Walkin' In A (Cupcake) Winter Wonderland

Back in December, Baking Bites was running a holiday cupcake contest that got me excited. Photography has been a side hobby of mine that I’ve really enjoyed exploring with the cooking for DinnerCakes, so this seemed right up my alley. I had also recently constructed a home-made light box so it felt like the planets were in alignment for me. Surely, this was destiny.

But alas, I was quite unhappy with the results and decided not to even bother submitting it. However, my father (a former quasi-professional photographer) had been harassing me recently about a lack of updates on my personal flickr site, so I decided to throw up the least-sucky of all the shots from that shoot.

Cupcake Winter Wonderland

Apparently the ladies over at Cupcakes Take The Cake came across my photo and thought it was nice enough to post on their site. It was an honor and nice surprise to find this out. If you love cupcakes and decorative design, then check out Cupcakes Take The Cake. I know I will.

Until a little too recently, the word “salad” struck fear into my heart. It’s just so cold, leafy and usually bland, unless you add one of the things that defeats the purpose of eating a salad anyway, like cheese, egg, salad dressing, etc. Yes, I know it’s strange. And my co-workers at my previous job had a great time ragging on me about my feelings toward salad; now Edwin carries that torch!

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Yogurt Poppy Seed Dressing

However, I look forward to the holidays because my mom likes to think outside the box when preparing a holiday salad. She spends some good time hunting through her massive collection of cookbooks for forgotten gems. My all-time favorite salads have been born on these occasions, and the salads usually contain fruit.

This past Christmas she made Strawberry Spinach Salad with Yogurt Poppy Seed Dressing. But it’s not just a Christmas salad or winter salad, it’s adaptable to any occasion and it’s easy to put together. The combination of sweet strawberries on a bed of spinach leaves with a few crunchy walnuts tastes heavenly, and it looks bright and beautiful especially on a white plate. This recipe even enchanted a salad-phobe like myself!

My mom also suggests another variation that she believes would work well – substituting the strawberries for blueberries and the strawberry yogurt for blueberry yogurt. In the version below, she swapped out the recipe’s suggestion of pecans for walnuts, a more heart-healthy nut (thus, dad-approved).

I hope you enjoy this salad as much as I do. Don’t wait to try it out!

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Yogurt Poppy Seed Dressing

Strawberry Spinach Salad w/Yogurt Poppy Seed Dressing
adapted from Pillsbury Quick Cooking magazine (1993)

1/3 cup honey
1 cup Strawberry yogurt
1 tsp poppy seeds

1 bag Baby Spinach leaves
1 qt. sliced strawberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

In a large bowl, toss spinach, strawberries, and nuts. Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl and add to a gravy boat, so that you can drizzle however much you like on individual plates. Serve chilled and enjoy!

Pumpkin Oatmeal Bites, My Favorite Christmas Cookie

Well, my co-contributor Chef Edwin is going to smack his forehead when he sees this post, but I can’t let that stand in my way, right? I’m still stuck on Christmas, and I have the leftover Christmas cookies and constantly expanding waistline to prove it!

pumpkin oatmeal bites stirring in oats

It seemed to me like more people than ever were baking for Christmas this year, and I had no qualms about sampling everything that came my way. From leftover Bake-A-Thon 2008 treats, to sweet, melt-in-your-mouth Baklava from a friend at my mom’s office, to moist spice cake from a new significant other on my husband’s side of the family… my Christmas holiday consisted of enjoying delectable new desserts. Thank you, everyone!

pumpkin oatmeal bites stirring in chips

I’d like to share with you a recipe that I brought to Bake-A-Thon 2008 this year, but I also made it again on Christmas Eve with my mom. It has been a favorite of mine for years. My mom originally found it in a Better Homes cookbook; I have adapted it to include more pumpkin and more chocolate chips which I think makes them even more moist.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Bites

Readers, I know you may be tempted to think that I’d love any recipe that includes pumpkin, regardless of how it tastes – and I can see why you would think that based on my history here. But truly, this recipe has everything you could want:

1)You only need two bowls to make these cookies.
2) You do not need any fancy tools, appliances or decorating devices.
3) They’re not overly sweet.
4) Because of the pumpkin, they stay incredibly moist after several days. They’re also great for mailing (which I tested this year).
5) If you use high quality chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli), the chocolate adds a perfect amount of sweetness.
6) It makes 120 cookies. 120! Let’s face it, when you’re baking Christmas cookies you’re probably looking to make more than one dozen.
7) They contain 3 cups of oats and pumpkin is a super food, so you can pretend that you’re eating healthy.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Bites and Morgan

This is the last time I’ll say it for the rest of the year, I promise – give pumpkin a chance!

Edwin and I would love to know what kinds of Christmas cookies you baked this year, and which ones were well received. Please share your favorites with us!

Pumpkin Oatmeal Bites

Pumpkin Oatmeal Bites
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, Cookies for Christmas (1985)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
3 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large bowl with a mixer beat butter until softened. Beat in brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, then pumpkin.

Add flour mixture and beat until combined. Stir in oats and chocolate chips (use a thick, sturdy spoon. I’ve broken flimsy wooden spoons while stirring in all the oats before!).

Use a teaspoon measure to scoop onto parchment-lined cookie sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. Bake for 12 minutes. Cool for 1-2 minutes, then move to a wire rack. Cookies will cool quickly. Makes about 120.

Merry Christmas!


Magic Bars

We hope you enjoy a wonderful holiday with family, friends and lots of food! Have a save and fun day! Thanks for reading.

Christmas Crab

Merry Christmas,
Edwin & Heather

Holiday Bark, Play With Your Food

Making Holiday Bark is almost more like making art and playing with your food than it is cooking or baking.

When I was younger I used to absolutely love sketching, painting, collaging, sculpting, or any other artsy activity that I could just spend hours completely focused on. I seem to have lost this hobby in the daily grind somewhere after high school, but I still miss it and have hopes and plans to pick it up again someday (though, no day like the present, right?). Making Holiday Bark helps me get my artistic fix, and in delicious, edible form!

marbling holiday bark

Making any kind of bark candy can be as simple or as detailed as you make it. If you have kids, they will probably love attempting to help mix and swirl the chocolate (and get it all over their faces). If you’re setting out trays of food for a Christmas or New Year’s party or would just like something fun to bring to work, this is a very attractive option.

In its simplest form, you can get away with using only two kinds of chocolate and one kind of nut or flavor. No cooking or baking is required, though if you’re really looking to unlock the full flavor of the nuts then you may want to heat them in a shallow pan until warm and fragrant. You can even make bark while waiting for Christmas cookies to come out of the oven.

Basically, when you think you might explode if you have to make one more Christmas cookie – Holiday Bark to the rescue.

And, if I left this part out, it tastes and smells heavenly. Don’t forget to use ingredients that you enjoy and just have fun with it!


Holiday Bark

8 oz white chocolate, chopped
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2.25 oz (or ½ cup) hazelnuts, chopped
2.25 oz (or ½ cup) pecans, chopped

Place chopped white chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. Place semi-sweet and bittersweet together in another microwave safe bowl. Microwave bowls separately for 10-15 second intervals, stirring thoroughly after each interval until melted. Do this until both bowls contain melted chocolate. (I’ve been told that if I don’t use a double boiler to melt chocolate that I’ll burn it, but I haven’t burned it yet! Don’t worry.)

Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Stir in nuts to the bowl containing semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate. Spread the chocolate and nut mixture on the parchment paper using a rubber spatula. Drop spoonfuls of white chocolate over this, and swirl the chocolates using a fork or skewer (I used a fork because the nuts make it a little tougher to swirl).

Refrigerate for approximately 1 hour until hard. Break bark into large chunks and store in your refrigerator until serving.


On Monday my office had a white elephant gift exchange, something like Secret Santa except the gifts are meant to be inexpensive and sometimes humorous. I’ve never participated in one of these before, so I was pretty excited and a little nervous. I heard that in our office the gifts were usually a mix of gags and real gifts, so I opted for a something in the middle.

Thumbprint Cookie dough

I acquired a wonderfully tacky Christmas cookie jar from my mother-in-law. Imagine a very shiny and bright red, green and gold round Christmas tree ornament, except enlarged about five times. I thought this would be a perfect white elephant gift, remembering the quote, “One man’s trash is another’s treasure.” But I was nervous that maybe this was TOO silly.

So to “sweeten” the deal, I scoured my cookbooks for a Christmas cookie recipe to fill the cookie jar with, something classic that would appeal to multiple people, but something that I wasn’t already planning on baking. I settled on a great, versatile recipe found in one of my old Kraft Food magazines.

Thumbprint Cookies, PecansThumbprint Cookies, mixing nuts

I’ve mentioned before that Kraft has some very useful recipes, especially for people strapped for time or those trying to get into cooking and baking but aren’t sure how. This particular cookie recipe can make four variations of cookies, all using the same basic dough recipe but with minor variations. I chose to only make one kind this time – Thumbprints Cookies.

Thumbprint Cookies, dough balls

Because I still fear the scale, I substituted fat free cream cheese in place of regular. This probably wasn’t the best decision because, well, fat tastes good! If you’re making food for others you want it to shine, and I broke one of my cardinal rules by substituting. To make up for this and sweeten the dough a bit without adding more sugar, I added a teaspoon of ground anise seed. Anise seed is expensive, but I’m always willing to blow my budget a bit when holiday food is involved. The anise seed was very aromatic and added a distinctive, but not overpowering, sweetness.

Thumbprint Cookies, indented

For future confections, I need to make a rule that I will never post about baked goods the same day I make them – I always enjoy them more the next day! I’m glad I reserved judgment on these cookies. My husband really loved them right out of the oven, but I think they got even better after they set. It’s rare when I find a cookie my husband really gets excited about; these are a keeper!

Thumbprint Cookies, ready to eat

Blackberry & Apricot Thumbprint Cookies
adapted from Kraft Foods Magazine

1 package cream cheese (8 0z, I used fat free)
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened (3/4 cup)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 tsp. anise seed, ground
blackberry and apricot jam (or jam of your choice, but the apricot is excellent)

Beat cream cheese, butter, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended. Add flour and baking soda gradually. Mix well. Stir in pecans and anise seed (you can grind the anise seed by putting it in a bag and hitting it with a tenderizer). Make sure it’s well-blended. Cover and refrigerate dough for 30 minutes (make sure you do this so that the butter doesn’t get to soft; you don’t want your cookies to fall flat in the oven).

Preheat oven to 350 F. Using a 1/2 tablespoon measure, scoop dough in 1 inch balls, rounding dough into balls. Place on parchment lined baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart. Indent the dough using your thumb. Bake for 10 minutes.

Remove from oven. The indentations may have risen in the oven, just push it down as needed and carefully fill eat cookie with jam. Continue baking for 8-10 minutes.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.