We wanted to have a holiday gathering but didn't have a lot of time to prep, plan or prepare. So what did we do?
Well, we considered a cookie exchange — food, drink and lots of cookies to share. But several of our friends don't bake. Or don't have time to bake. And the holiday season is about inclusion rather than exclusion.
Keeping that in mind, we channeled Julie Andrews, our inspiration for everything in life, and decided to turn our party into a favorite (edible) things party!
Homemade cookies? Sure. Pillsbury slice-and-bake cookies? No complaints here! White chocolate bark with pretzels (super simple and super quick)? Absolutely! Buttery caramel corn, cheese spread and crackers, bottles of olive oil and wine and — ha-ha — munch, munch more? Yes, yes, yes!
The object of the party remains the same as a cookie exchange: to have fun together and share. Guests bring enough of their treats so everyone invited to the party plus the hostess gets several packages/boxes/bags/tins of holiday happiness. Also: Don't forget to bring some extra to add to the party's treats buffet.
Because the Julie Andrews song, My Favorite Things, inspired our party, we thought it only fitting that our decorations include brown paper packages tied up with string, mittens, roses, snowflakes, blue satin sashes — OK, they're really paper runners, but the impact is pretty much the same. We think.
We did, however, skip schnitzel with noodles because a big pan of frozen lasagna seemed so much easier.
In fact, easy peasy is one of our favorite things. Cut-out cookies
1 cup margarine or unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄8 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
Desired colors of sanding sugar
In large bowl with mixer at low speed, beat the margarine or butter with 1 cup sugar until blended, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Increase speed to high; beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. At low speed, beat in the egg yolks and vanilla until blended. Gradually beat in flour, baking powder and salt.
Shape dough into 2 balls, flatten each slightly. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour, or until firm enough to roll. (We didn't wrap in plastic wrap; we find it unwieldy. We just left the dough in the bowl and put it in the fridge.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Between 2 sheets of floured waxed paper, roll half of dough 1⁄8-inch thick, keeping remaining dough refrigerated. With floured 2-inch cookie cutters, cut out as many cookies as possible. Place cookies about ½ inch apart on an ungreased large baking sheet. (We used parchment paper.) Reserve trimmings to reroll and cut out more cookies.
In a cup, with fork, beat egg whites slightly. With pastry brush, brush cookies with egg white, then sprinkle sanding sugar (the more colors, the merrier the cookies). Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned. Remove the cookies to wire rack to cool.
Cook's note: The original recipe makes about 5 dozen sandwich cookies, filled with jam. We made flat, larger single cookies, not sandwiches, and ended up with 4 dozen to 5 dozen cookies.
Adapted from Good Housekeeping Best Recipes 1998.
Cranberry shortbread cookies
1 ¼ cups butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 package (5-ounce) Craisins dried cranberries (or other dried cranberries), chopped
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in the flour, a little at a time, until combined. Stir in dried cranberries.
Cookies can be made into balls or flattened. To make round cookies, roll dough into 1-inch balls. Place 1 dozen at a time on ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheets. (Note: we lined our sheets with parchment paper for ultra-easy cleanup.) Bake 15 to 17 minutes. Remove from oven; cool slightly and dust with additional powdered sugar.
To make flat cookies, form dough into 1-inch balls as directed above. Using the bottom of a glass dipped in granulated sugar, flatten balls on a baking sheet, making rounds 2-inches in diameter. (We sprinkled ours with sanding sugar to give them sparkle.) Bake 12 to 14 minutes. Cool.
Makes 6 dozen cookies.
Cook's note: For orange-flavored cookies, use Craisins orange flavor dried cranberries and 2 teaspoons grated orange peel.