Holiday Sweets and Treats

Nothing screams ‘Holiday Season’ like cookies and warm drinks; as Barbara Johnson said: “A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.” I don’t know about you, but this is my attitude during the holidays, and the more interesting recipes I can find, the better. I had a roommate in college who loved to hide surprise ingredients in her (always delicious) desserts such as black beans in her brownies. I’ve recently taken a page out of her book and found a lot of enjoyment in surprise vegetables in desserts. So, in searching for new sweets for this year, I decided to use vegetables that are in season either locally or regionally: sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, oranges, lemons, pears, and apples. I figure adding vegetables to your “balanced” diet can be a little less guilt-inducing and a lot more creativity-inducing. So put on your artistic cap, get out your cutting board, and dive into these delicious recipes.

Cookies

Frosted Carrot Cake Cookies

I love carrot cake, it might be my favorite kind of cake, and it’s healthy (kind of)! What could be better than carrot cake cookies? Other than carrot cake cookies and a bunch of other kinds of delicious cookies, of course…

Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
dash of cloves
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely grated carrots
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)
Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
 In a large bowl, cream butter, brown sugar, and vanilla. Add egg and mix well.
 Add flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda, salt and mix until completely combined. Fold in carrots (and raisins and walnuts if you are using them). Place spoonfuls of dough on ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 9-12 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet and let cool, then frost with cream cheese frosting. Garnish with chopped walnuts if you want.
Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream butter, cream cheese, and vanilla together, then add powdered sugar. Add more or less powdered sugar, depending on how thick you want the frosting to be.
Makes about 30 cookies.

Sweet Potato Pie Cookies with Orange Glaze
A southern favorite with a twist! Sweet potatoes are kind of a super-food, high in vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin D, iron, (http://www.care2.com/greenliving/9-reasons-to-love-sweet-potatoes.html) and deliciousness, they should be a regular at our dinner (or dessert) table.

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sweet potato puree
1 cup chopped pecans
Orange Glaze:
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and adjust racks to the middle position. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and salt.
Using a hand held mixer cream together the butter, granulated sugar and the brown sugar until light and fluffy and the volume has increased. Add the egg and the vanilla and mix until incorporated. Stir in the sweet potato puree and blend until smooth. Beat in the dry ingredients in increments and combine well. Stir in the pecans.
Drop by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space between each cookie. Bake until the cookies are lightly golden around the edges and they spring back from the touch, about 18 minutes. Let cool completely on the cookie sheets before glazing.
For the glaze:
Combine the confectioners’ sugar, orange juice, and vanilla in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Drizzle over the cookies and let harden for 1 hour before serving.
Cook’s Note: If you need to thin the glaze, add more orange juice. If you need to thicken it, add more confectioners’ sugar.

Chocolate Red Velvet Cookies…with a secret ingredient (AKA BEETS!)

I have to admit, I got pretty excited about the idea of putting beets in cookies because they’re delicious and also they make normal looking cookies cool colors, or just one color: pink. But the fun thing about cooking with beets is that kids will have more fun eating the food because of the color, not that this is an issue with cookies…

Makes about 16 large cookies
Ingredients:
1 cup maple sugar, or granulated organic sugar
3/4 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup cooked red organic beet puree
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
12 oz chopped vegan dark chocolate
1 cup dried cherries
[NOTE: Beet puree is very easy to make. You can boil or bake the beets, peel the skin off once they’re cooked, put them in a food processer with water, and puree them until they’re completely smooth]
In a large bowl, combine coconut oil with sugar and whisk until well combined. Beat in the beets, vanilla extract, and agave nectar until well combined. In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, then add to the large bowl, and mix until well combined, then add chocolate and cherries and mix until well distributed.  Place in the fridge to chill until firm (preferably overnight). To bake, Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll balls into about 3 inch balls, and place on prepared cookie sheets a couple inches apart (refrigerate unused dough while baking the other trays). Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until puffed and just starting to brown slightly (but do not overbake!). Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining cookies.

Citrus Shortbread Cookies with a Beet Glaze

As I said before, beets in cookies might be the best idea I’ve heard of in quite a while, so this recipe was especially intriguing to me. I have never heard of a beet glaze before in my life, so I had to try it. It looked cool when I finished but I don’t think I put enough sugar in the glaze. If you like beets then I would recommend this recipe, it definitely still had the beet flavor underneath the sugar and lemon. I, of course, had to test the recipe with some friends, and one of them summed it up perfectly, “it tastes like a biscuit with beet jam.” I want to try it again and experiment with the glaze. I just dipped one side of the cookies in the glaze but I think you could definitely get creative and make pretty designs on the cookies with the glaze.

beetcookies3Yield: 16 cookies
Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 + 1 cup powder sugar (more if needed)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 medium size beet
(optional 1 tbs coconut oil + 2 tbs white sugar for roasting the beets)
Directions:
Combine flour and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.
Zest the skin of your lemon, about two teaspoons or so and add to the flour mixture
In a medium size bowl cream the butter with an electric mixer until smooth. Add in 1/2 sugar and beat for another minute or two. next add the vanilla and beat until mixed. Slowly add the flour mixture and stir by hand until just combined. Do not over mix!
Place the dough on a piece of plastic wrap and press into a disk shape. let refrigerate for at least an hour and up to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375F and take the chilled dough and roll it out on a floured surface until about 1/4 inch thick. cut into desired shape and place on a lined cookie sheet, put in the refrigerator to chill for 10-15 minutes. Remove and place in oven and bake for 8 – 10 minutes.
Glaze:
Preheat your oven to 450F and peel the skin from your beet and cut into quarters (optional: coat them with a bit of coconut oil and a few pinches of sugar before placing them in the oven)
Roast them in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until tender. Remove and let cool completely. Place the cooled beets in a blender with a 1/2 water. Blend on high until the beets form a puree. The important part here is that it’s smooth, no lumps.
Place the remaining 1 cup of confectionaries sugar in a bowl and add 1/4 cup of the beet puree and two TBS lemon juice. Whisk until combined and completely smooth, no lumps!  The color of the frosting will lighten and become thicker the more sugar you add so this is all personal preference. If it’s too dark add more sugar, too thick – add more puree.
Frost the cooled cookies with the beet glaze!
One quick tip – use the best quality butter you can find. When there are so few ingredients the taste of the butter really stands out. No butter substitutes, the real deal!

Warm Drinks

One of my favorite things to do during the winter is to curl up on a cold day with a warm drink and a book; I don’t know about you but I’m hoping for a few good snows this winter just to savor this moment even more while watching the snow come down. I found a few interesting recipes that sound like delicious twists on traditional favorites.

Warm Citrus Cider
Cider is one of my favorite drinks once it starts to get cold. I’m always excited to try different additions and flavors in cider and this recipe looked particularly delicious.
Ingredients
1 gal. apple cider
2 cups orange juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks
Garnish: apple slices
Preparation
Bring apple cider, orange juice, lemon juice, orange slices, lemon slices, cloves, and cinnamon sticks to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes. Discard solids. Garnish each serving with an apple slice, if desired. Serve hot.

Mulled Pear and Ginger

For those of you craving a warm drink with a little bit more of a kick, this one might be for you. A little ginger and rum to warm your bones and spice up your evening could be the perfect thing on those frigid nights.
Ingredients
2 litres Cloudy apple juice
2 thumb-sized Ginger pieces, sliced
2 Ripe pears, sliced
2 Cinnamon sticks, plus extra to serve
4 Cardamom pods
3 tbsp Light brown sugar
Juice of 4 limes, zest of 2
500ml Bacardi Gold rum
How to mix
Recipe by Anna Jones
Pour the apple juice into your biggest pan, then add the ginger, pears, cinnamon, cardamom and sugar. Add the zest and juice of the limes, bring everything to the boil and simmer until all of the sugar has dissolved. Serve warm in glasses or mugs, with a good shot of spiced rum and a cinnamon stick.

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