My gift to you this Christmas is a box of sugar cookies that come together faster than you can say happy holidays. But you don’t have to use mine. Perhaps you have an old holiday cookie recipe passed down from your grandmother to your mother – or you just found it in this year’s magazine.
Maybe you grabbed a tin of cookie dough at the grocery store last week. None of this matters. What matters is that these cookies are made special by making them with those you love. I sure had a blast decorating ginger and sugar cookies with my grandkids this season, and making sure we had enough on hand for Santa.
Our cookies give new meaning to “tree trimming”, and sparkle with Fancy Sprinkles.
So, this season, grab someone special, get out the cookie cutters, and share a couple laughs while you make some cookies!
Christmas Sugar Cookie Recipe
15 minute cuisine
Makes about 3 dozen cookies
For the dough
3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon whole milk
For the baked cookies
Red, green and gold sprinkles and icing
Confectioner’s sugar for work surface
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
Place the butter and sugar in a separate mixing bowl and beat by hand. You can use a mixer but it’s more fun to hand-mix!
Add the beaten egg and milk into the butter and sugar mixture until just combined, gradually adding the dry ingredients and beating until mixture resembles cookie dough.
Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Sprinkle work surface with confectioners’ sugar. Remove cookie dough from refrigerator, and sprinkle rolling pin with more of the confectioner’s sugar.
Roll out the dough to just under an inch thickness, moving it around on your work surface so it doesn’t stick.
Cut the dough into Christmas tree shapes, and place into the oven for 9 to 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool before you decorate them with the icing and sprinkles.
Since I was seventeen, I spent my Christmases in Florida… most of them in Fort Lauderdale. While the palm trees swayed from ocean breezes outside, we watched old movies and drank hot cocoa inside. It was a fun way to pretend we were having a White Christmas!
While the Season included baking and tree trimming, shopping and wrapping were not far behind. I remember all the personalized gifts purchased from Paper Mpressions and all the beautiful tablescapes on display at Special Additions. I remember buying the boys matching holiday outfits from Flora Ottimer and finding crafty creations at Cross Stitch Cupboard.
Small businesses have always been a part of our community, like patchwork squares in a storied, family quilt. Our friends are their owners, our families are their customers and together we keep each other wrapped in friendship.
While some of these stores have disappeared, some are still going strong. Cactus Flower, owned by Candy Johnson has been in business for over 30 years. Her customers are not only her friends, they are each other’s friends. In the spirit of friendship (which is celebrated in Canvas and Cuisine), I hope my Fort Lauderdale pals will drop by to say hi, sip some bubbly and support Candy Johnson’s store this Thursday. I look forward to seeing you!
3020 N Federal Hwy
While you’re there, take a look around. Cactus Flower’s vendors are both old and new, and the combination leads to whimsical tables perfect for entertaining.
Meanwhile, please accept this simple, yet elegant holiday party dinner plan as my gift to you. It allows you to prepare everything in advance, so that you can enjoy your party as much as your guests do. And, if you are looking for the perfect serving platter for the salmon, or cake stand for the jam cake… then I’ll see you at Candy’s on the 12th! Merry, merry!
Simple Holiday Dinner Party Menu
Pan Roasted Veggies
Cumin Crusted Salmon with Tarragon Caper Sauce
Cranberry Jam Cake
Pan Roasted Veggies
serves a crowd
45 minute cuisine
16 to 20 Brussels Sprouts
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon, about 2 tablespoons, plus more for the other veggies
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for the other veggies
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more for the other veggies
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper, plus more for the other veggies
16 to 20 Baby New Potatoes
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme
16 to 20 Whole Baby Carrots
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground curry
16 to 20 Asparagus Spears
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 Large Yellow Onions
Preheat the oven to 425°.
Cut each Brussels sprout in half and steam (or blanch) until they begin to soften, about 4 to 5 minutes. Toss with Balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, olive oil, and some of the salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet.
Cut each potato in half and steam (or blanch) for a about 4 to 5 minutes. Toss with mustard, Parmesan cheese, garlic, thyme, olive oil, and some of the salt and pepper. Transfer to the baking sheet.
Steam (or blanch) the carrots for a about 4 to 5 minutes. Toss with brown sugar, curry, olive oil, and some of the salt and pepper. Transfer to the baking sheet.
Toss the asparagus with 2 tablespoons lemon juice, olive oil, and some of the salt and pepper. Transfer to the baking sheet.
Cut the onion into wedges leaving the root intact. This will help to keep the onion together. Toss with Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and some of the salt and pepper. Transfer to the baking sheet.
You can prepare the vegetable up to this point several hours in advance. When you are ready to serve, roast the veggies until they begin to crisp and brown, about 20 minutes. You can serve them warm or at room temperature.
Cumin Crusted Salmon
with Tarragon Caper Sauce
serves a crowd
20 minute cuisine
1 (2 ½ pound) center-cut whole salmon fillet with skin
Juice of 1 medium lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground oregano
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup cream
3 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the whole fillet, skin side down, on a rimmed baking sheet, coated with vegetable oil spray. Drizzle the lemon juice on top.
Combine the brown sugar, chili powder, garlic powder, paprika, cumin, and oregano in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Rub this mixture all over the salmon, coating well. Drizzle the top with olive oil.
Place the salmon into the oven. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees. Roast until the salmon is rare in the center, about 8 minutes per inch of thickness, or about 15 to 30 minutes for the whole fillet.
For the sauce, stir together the sour cream, mayonnaise, cream, capers, tarragon vinegar and fresh tarragon. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve the salmon with the sauce on the side. Garnish with fresh lemon or orange slices and fresh tarragon sprigs.
Cranberry Jam Cake
serves a crowd
60 minute cuisine plus baking
1 (12-ounce) jar cherry preserves
¾ cup granulated sugar
Juice of 1 large orange, about ¼ cup
1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries, (about 3 to 3 ½ cups)
8 large egg whites
3 ½ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, 2 sticks, room temperature
Zest of 2 large oranges, about 2 tablespoons
Juice of 1 large orange, about ¼ cup
1 cup milk
1 cup unsalted butter, 2 sticks room temperature
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 (32-ounce) package powdered sugar
Juice of 1 large orange, about ¼ cup
1 to 2 tablespoons half and half (optional)
Place the filling ingredients into a deep pot. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the cranberries soften and begin to pop, about 20 minutes. Use a potato masher to mush up the cranberries. Remove the pot from the heat and cool. Spread the filling into a shallow pan. (A cake pan or pie plate works well for this.) Place the pan into the freezer to cool thoroughly while you make and bake the cake.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Spray 2 (9-inch) square cake pans with vegetable oil spray. Place a square of parchment paper in the bottom of each pan and spray again. Use an electric mixer to whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form, about 3 to 5 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer the whipped egg whites to a large bowl. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Use the mixer to combine 1 cup butter and granulated sugar. Stir in the orange zest. Add ⅓ of the flour followed by ⅓ of the milk. Continue until all the flour and milk have been added. The batter will be quite thick.
Fold the egg whites into the batter using about ⅓ of the whites at a time. This will lighten the batter. Use a spatula to scrape and smooth the batter into the two pans. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer the cakes to a rack, remove the parchment paper and cool completely. Now is a good time to remove the cranberry filling from the freezer. You want it to be chilled – not frozen!
Use an electric mixer to combine 1 cup butter with cream cheese until fluffy. Add the vanilla and salt. Mix in the sugar a little bit at a time. Alternate the sugar and the remaining orange juice. If the frosting is too thick, you can thin it with a bit of half and half.
Now, here’s the fun part. You can turn this into a four layer cake, by horizontally slicing each of the square cakes in half. Or, you can just use one layer of jam frosting in the middle of the two cakes. It’s up to you how much cranberry to put in the center. Either way you will have cranberry jam left over which is the whole idea. The jam is perfect as an accompaniment to your favorite pork or poultry dish or spread onto your morning Christmas toast! Spread the frosting around the sides and the top of the cake.
This December, I am reminded that yes, it is the most wonderful time of the year and it’s because of family, friends and all of you. My little food blog at Jorj.com brings me joy 365 days a year. Every Monday, I get to tell a story and bring you with me. I’ve been writing cookbooks forever, and I thank you for being the most important part of my journey as an author.
Here are some of my highlights from 2018!
I have a fifth grandchild on the way!
I taught cooking classes in Boone, North Carolina and was overjoyed at our culinary team being able to serve so many hungry souls at the nearby Hospitality House. Now, my heart is full.
The entire extended Morgan family went glamping in Montana at the PawsUp Resort (our dude, we’re on a dude ranch photo went out as my Xmas card this year)
I tasted Italy in a once in a lifetime trip to Sorrento and the Almafi Coast
Sue and I finally made good on our threat to combine her love of art and my love of food into CANVAS and Cuisine: the art of the fresh market. It’s our chance to raise money for charities that mean a lot to us, as well as pay homage to Marti and Wayne Huizenga, the inspiration for this book!
I couldn’t live my dreams without you, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for following me. I promise amazing things in the year 2019 – let’s continue our kitchen adventures and see where the yummy road takes us next.
My favorite movie of all time is Christmas Vacation – it stars a hapless Chevy Chase as Clark W. Griswold. He drains the Midwest’s entire power grid when he plugs in his holiday lights. When he toasts to his house full of guests, it’s from a moose cup filled with egg nog.
Maybe I’m not the only one who thinks Christmas kitsch is so much fun. In the spirit of that movie, comes the Miracle Pop-Up Bar – with over-the-top X-mas decorations and menus printed off to look like lists to Santa.
It got my mind whirring for a party of my own. The environment of the one I dropped in on had an office party feel to it – it made me nostalgic for my favorite gaudy sweater.
Florida’s got a handful of Miracle bars, all serving holiday craft cocktails that figure it must be five o’clock somewhere in the North Pole.
Call me old-fashioned…that was a joke!…I’ve started noticing that my favorite restaurants pride themselves on creating drinks with culinary value. They embellish on classics like the Negroni, Gimlet and Old-Fashioned with super fresh ingredients, and a whole heck of a lot of technique. Watch the bartender work on your drink, and you’ll see it’s quite an enterprise. They’re finishing off orders with crème Brule torches, and ringing glass tops with sugar and spice and everything nice.
The craft cocktail menu at the Miracle bar closest to me in Palm Beach, Death and Glory, had cinnamon bourbon for the naughty kids. Rum, peppermint and chocolate went to the good little boys and girls.
The main menu was a blast, too! For the Home Alone fans, there was a jerk chicken dish called LOOK WHAT YOU DID YOU LITTLE JERK, entrée salads that harken back to Seinfeld, A FESTIVUS FOR THE REST OF US and, naturally, many a Christmas Vacation reference. Save the neck for me, Clark!
But the craft cocktails were the reason for the season!
What I kept noticing were the hints of cranberry, rosemary, orange and wormwood bitters, butterscotch, absinthe mist and coconut rums – it was all beginning to taste a lot like Christmas.
So many of the drinks were almost too pretty to consume, so I came up with a holiday punch idea for my next party: a coconut margarita punch that had me saying Mele Kalikimaka!
So without further ado, here’s the Hawaiian way, to say Merry Christmas to you!
EXTREME X-mas Margarita Punch
Yields: about 6 drinks
For the punch
1 (14-oz.) can coconut milk
8 jiggers (or shots) silver tequila
5 jiggers (or shots) triple sec
Juice of a lime, about ½ cup
2 cups crushed ice
For the garnishes
Cranberries or pomegranate seeds
Rosemary sprigs, 6 to 8
In a blender, combine the coconut milk, tequila, triple sec, lime juice and ice. Blend until smooth.
Pour contents into a punch bowl, and garnish with sprigs of rosemary. Cranberries don’t float at the surface all that well, so for a beautiful colorful contrast, I suggest red cocktail napkins with this drink.
To prepare glasses, dip the rims in sugar and drop a few cranberries at the bottom. Accent each glass with a fresh lime wedge.
EXTREME PARTY PLANNER NOTE: Repeat recipe if it’s a large punch bowl that holds more than one yield from blender.
Ha! Here’s another funny tidbit. The three most googled food items for this year’s Thanksgiving were Popeye’s Cajun Fried Turkey, cornbread dressing and green bean casserole. I may have to give that Cajun turkey a try, it’s obviously popular.
If you are like me, Thanksgiving is just the beginning of the seasonal turkey experience. Yes, Virginia, there is another turkey dinner coming our way on Christmas. We alternate between an old-fashioned English holiday dinner starring roast “beast”, popovers and sticky toffee pudding on Christmas eve and the turkey dinner with all the fixins’ on Christmas day.
I took some notes from those googlers and offer you my two cents on my favorite holiday sides. The really convenient part about these holiday recipes, is that you can make them the day before and bake them while your turkey rests.
Recipe #1: Easy, Old School Dressing
My dressing is passed down from my mother-in-law. It’s not cornbread, but you could easily substitute cornbread in place of dried white bread. It goes like this.
Sautee diced onions and celery in a whole bunch of butter, until soft. I mean a serious amount of butter! Pour two packages of stuffing mix into a large bowl. Pour in those buttery veggies. Stir in a can of cream of celery soup. Then stir in another one. Things should be getting pretty gooey right about now. Add two beaten eggs, then pour in enough chicken broth to bind everything together.
Now, here’s the tricky part.
Spoon half of the dressing into one side of a large baking dish that has been coated with vegetable oil spray. Stir in at least 1 cup (if not 2 cups) of golden raisins into the remaining dressing; then spoon this into the other side of the casserole. Just for good measure, douse the dressing with more chicken broth. Dot the top of the casserole with bits of butter.
Bake at 350° until the top is browned and a bit crunchy, about 30 minutes.
Tell the dressing purists to dig into the side without the raisins and invite everyone related to a Morgan to dig into the raisin side!
Recipe #2: Jorj’s Broccoli Casserole
It’s pretty old-school. I blanche broccoli florets until they are crisp-tender. Then I make a white sauce starting with butter and flour, adding whole milk and a gentle seasoning of salt, pepper and nutmeg. I add a bunch of sharp cheddar cheese and pour this over the broccoli. Before baking, I douse the top with fried onions (as an ode to that other green casserole).
Recipe #3: Straight Up Roasted Veggies
I blanched some Brussels sprouts until crisp tender and then placed them in a large bowl. I added cubes of butternut squash, sweet potato, zucchini and the tops of thick asparagus spears. I doused these with vegetable oil, salt, pepper and a generous amount of Tuscan seasoning – but you can add practically any spice and still have your veggies come out delish.
Spread the veggies onto a baking sheet and roast at 425°for about 20 minutes and you have another side dish.
Give These Recipes as a Gift This X-mas
You can find the recipes for my herb roasted turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie in my first book, At Home in the Kitchen which is still available almost 20 years after it was first published! Or email me at email@example.com if you need a refresher.
Whether your holiday dinner includes a turkey, a roast, seven fishes or some stuffed shells, remember to linger a little with the hostess after the meal is over. You needn’t jump up from the table to see the game score, clear the dishes, or trudge to the easy chair for a nap. Take it from me, your host will enjoy the day more, if you, her treasured friends and family just sit a little while longer.