cream cheese and black olive pinwheels. I rolled out one square of puff pastry and cut it half so the pinwheels would be petite sized. I spread the pastry with a layer of cream cheese and then tossed some black olives, a teaspoon of capers and a dash of lemon juice and whizzed into a rough tapenade with a splash of olive oil. I spread the olive paste on top of the cream cheese and then rolled up the pastry into logs and sliced them into pinwheels and baked at 400 deg for 10 minutes. These were pronounced delicious.

Yesterday, feeling a bit more inclined to venture back in the kitchen I found another block of puff pastry and whipped up another version of pinwheels with cheese and olives - this one was inspired by an old canape recipe called "cheese olives". Basically it is baked cheese wrapped olives. I couldn't face rolling olives in a cheese mixture so I did these pinwheels instead with the same cheese that has been sitting in my fridge waiting to become cheese olives - McLaren's Imperial Cheese. I added a tsp of cream cheese and a few tablespoons of imperial cheese to a bowl and softened it in the microwave to blend it. This I spread on my puff pastry rectangle. Then I whizzed green olives in the processor until they were roughly chopped and spread those over the cheese. Rolled up into a log, sliced and baked at 400 deg F for 13 minutes til golden and melty. These smelled like cheese olives when baking, and tasted a bit like them. They were good. D pretty much inhaled the plateful.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

traditional family turkey dinner

I cooked dinner for 7 yesterday. Only 6 of us ate, T ran around and played with his new trucks. I think I finally have this down. Of course, when I think about it, I've been doing it (turkey dinner plus fixings) for a good many years now. I did manage to do it on my own a couple of times (small turkey, 1 type of stuffing, 1 veg, etc) for roommates and siblings prior to the first time I stood in for my mum. The first time she ceded the reins for preparing the turkey dinner (thanksgiving), she reclined in noble splendour, as only she could, on her lawn chair in the living room, keeping a close eye on my work in the kitchen. (At this point, she was undergoing treatment for cancer so she didn't have the energy to cook dinner.) So I made turkey and her 2 dressings, bread sauce, lumpy gravy, mashed potatoes (I think), brussel sprouts and mashed turnips, all the way she wanted it to be done. Since she died, I've kept the recipes I liked - sausage stuffing, bread sauce and tweaked all the others to the way I like them. Being the cook gives you much more say in how things get presented. This year's Christmas dinner didn't stray too far from my roots - I still had a roast turkey with 2 dressings (sausage and vegetable), gravy, bread sauce, cranberry sauce (for D's family), braised brussel sprouts, roasted turnip and carrot, creamy potatoes plus a sweet potato and carrot dish my sister-in-law brought. I got cranberry sauce from both my sisters-in-law!

 Sausage and Sage Stuffing
3 500g tubes sausage meat
1 large onion, diced
2 tbsp sage

In a large saucepan, brown the sausage meat. Drain off the fat once the meat is no longer pink in colour. Keep cooking the meat, breaking it up into fine chunks. Add the onion and sage and cook until the onion is cooked. Taste and add pepper and more sage to taste. Add enough breadcrumbs to bind the mixture together. Refrigerate and stuff into the cavity of a turkey or bake for 1 hour at 350 deg F.

Vegetable Stuffing
(this is vastly different from my mother's stuffing)
~ 1 lb bread cubes (I used white sandwich loaf)
1 can condensed mushroom soup
1 can creamed corn
1 c sliced mushrooms
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/4 c diced dried apricots
1/4 c diced apple
1 tsp dried oregano

Mix all the ingredients together and pour into a greased baking dish. Bake for 1 hour at 350 deg F.

Bread Sauce
(this is a traditional English side for roast turkey - at least from where my mum's family is from - this is the way she taught me to make it and I still love it with turkey and in turkey sandwiches)
1 onion
handful of whole cloves
2 c bread crumbs or bread cubes
2 c milk (or more)
grating of nutmeg

Peel the onion and cut off the root end. Leave whole and push the whole cloves all around the onion. Put the onion into a saucepan and cover with breadcrumbs. Cover the breadcrumbs with milk and put on very low heat for at least an hour. Stir. Add the pepper and nutmeg. Add milk if the mixture looks dry (it should resemble wet porridge). Serve hot with roast turkey.

My gravy still isn't stellar and I have a little secret about it. I used canned turkey gravy as a base and add wine, dijon mustard, pepper and turkey drippings to it. Cheater gravy but it make me stress way less and I figure it's better for my sanity.

Yesterday for dessert I took a departure from tradition. Mum used to make the traditional English Christmas pudding. She had three pudding bowls so once every three years she would make three and at Christmas one would be steamed, set alight with brandy and holly and eaten with hard sauce (brandy butter). I never was overly fond of it - it was a wonderful excuse to eat brandy butter. So yesterday I served this peach pie. There weren't any leftovers.

And to make dinner preparations easier, I made both stuffings and the peach pie the day before. And I used Nigella Lawson's Christmas timetable to keep me on track (sort of) during the cooking. And thanks to K for providing the delicious free range turkey for me to roast.

handmade Christmas

This year, apart from T and D, almost everyone else on my list got handmade presents. Most were made by my hands and some came from craft fairs (soap, candles) or specialty shops (tea, chocolate). Kata Golda's Felt book was a huge inspiration to me. A couple of people got a set of pot holders,

some got mug cozies and those who wear reading glasses got glasses cases.

T's teachers and others got boxes or bags of cookies, fudge, and peppermint bark. And yesterday I gave away 2 loaves of Dana's holiday bread. Once was apricot almond and the other was cranberry pistachio. They looked gorgeous and smelt delicious when baking, D swore I had picked them up at a bakery despite having seen me mixing and rolling the dough both nights and the whole house smelling of baking bread!

I made a mistake with the first loaf by not reading the instructions properly and skipped over the part about adding hot water. So after 90 minutes of rising time, the dough hadn't really budged. I parked it next to the heating vent and waited another 30 minutes. Then I reread the recipe and realized my error. So I punched down the dough (it wasn't very risen) and shaped it and put it into a warm oven and prayed. It rose enough for me to bake it and still look like bread. (I added cranberries as per the recipe but subbed pistachios for the walnuts). The following evening I made a second loaf, following the instructions this time and the dough rose. I subbed apricots for the cranberries and almonds for the walnuts. I hope they are as delicious tasting as they looked.
rolling out the bottom of the loaf

finished loaf

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas lights and brown Windsor vegetable soup

My in-laws have been promising the arrival of something Christmassy tacky for our yard for a few weeks now. To explain, D is a bit of a grinch about Christmas. He says it’s because of all his years working in retail, that years of working around the holidays is enough to take the joy out of the season. But deep down, I think the boy who loved Christmas is still inside and I’ve worked hard in the 8 years we’ve been together to bring that out. I’m succeeding bit by bit albeit slowly. I catch him listening to Christmas music at home, and at work and he loves getting presents for our boy. But as for decorations – not so much. Especially Christmas lights. We had a running joke for years about me putting up my “allowed” 7 Christmas lights. Truth being I’ve never been a big Christmas lights person either – the tree, some holly or cedar branches, cards, various ornaments around plus advent calendars are enough for me. But, even as a very tiny boy, T has loved Christmas lights. Before he was 2, I used to take the long way home from daycare through December and he would sit in his car seat and yell “yights” at each house that had them. (I got to know the competitive streets in the neighbourhood!) So for the past month or so, in addition to asking “when are we getting a dog (bunny)?” he’s also been asking about “when can we put up our lights?” He’s been somewhat better since we decorated the tree and hung all the lights in the house but in his little boy heart he really wants outside yights. And for some reason, totally against whatever feminism leanings I still harbour in my soul, I think the man of the house is responsible for lights. So our poor boy is without his “yights”. Until yesterday. Yesterday evening, after D had left for work, his sister, brother and sister-in-law arrived to assemble the item they thought would bring T the most joy while irritating D the most. A lit up snowboarding reindeer. It took quite a bit of maneuvering and some plier use to get it to stay together but we trekked outside in the torrential downpour and affixed the reindeer in one of the raised beds. Where it lights up the backyard. And where it sways in the wind, looking like it is actually boarding. T spent a good while gazing at it out of the window. Kerry also hung other lights around the patio so the entire backyard is looking very festive, except for the lack of snow.

And so D couldn’t miss it when he came home, I left the kitchen blinds open and the lights out downstairs so the full spectacle would be on view as he walked into the kitchen! By the time I came downstairs to meet him, he’d run outside and turned everything off. He’ll tell you it is in the interests of power conservation.

Now, D was working so that means usually for me, a supper of French fries or nachos or boiled eggs and toast. I made T his favorite supper of peanut butter toast fingers and carrots and then I had a quandary. What to feed these lovely people who were making my boy so happy. He loves them so much and they love him and its supper time ergo I must feed them. So I made soup. I’d been meaning to make soup from the bits of broccoli stalks I had in the veg drawer so that is where I started. There was less broccoli than I remembered so I grabbed some other stuff as well to make a brown Windsor vegetable soup (brown Windsor being the name of my mum’s leftover soup). The peeled, diced broccoli stalks, the remains of a bag of baby carrots, some apple left from T’s lunch which I diced, a handful of frozen corn and a handful of frozen hash browns. I sautéed all the vegetables in a biggish knob of butter until slightly soft, then added 3 cups of vegetable stock and simmered it while we assembled the reindeer. Once the veggies were cooked, I added 1 c of milk and whizzed the whole mixture with the immersion blender until smooth. I seasoned the mixture with pepper, ¼ tsp dry mustard, 2 tsp Dijon mustard and then in desperation, 2 tsp basil pesto and a handful of parmesan cheese. I added another 1 c of vegetable stock as the soup was getting a bit thick and threw in a handful of frozen corn kernels for texture. It served 4 along with some toast and crackers, liver pate and boursin cheese. With Christmas cookies for dessert. Mission accomplished. Light sculpture in place and co-conspirators fed.

In case you think I'm being mean to D, it should be noted that for the past 3 weeks I've been driving around in a car decorated with jingle bell reindeer antlers and a red reindeer nose, curtesy of my sister-in-law. She gave the kit to T, so of course I had to have it on my car!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Parties and concerts

A few weeks ago, T and I went to a children’s party. My work children’s party. T got to decorate a few gingerbread people with icing and candies. He ate one at the party and brought one home for his daddy. He loved the bouncy castles this year – the bouncy obstacle course was his favorite and he spent a lot of time in there. He is still not quite tall enough to make it over the wall so fortunately a couple of older kids were throwing the little ones up (or pushing them up). He loved the balloon animal elf – she made him a helicopter balloon. And he had a Christmas tree with sparkles painted on his face. But of course, the star of the show was Santa. When it was announced that the kids could line up to visit Santa, T was at the front of the line. I had to hold him back from bouncing up on the stage when other kids were visiting with Santa and when we got there, he sat right up on Santa’s lap. But Santa threw him for a loop – “Hi T” he said. “Hi Santa, mumbled T. Then Santa asked if he was a good boy. Did he eat his dinner? Did he eat his carrot soup the night before? Poor T was so taken aback – he sat there on Santa’s knee and didn’t quite know what to do. Santa asked T what he wanted for Christmas and T was too shy to answer. He had his picture taken and then high-fived Santa and the elf and ran off to get his present. He got an alien fishing game (Toy Story 3) which he was very excited about.

Then he ran around the room checking out the presents that the other kids got. After all the kids had visited with Santa, it was announced that if you wanted a picture with Santa you could go up. T was right back on Santa’s knee, showing him his helicopter balloon. He and Santa are best buddies now. But he still forgot to tell Santa his wish list for Christmas. So a few days later, we wrote to Santa. A huge list including:

A feller buncher, skidder and logging truck with trailer
A new low bed loader
4 case bobcats with buckets, rippers, drills, crane hooks, etc
Another track backhoe
A crane
A snowplow
A lego city fire truck, dump truck, front end loader, fire station, police car, etc
100 dumptrucks

Last week, T was in two preschool concerts as he is in both the morning and afternoon classes. The morning class concert was about 5 songs long (younger children) and T’s Uncle Mike came along which T was very excited about. The afternoon class concert was longer (4 year olds) and half of the songs were in French. T’s favorite song was I’m a little pine tree. He was very enthusiastic, especially when it came to the line – a great big merry Christmas tree – he nearly knocked over the little girl next to him! After the singing, there were slide shows of the preschool activities, so the kids would yell out “that’s me” whenever their picture popped up. All this was followed by a little party with goodies. Lots of fun.

And the excitement of little kids wearing reindeer antlers and singing Jingle Bells is wonderful to behold.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

a boy gets mail

Yesterday was an exciting day for our boy. I opened the mailbox when we got home and discovered a letter from Santa for T. How very exciting! Santa had replied to T’s letter letting him know he read his letter to Rudolph and the other reindeer and all about the new elf at the workshop – Henry – who writes poems (and sings and laughs and is good at making toys). I don’t know if other countries do this but this service is courtesy of Canada Post – any child can mail a letter to Santa Claus, the North Pole, H0H 0H0 (cute, huh?) and they will get a letter back from Santa. So a big thank you to the volunteers at Canada Post that make this possible and making my boy’s day so special.

T also got his very own Christmas card from his Auntie. Just for him, so we put it up in his bedroom.

Every morning since last Friday T has said “Mummy (or Daddy) – there are none presents under my tree”. To which we reply – it’s not Christmas yet – there are 5 (4) days to go. We have a couple of advent calendars to help count down the days but T opened all the windows on the games one and on the quilted one, has not been keeping up with the counting down. He was excited at first and tried to hurry things along by putting up 10 ornaments at once…but since that didn’t change the calendar, he hasn’t been so interested in that one.

But he is a very excited boy. Every night it is a struggle to get him into bed – “I’m not sleeping until Christmas comes”. I have explained that Christmas will get here quicker if he sleeps every night but it’s hard to sleep when you are listening for reindeer on the roof.

Meanwhile, I’m counting down the days as well. My desk at work is covered in paper and my motivation level is a bit low. I try not to think of all the wrapping and baking I could be doing. But as I am completely stuffed up with a cold, which T shared with me, I doubt I would be as energetic as I might wish. Still. I’m counting my blessings and thankful I’m not waiting on a flight somewhere to or from Europe, grateful that we’ll be home for Christmas – albeit a green one, if the forecast holds.

Monday, December 20, 2010

white chocolate cranberry shortbread

I usually bake shortbread for Christmas. It is something I used to do for Christmas with mum. When I was younger we had a sheltie named Ariel who had a passion for shortbread – he used to get terribly excited when we put the pounds of butter on the counter to warm before making it at Christmas. (He also loved raisins and had to have a few before bedtime.) And I’ve been through other shortbread traditions as well. When I lived in Montreal, my friend Leslie and I would make huge numbers of shortbread cookies one day every December when we both lived there – bells, santas, holly, stars, angels and dinosaurs. This year I’ve done two versions – a cheater version which was I baked up a bunch I had in the freezer that I bought for a fund raising event (frozen cookies that you bake) – the other based on a friend of a friend’s recipe that I got a sample of at work. These are really cookie bars and easy to make. The first batch I made is almost gone so I will have to do another batch this week.

White chocolate cranberry shortbread
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 c corn starch
1/2 tsp salt
1 c butter
3/4 c icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c dried canberries, chopped
1/2 c white chocolate chips
icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment paper so that the paper overhangs the ends.

In a large bowl, combine flour with corn starch and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the butter with the icing sugar and vanilla until very creamy. Stir in the flour mixture, cranberries and chocolate chips. Pat evenly into the baking pan, using floured fingers or a spoon. Prick the surface all over, using a fork (Note – I couldn’t do this with my batch – it was too flaky but the shortbread still worked)

Bake in at 300 deg F for 40 - 50 minutes or until golden around edges. Leave to cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes before lifting out of the pan. Slice into bars while still warm. Dust with icing sugar (optional).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

christmas reading

Recently I ordered and received some books from Scholastic. A few are tucked away for T's presents for both Christmas and birthday but a couple were ordered with Christmas reading in mind and T and I have both been enchanted by a couple of my choices.

Merry Christmas, Splat by Rob Scotton is a funny and sweet tale of Splat the Cat and his family. The drawings are so cute and the story has something for both child and parent and I think this is destined to be a classic in our house.

 Splat wants a really big present for Christmas but gets a bit worried about if he's been a good enough cat to get a visit from Santa. So to be extra sure, Splat decides to help his mom get ready for Christmas.

 If you have a small child in your life this will be a story to enchant.

Another one from Scholastic is The Mitten by Jan Brett, based on a Ukrainian folktale. A boy, his Baba, a lost mitten, a forest full of animals all weave a tale of fun.

T loves it.

And I picked up a book I remember reading many moons ago, How Far to Bethlehem by Nora Lofts. A novel about Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus. I remember when I was hugely pregnant the Christmas before T was born, feeling empathy for Mary, travelling from Nazareth to Bethlehem on a donkey while in the late stages of pregnancy. This novel takes the bible story and tells it from the perspective of the humans involved. It's all a part of my effort to remove the crazy commercial stress and rush from Christmas and replace it with homemade gifts and family traditions and some of the wonder of a child's Christmas and the joy and peace that is supposed to represent the spirit of the season.

a "transformer" tree

Last Christmas, T got his very own tree from his Auntie K. It's a little artificial tree that folds up and lives in a high corner of the garage. D got it down the other night and I started pulling down the branches while T watched. "Cool" he said, "a transformer tree!"

Last year I hung candy canes, paper chains and a popcorn garland on it - this year I hung a hand ornament T made in preschool

another preschool ornament (a balloon covered with wool and glitter)

and a couple of candy canes and for the rest I was inspired by this post over at makegrowgather.com. We have glitter snowball elves or santas hanging on most of our doorknobs so I thought a smaller version would be great on a tree. And I was right. T's tree is all about homemade charm and I think these are charming. Of course, our house is now covered in bits of wool and felt - T ran around with the small balls of leftover wool I was using to make the pompoms. I'm also making candy canes out of some pipe cleaners and later T and I will go down to the dollar store and find some toy cars or trucks to string up as well. 

 (an aligator as requested by T!)

green soup

I had to laugh yesterday - the woman behind me in the grocery checkout line made a comment about how healthy my groceries looked as she sheepishly put a giant box of delicious looking cinnamon buns on the conveyor. I told her she was just seeing the produce part of my order - the not so healthy stuff was already bagged. Also, I bought the biggest bunch of chard I've seen at this store, it was easily 10 times the size of the rest of the bunches (and I did check that it wasn't many bunches stuck together). Which brings me to the green soup. We've been eating our fair amount of green lately - mainly broccoli - but I had lots of spinach and a bunch of kale sitting in the veggie drawer the other night and after a heavyish chinese food lunch I needed some green so I made green soup. It was inspired by this.

 Here's how I made it:

Green Soup (inspired by Ree)

1 bunch of spinach
1 bunch of kale, cut into ribbons

Saute the spinach and kale in a saute pan until wilted. Set aside.

1/4 c butter
1/4 c flour
3 1/3 c stock (chicken or vegetable, I used a mix)
2/3 c milk
2 tsp dijon mustard
1/8 tsp dry mustard
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup finely grated gruyere cheese plus more for the table
splash of cream

In the saute pan, melt the butter. Add the flour, milk, stock, mustards and whisk well to mix. Heat until bubbles form and then simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and a grating of nutmeg.

Add back the spinach and kale and blend into the soup using an immersion blender until the texture is what you like. Add some of the cheese and a splash of cream and stir until blended.

Serve with a pinch of the cheese.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

fudge - second try

So this week has been fudge week. It's a family tradition that has lapsed for years, but when we were little, every Christmas my grammie would send us fudge. I remember two kinds, maple and chocolate, and they were called "chicken livers" in our house, as they were usually sent in recycled chicken liver containers. Or maybe they were only one year but the name stuck. Guests were usually taken aback when offered "chicken livers" on the sweets tray - until we would explain, usually all of us at once...Sadly, since Gram died, there has been no fudge at Christmas so this year I thought maybe I could revive the tradition. I tried maple fudge first - I read the recipe and thought - how hard can this be? Seriously, I should know better. I mixed up the ingredients and while stirring I read the words, soft ball stage or 236 deg F. Hmmm I thought. I don't think I have a candy thermometer (I do it turns out) so when I got to the part where I didn't have to stir constantly, I ran to my Joy of Cooking and flipped to the fudge page. A glass of cold water and some strands of the syrup later and I thought I had got to soft ball stage. But you can guess what happened.

The fudge didn't set and there was no way it was going to slice. So in the meantime I had found my candy thermometer so I thought - well I heat it up again. I did and it went hard this time - concrete rock hard. So now I have a big bag of maple fudge crumbles to mix into vanilla ice cream and to crumble into fruit crisps for a maple sugar zing. Sigh. Ok - then I found this recipe which lead me here and here and today I tried again. Of course, I tweaked - a bit - I added a bit of chocolate hazelnut spread to the recipe to make up for the tiny bit of condensed milk that was missing from the can (used elsewhere) as I didn't have another can in the cupboard and I didn't have enough eggs to make chocolate sugar cookies (sorry - that was my logic!). Anyway - the whole not really cooking it worked (I mean you do have to heat it over water to melt the chocolate and I sometimes find that a bit tricky). So well, that when I turned it out and was cutting and packaging it, there was an attack of the dinosaur puppets who all wanted a piece of fudge.

Chocolate Fudge with hint of hazelnut (adapted from Giada de Laurentis)

1 can condensed milk (less 1/3 c)
1/3 c chocolate hazelnut spread
1 lb bittersweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp salted butter, sliced into 1/2" pieces

Butter an 8x8 baking pan and line with parchment paper so that the paper overhangs 2 sides.

Into a stainless steel mixing bowl, add the milk, hazelnut spread and vanilla and place over a pot of simmering water. Add the chocolate and butter and stir until melted (~ 5-8 minutes). The mixture will be thick and glossy. Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to set. Cut into 1" pieces and store in an airtight container or freeze.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

sweet potato and carrot soup with chard

As with most supper inspiration around here, a lot of ideas combined with what was in the cupboard to provide this recipe. I bought a lovely loaf of kalamata olive and rosemary bread the other day and decided it needed a really good soup to go with. I had sweet potatoes and carrots and using a recipe for butternut squash soup from here as inspiration, I made soup.

Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup with Chard (inspired by butternut squash soup from America's Test Kitchen Cookbook)

1 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 sweet potatoes (~ 2 lbs), peeled and diced
6 large organic carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
5 c chicken stock
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 c cream
salt and pepper
1 tsp (or more) thai sweet chili sauce
1 bunch swiss chard, stems removed, sliced into ribbons

 In a large saucepan, melt the butter and add the onion. Cook for about 5 minutes until tender. Add the sweet potato, carrot, stock, and cumin and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered for 20-25 minutes or until the vegetables are fork tender.

Puree using an immersion blender (I left a few chunks of carrot and potato for texture), adding more stock or water if the soup is too thick for you. Add in the cream, season with salt and pepper and the thai chili sauce. Add in the chard ribbons, cover and heat for a few minutes, until the chard is wilted. Serve.

baking day

The Advent calendar is up and T's been adding ornaments in chunks instead of 1 per day and now I have carols to serenade me on my way to and from work. And with other blogs full of cookie recipes and delicious descriptions of christmas baking, yesterday I got out my baking sheets. I must admit I was partly motivated by a promise I had to fulfill - at a recent church fund raiser, a kind soul paid for 3 months of my baking (3 batches of something - muffins, a cake, a loaf of bread, etc) and she opted for two types of christmas cookies for 2 of the months. I made 2 batches each of pfeffernuse and almond butter cookies, so one batch to give as my promise and 1 batch for us.

The pfeffernuse remind me of my childhood years in Germany (my dad was stationed in Germany for a few years) but the recipe comes from my Canadian Living Cookbook (Random House/Madison Press) - which has a huge section on christmas baking (and also has the recipe I use as the basis for my fruitcake). These are easy (start to finish ~ 1 hour) and the batch can easily be doubled or tripled for a large number of cookies.

Pfeffernuse (from the Canadian Living Cookbook)
1/3 c molasses
1/3 c butter
1 egg, beaten
1 3/4 c flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp each cinnamon and ginger
1/4 tsp each cloves, black pepper and nutmeg

In a saucepan, heat the butter and molasses until the butter melts.

 Take off the heat and cool. Add in the beaten egg. Mix the flour, soda and spices together and add into the molasses mixture.

Blend well, first with a spoon and then with your hands. Form the dough into 1" balls and drop onto an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes at 375 deg F. Dust with icing or granulated sugar while still warm.

After our boy played soccer and we ran some errands, including the purchase of a door wreath from a craft market, I made almond cookies. I can't share the recipe because it isn't mine but a blend of butter, sugar, almond extract, eggs, salt, flour and ground almonds morphs into a lovely buttery bite of nutty goodness. I'm glad I made 2 batches, T and D love them.