Christmas-Cookies

Christmas Cookie Recipes

Cutest Creative Christmas Cookies

 

Everyone loves a good peanut butter or sugar cookie during the holidays, and you can create a version of these classic favorites that will leave a smile on everyone’s face. Plus, they are easy enough to make with the kids!

 

Peanut Butter Reindeer Cookies

 

3/4 c. peanut butter

1 1/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 c. shortening

3 Tbsp. milk

1 Tbsp. vanilla

1 egg

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. salt

Chocolate-covered mini pretzels

Mini brown M&Ms

Regular-sized red M&Ms

 

Preheat oven to 375°F.

 

Combine brown sugar, peanut butter, shortening, milk, and vanilla in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until well blended. Add egg; beat until just blended. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to creamed mixture at low speed. Mix just until blended.

 

Form dough into 1-inch balls. To make reindeer-shaped cookies, pinch the bottom of the ball slightly to form a point, then gently flatten with your hand. Place cookies about 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, until cookies are just set or just beginning to brown.

 

Remove from oven and immediately (and gently) press two mini pretzels into the tops of the cookies for the reindeer’s antlers. Press two mini brown M&Ms in for the eyes and one red M&M for the nose (Or use any other color. Some of mine ended up with green noses. They might be South Pole reindeer! )

 

Allow to cool 2 minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack or paper towel to cool completely. Makes about 40 reindeer cookies.

 

Melting Snowman Cookies

 

Your favorite sugar cookie dough

1 bag large marshmallows

Various icing colors for decorating

White icing

 

Roll out sugar cookies onto a lightly floured surface until 1/3-1/2 inch thick. Cut out with a large round cookie cutter. Bake according to directions and cool completely. Quick tip: You can also buy large round sugar cookies or slice and bake them using pre-made dough!

 

Once the cookies are cool, load them up with the cookie icing and spread it around with the back of a spoon, letting some dribble over the edge for a “puddle” look.  I prefer to stick the marshmallow on at this point as it tends to stick easier.

 

Spray a microwave safe plate with cooking spray, and place marshmallows on the plate. Set the microwave for 30 seconds, but watch the marshmallows as they cook. Stop the microwave as soon as the marshmallows start to get puffy. Do not let them double in size.

 

Spray your fingers with cooking spray or grease them up with shortening and carefully pull the marshmallows off, by the base, and set them on top of the frosted cookies. You may push in the tops very gently. You may need to use a little icing on the bottom of the marshmallow to get it to stick if the icing on the cookie has become too dry.

 

Decorate as you like with Wilton frosting or your own homemade frosting! I was pleasantly surprised at how yummy the Betty Crocker cookie icing was! Very surprised!

 

Homemade Cookie Frosting

 

This dries hard and shiny. It is very pretty and easy to store. This frosting layers well, just make sure and let the base coat dry VERY thoroughly first. (It takes a full 8 hours or overnight to dry entirely. I wait 1 hour in between applying the base coat and decorating, letting them dry overnight.) While the base coat is drying, tint the remaining icing into different colors. The amount of icing you will need depends on the number of cookies you decide to bake or buy. The recipe below will ice about a dozen cookies.

 

1 c. confectioners’ sugar

2 tsp. milk

2 tsp. light corn syrup

1/4 tsp. almond extract

Assorted food coloring

 

Directions

 

In a small bowl, stir together confectioners’ sugar and milk until smooth. Beat in corn syrup and almond extract until icing is smooth and glossy. If icing is too thick, add more corn syrup. Be patient and get it the right consistency! It should drip slightly off of cookies, but for decorating it should be stiffer and you will have to adjust it with more powdered sugar. This is easy to do.

 

If you don’t want to bother with the above icing step, no problem, Betty Crocker and Wilton both make a powdered icing base that you can whip up in minutes. Then use decorator frosting in the little tubes or cookie decorating pens.

 

Tip: Add your favorite extract flavoring to your favorite cookie dough mix. It makes them taste homemade. You can also add lemon and/or orange rind with orange or lemon extract. So yummy!

freezer-food

Time to Freeze!

It’s Time to Freeze!

It’s that time of year when we’re all like hermit crabs hiding inside our shells. The days are short and sunlight is minimal. When the short or long days of winter — depending on your preference — are upon us, I like to hibernate in my kitchen. Aside from the holidays, I like to do a lot of preparation of hearty and homey meals that my entire family can enjoy for months down the road. Not to mention that it’s super easy to pop a meal into the oven on a busy day and still have a good wholesome meal for my kids to enjoy.

I used to make meals and put them in our outdoor freezer for a later time, but how much time? I usually caught myself spending a moment with the freezer door propped open to think about how long ago I put that lovely dish into the deep freeze. But, is it still okay? It’s been a few months and maybe I shouldn’t feature this on my table tonight.

I’m sure you’ve been down this road as well. Many times those meals that I spent so much of my hibernation time fixing for a later date end up in the bottom of the garbage. Not only is that a waste of time, but it’s a huge waste of money!

After doing a little research, I realized that those bundles of joy that I put into the freezer might not last as long as I once thought. So I changed my philosophy! In the past, I would put the date on the dish when I put it into the freezer. Now, I put the expiration date on the food instead. This way I know what needs to be eaten and what has a little more resting time in the climate controlled dungeon.

Here are a few great ideas that I use in my kitchen that will keep things simple and help make dinner a breeze.

Flash Freeze Protein

Instead of tossing leftover, uncooked chicken breasts or other pieces of protein in a freezer bag, place them on a cookie sheet and pop them in the freezer for about 30 minutes to an hour. Then grab them up and toss them in one big freezer bag. This way you can use as many pieces as you need without having to thaw out the entire bag, and you’ll know exactly what you have left. This simple trick is great for chicken breasts, fish and pork chops.

Go On and Brown

Brown your ground turkey, chicken, beef, or pork and then drain. Once it’s fully drained and has cooled, put it in a freezer-safe container and set it in the freezer to use at a later date. This way you have saved one step already in the preparation of your meals and you’ll be ready for dinner in a flash.

Breakfast Right Out of Bed

Mornings can be tough in my house, but preparing breakfast muffins on a weekend allows me to get ready for weekday breakfast meals for everyone. Simply pull out what you want to eat that day, pop it in the microwave for a few seconds, and a perfect and healthy meal will await you.

Skip The Bulk

Large plastic containers can be troublesome for many modern day freezers. Try replacing your large plastic containers with plastic freezer bags instead. Chili, sauces, and stews are all great to add to plastic bags. Remove all the air and lay them flat. They’ll store well and cleanup is a breeze.

Deconstruction At Its Best

We’ve all heard of deconstructed “X, Y, Z” on the restaurant menu. Now it’s time to take that philosophy home. Want Sloppy Joes for supper? Put your Sloppy Joe mixture in a plastic bag, freeze the buns alongside the meat mixture and you’ve got a great meal without an extra stop at the grocery store. You can also break down recipes with raw ingredients into bags, and then place them in the freezer. When you’re ready to cook you have an entire meal prepped and ready for dinner in a flash.

Cool It

For the best freezer results and to get the greatest shelf life out of your freezer meals, make sure to cool the food first. When you cool your food it reduces the size as cold items retract. This is the key to keeping those sauces, stews, and soups nice and flat in bags. It also reduces condensation on containers.

Throw It Out

You know the rule, “When in Doubt, Throw It Out.” If something is already questionable in your fridge, don’t toss it in the freezer. The likelihood of your getting sick is just as possible after it’s frozen as it was in the fridge.

Did You Know?

You can freeze some very non-conventional items. Check out a few of these that you might not know about. You can freeze:

  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Bread – Perfect for small households where it’s impossible to consume an entire loaf of bread before it goes bad.
  • Fruit – If it’s too ripe, just toss it in the freezer and don’t let it go to waste. It’s great for smoothies or cobblers.
  • Stock, Juices, and Flavored Liquids – If you need to preserve that chicken stock before it goes bad, put it in an ice tray and freeze it. Once it’s good and frozen, remove the cubes and place them in a baggie for later use.

Thaw It Out

It’s frozen. Now what? Safely thawing your frozen items is just as important as proper freezing techniques. These suggestions are the safest way to thaw foods before consumption.

  • In the Refrigerator – Although it’s not always the fastest, it’s the safest because it slowly brings the food back to a cool temperature for consumption. With a little bit of pre-planning, this is the safest way to enjoy your freezer meals.
  • In Cold Water – Yes, COLD, not hot. Place frozen items in a bowl or pot of cold water for 30 minutes and then replace with more cold water, if necessary. Again, this keeps the food at a safe temperature during the thawing process.
  • Microwave – This method can actually lead to uneven thawing, but in some cases it is a sure, fast way to get your frozen items thawed quickly. Uneven thawing can cause bacteria growth, so when thawing fruits and vegetables using this method, consume them immediately.
  • Room Temperature – Breads, pastries, and muffins are the only items that should be considered when using this method to prevent the growth and development of bacteria.

By using these tips, you’ll be ready for the cold winter days ahead and on the path to easy meal preparation for your family. To share your tips or suggestions on great freezer meals visit us at dcfocusmagazine.com.

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Cold Weather Fashions

Quick Six Styling for Cold Weather Months

By Olivia Brown

What comes to mind when you think of fall? Leaves changing, bonfires, pumpkin patches? Well, one thing I can guarantee that comes into many people’s minds when thinking of fall is how they are going to dress. The main issue with fall fashion is staying warm and looking super cute doing it!

Fall is a time like no other. Whether you are sipping hot cocoa by the fire or out on a hayride, there are so many fashion opportunities to embrace. First, you need to get some staple items that you will use on a regular basis to make your fall outfits warm and fashionable.

Scarves. Printed, solid, fuzzy, cotton — there are endless possibilities when using scarves. There are colors, prints and fabrics to go with every outfit you have, while also keeping your neck and core warm.

A Good Pair of Boots. Whether you are walking through ice or snow, or sitting through a football game, a good pair of boots can take your outfit to the next level. You can keep it simple with a pair of booties, or go all out with knee-highs.

Leggings. Yes, everywhere you look during fall you see many different uses for leggings. However, one “fashion don’t“ is wearing leggings as pants. Leggings are meant for you to wear with your favorite short dress in the winter. You don’t want to have to put all of your cute dresses away for the season! Leggings are the perfect solution, and you can also wear them under pants for even more warmth.

A Vest. This is the most fashionable and warm item you can have in your closet during the fall. Throw on a fur vest over a long-sleeved shirt and you are ready to go. Keeping your core temperature warm keeps the rest of your body warm also.

A Trench/Pea Coat. This is essential as the temperature starts to drop. If you want to guarantee warmth, this is the way to do it. If you mix in a cute scarf and a pair of knee-high boots, you’re ready for any weather autumn throws at you!

Layering. Layering is the most useful fashion tip you will have during the fall. When fall transitions into winter, snow can put a damper on your fashionable outfits.

The “Go-to” Outfit. Here’s a go-to outfit when it’s snowing.  First, start with a short-sleeved shirt or tank top to wear under your blouse. Next, add a cute long-sleeved shirt or blouse to keep you warm. Then layer a warm knit scarf over your blouse. Depending on your personal preference, add either a fuzzy vest or a long pea coat. For your bottoms, depending on how cold it is, a thick pair of skinny jeans is a fashionable way to keep warm. Add over the knee socks, and pair with some knee-high boots. Make sure that the boots you choose to wear in the winter have traction on the bottom so you can walk through the ice and snow.

All of these tips and tricks can be used with your own personal flair. Whether you want to keep it simple with a pearl necklace or go all out with chandelier earrings, accessorizing can be your best friend when you need something to spice up your outfit. A beanie is a modern fashion trend in the fall and a cute and fun way to add something to your outfit in the winter. Don’t let cold weather put a damper on your style. Embrace it!

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Business Spotlight

Welcome to the Holidays

Area Choral Groups Sing In the Season with Early December Concerts

By Ryan Jones

Hearty food, sparkling lights and chilly weather are all welcome signs of the holidays to come, but one seasonal staple tops them all. Sacred or secular, holiday music holds a near-universal link to the memories, emotions, and traditions we honor and celebrate year after year.  Local concerts slated for early December highlight the unique way that music ignites the spirit of the season and encourages camaraderie, community and connection.

Drawing on decades of solid leadership and vision, the Lexington Choral Society has been working since early September to perfect a variety of classic carols, religious favorites, and international surprises for its 44th annual Welcome to December! concert. As always, the concert is free, open to the public, and will take place on December 5 at First Baptist Church on West Third Avenue in Lexington.

“Historically, this concert has been called Welcome to December! because our goal is to get everyone in the Christmas spirit. The music the audience will hear will help them get in the right frame of mind, but also will maybe get them to think about Christmas in a different way,” says Phil Rector, who directs the Lexington Choral Society with his wife, Melonie, as assistant director. “People are experiencing this holiday around the world in different ways and some of the music we sing hopefully will shed a little bit of light on how other people express themselves during the Christmas season.”

With a background as a church musician, Rector assumed his post as director of the Lexington Choral Society following the 2007 retirement of its co-founder, Dr. Jo Ann Poston. He now balances his time between directing the choir and working as an environmental protection specialist with Stericycle.

“It gives me a musical outlet,” says Rector, who worked previously as the minister of music for First Baptist Church. He enjoys giving the 40-plus members of the Lexington Choral Society the opportunity to experiment with challenging and nontraditional pieces from around the world.

“We always are trying to stretch not just our boundaries musically, but also to challenge everybody so that we’re continuing to grow in our musical technique,” he says, citing his personal favorite piece from the Welcome to December! program. “There’s a Brazilian piece that is new and has been a little bit of a challenge to pull off. It’s interesting rhythmically and tonally. It’s not as straightforward as the other music we do.”

Since joining the Lexington Choral Society 10 years ago, Trudy Frank says she can’t think of a single piece she’s worked on that she wasn’t “totally in love with. He (Rector) just finds top notch music.”

Frank, former president and now vice president of the group, moved to Lexington from Florida with her husband in 2005. Both are originally from New York.

“The first thing I did when I moved here was look up the Lexington Choral Society. Music has always been a part of my life,” she says, remembering her time with the Palm Beach, Florida chapter of Sweet Adelines International, a female a cappella barbershop harmony chorus. “Coming to this little town I never expected the quality and beauty of the music we perform.”

A nonprofit organization, the Lexington Choral Society is funded by local donors and businesses, as well as by Arts United for Davidson County with support from the North Carolina Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. It was founded as a women’s ensemble in 1972 and was joined by a brother ensemble 12 years later.

Over the years the group has performed at various events in New York, Myrtle Beach, Charleston and High Point. Today, the focus is on two annual concerts – the Welcome to December! concert and the Spring Sing, typically scheduled in May. Both concerts are consistently well-attended, drawing crowds into the hundreds.

Despite its professional attitude and high-quality performances, membership in the Lexington Choral Society isn’t limited to or even marketed to professional musicians.

“There are no auditions. You become a member once you hear about us,” laughs Frank. “The unifying element is everyone’s love for music. It keeps us busy doing the thing that we love so much. I don’t think there’s one person in the group who doesn’t give 100 percent. The unity of the whole group is just a beautiful thing.”

“We’ve got dentists, financial planners, at least four music teachers, an accountant and quite a few church musicians,” says Rector. “I think it’s important to touch on the broad range of people that participate in this group because I think it says a lot about the influence of music. For people from all these different backgrounds to come together and make music together, I think it’s really neat.”

The members of the Lexington Choral Society are also diverse in terms of age, with the youngest members in their mid-teens and the oldest in their 80s. Rector says this can be both rewarding and challenging.

“Probably the biggest challenge is communicating in general. Humor and things you do at a rehearsal with one group of people may not go over well with another group. It’s about trying to find a way to communicate with everyone in a way that they are motivated to sing and rehearse,” he says. “Musically we’re all on different levels, but we all tackle that part together and help each other along.”

For Melonie Rector, participating in the Lexington Choral Society as both assistant director and vocalist allows her to take a step back and experience the joy of just singing. As the choral director for Lexington Senior High School, “I’m always in charge,” she says. “That’s what I do all week and so I enjoy just being another singer with the Choral Society.”

Rector’s students will be performing their holiday concert alongside the Lexington Middle School chorus on December 10 at 7:30 p.m. in the Lexington Senior High auditorium. “We’ll do some traditional carols and some new things. We’re planning an African piece and a contemporary Latin piece; also some jazzy versions of traditional stuff,” she says.

A smaller ensemble from the high school will also perform several times throughout the month of December at area events. “We’ll perform at an open house at the Bob Timberlake Gallery and at Childress Vineyards. We’ll also sing for the Rotary Club,” says Rector. “The students who will be traveling to perform are our top group. They audition for it and have to be pretty proficient and advanced in their skills.”

Yet another opportunity to usher in the holiday season is the longstanding Community Christmas Candlelight Service scheduled this year for December 6 at First Methodist Church on Main Street in Lexington. For more than 85 years, the Lexington Music Club organized the service, which brings together over 50 members of various Lexington-area churches to perform traditional pieces as one large community choir.

John Hinson, director of music for Tyro United Methodist Church and lecturer in voice at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been directing the group for the last four years. He is confident that this year’s performance will provide a little something for everyone. “Anyone who comes will go home happy and filled with the Christmas spirit,” says Hinson.

The Community Christmas Candlelight Service is free to attend, but guests are encouraged to participate in a canned food drive. A special offering will also take place with all funds collected being donated to community organizations.

“It’s something to give back to the community,” Hinson says. “The whole idea is that it’s a production by the community, for the community. It’s just something a lot of people enjoy coming to. It’s a longstanding tradition.”