Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn Balls

Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn Balls2

Welcome to Day 2 of the 12 Days of Christmas Series on Cooking is My Sport! Just in case you missed the first post yesterday, I’ll include a complete list of the recipes at the end of each post as we go through all of the days.

Let’s talk about Christmas popcorn tins. You all know which ones I’m talking about; the metal tins with the fancy, or sometimes wonky designs on the outside and three flavors of popcorn on the inside. Yeah, those. I’ve got mixed feelings about the Christmas popcorn tins. When I was young I really dug them, but in retrospect I kinda chalk that up to being a young, growing girl with a rabbit fast metabolism that could eat just about any Christmas treat without complaining. Now, eh…I’m not much of a fan. But for the sake of conversation, I’ll give my own rating of each of the flavors:

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The caramel corn is the obvious star of the three for me; there’s very little that caramelized sugar cannot make taste good, and the combination of the sweet with the saltiness of the popcorn is a pretty solid combination. Caramel corn for the win- 8/10

The regular butter popcorn is…well, regular butter popcorn. If the popcorn you’re buying is still relatively fresh (meaning it didn’t come from a dollar or low-budget store), then it’ll taste pretty decent. I gotta say though, I rarely get a strong butter flavor from it. It’s something for you to eat when you get the munchies, but not much else- 5/10

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The loser of the Christmas popcorn tins is the cheese flavored popcorn- no question. Whenever someone gave us a tin for a gift when we were growing up, none of us would touch the stuff. It just stayed there, untouched while the caramel corn and butter popcorn would get eaten. I don’t even know where to start with what’s wrong with the cheese popcorn: for one, the cheese coating just tastes so artificial and processed. Number two, it sticks and coats on your hands and turns them orange (blegh, yucky fingers). Three, there’s just something about the cheese coating that makes the popcorn taste stale to me. I’ll pass on the cheese popcorn every time, thank you- 2/10

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Before I even started baking for the Christmas series on the blog, I knew I wanted to make popcorn balls. They’re easy, they make GREAT gifts for friends and co-workers at Christmas parties, you can poke holes through them and hang them on a tree for decoration, and there are so many different flavor combinations that you can use when putting them together. I did two flavors this year, and this was one of them.

Think about a sweetened honey roasted peanut; now think about the saltiness of that peanut meeting and melting with a sticky caramel coating. That’s what these are. Salty, sweet balls of goodness. Think it can’t get better than that? Think again- the stickiness of the coating is tempered by the crunchy outer layer of sesame seeds that the balls get rolled in after they’re molded. So friggin good. I literally had to stop myself after taking an undisclosed amount of bites. They’re kryptonite powerful. So you should get in your kitchen and make some, stat.

Thanks for following our series, and once again: if you’re late to party then feel free to check out the complete list of recipe links for this year’s 12 Days of Christmas below!

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Cranberry-Clementine Toaster Tarts

Day 2: Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn Balls

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Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn Balls


Recipe Adapted from Food Network Magazine

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Ingredients

  • 12 cups freshly popped popcorn (preferably made over the stove)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tbsp. butter, plus 2-3 extra tbsp. for buttering your hands
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tbsp. water
  • 1 cup honey roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • Toasted sesame seeds, for rolling (about 3/4 cup)

 Directions

1. Bring honey, butter, peanut butter, confectioners’ sugar and water to a boil in a large pot over medium heat, stirring.

2. Remove from the heat; using a rubber spatula, stir in popcorn and 1 cup chopped salted mixed nuts until coated.

3. Butter your hands, then shape into balls and roll in toasted sesame seeds, working quickly before balls cool off. Place finished balls on parchment paper lined baking racks to set.

Gingerbread Men Cookies

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4 Days til Christmas, guys! Today I get to share one of my favorite recipes from our Christmas series. I hope you enjoy it- but first, some more trivia:

12 Days of Christmas {Treats}

  1. During the Christmas buying season, Visa cards alone are used an average of 5,340 times every minute in the United States. (This isn’t very surprising, I’ve certainly been putting mine to good use.)
  2. The busiest shopping day of the year is not Black Friday, but the Saturday before Christmas. The busiest online shopping day takes place on the Monday or Tuesday a week or two before the week of Christmas. (I hate to admit it, but I’m absolutely one of those people who wait until the last minute to do the bulk of my Christmas shopping. It sucks, but it’s the truth.)
  3. Retailers take advantage of traditional Christmas smells and tastes to attract customers. For example, retailers may waft the smell of roasting chestnuts throughout their store and offer free samples of Christmas cookies. Holiday smells and tastes also stimulate the saliva glands, which makes shoppers hungry. Hungry shoppers are more likely to buy anything, not just food. (It could just be that I live in a small-ish town, but I’ve never experienced this in any of the major department stores that cater to Christmas shoppers where I love. That is an interesting and probably very effective tactic though.)

Source, Source

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I know that by now in the series, I’ve already made Ginger Snaps and Gingerbread.You’re probably wondering: Jess, is it really necessary to throw in one more ‘ginger’ themed recipe? Answer being….yes. Because you can never have too much ginger-stuff- especially not at Christmas. And especially not when it comes to these gingerbread men cookies.

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Whereas Gingersnaps are traditionally either really chewy or crunchy and Gingerbread is fluffy and almost cake-like, these Gingerbread men meet somewhere in the middle of those two. Of all three ginger recipes that I’ve made this year, I’ve gotta say that these are without a doubt, my favorite. They really puff up in the oven, so they’re thick and sturdy enough for decorating. Best of all, as long as you don’t over bake them,  the dough stays soft and tender for days (which is how I prefer to eat them).

As you can see, I chose to decorate my gingerbread men with my standard favorite toppings: an icing made with powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract with sprinkles on top. However, if you have small children at home, feel free to use whatever else you like. I found this recipe at browneyedbaker.com and have been using it for the past couple of years or so. It’s easy to follow and makes quite a few cookies to share…or keep all to yourself. Your choice.

Today’s Christmas recommendation is actually for a short story by Truman Capote called “A Christmas Memory”. I first read it many years ago in school (I don’t remember how old I was), but I do remember that it made an impression on me, and that I liked it very much. It’s about a young boy named Buddy that recalls a memory he has from his childhood of baking Christmas fruitcakes with one of his distant relatives who is slightly mentally retarded. It’s simple, but very sweet and even somewhat sad at the end. I like to read it not only because Truman Capote is a gifted writer, but because there’s a kind of Christmas nostalgia in the language of the story that I just love. I’ve included a link to an online version of it in the picture, so if you would like to read it (and I highly recommend that you do).

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Gingerbread Men Cookies

Recipe Courtesy of Brown Eyed Baker

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened slightly.
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Directions

1. In food processor workbowl fitted with steel blade, process flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and baking soda until combined, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture and process until mixture is sandy and resembles very fine meal, about 15 seconds. With machine running, gradually add molasses and milk; process until dough is evenly moistened and forms soft mass, about 10 seconds. (Alternatively, in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, stir together flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt and baking soda at low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Stop mixer and add butter pieces; mix at medium-low speed until mixture is sandy and resembles fine meal, about 1½ minutes. Reduce speed to low and, with mixer running, gradually add molasses and milk; mix until dough is evenly moistened, about 20 seconds. Increase speed to medium and mix until thoroughly combined, about 10 seconds.)

2. Scrape dough onto work surface; divide in half. Working with one portion of dough at a time, roll ¼-inch thick between two large sheets of parchment paper. Leaving dough sandwiched between parchment layers, stack on cookie sheet and freeze until firm, 15 to 20 minutes. (Alternatively, refrigerate dough 2 hours or overnight.)

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

4. Remove one dough sheet from freezer; place on work surface. Peel off top parchment sheet and lay it back in place. Flip dough over; peel off and discard second parchment layer. Cut dough into gingerbread people or round cookies, transferring shapes to parchment-line cookie sheets with a wide metal spatula, spacing them ¾-inch apart. Repeat with remaining dough until cookie sheets are full. Bake cookies until set in centers and dough barely retains imprint when touched very gently with fingertip, 8 to 11 minutes, rotating cookie sheet from front to back halfway through baking time. Do not overbake. Cool cookies on sheets 2 minutes, then remove with wide metal spatula to wire rack; cool to room temperature.

5. Gather scraps; repeat rolling, cutting and baking in steps 2 and 4. Repeat with remaining dough until all dough is used.

6. Once cookies are cool, decorate with royal icing, if desired. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

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Danish Butter Cookies

Butter Cookies2

12 Days of Christmas {Treats}

About that Christmas thing:

  1. According to an old wives’ tale if you bake bread on Christmas Eve then it will be fresh forever. (I know that it’s just a superstitious folk tale, but I just may try this. Even if it does go stale, I can always use the bread for a French toast recipe.)
  2. The customary Christmas dinner in England included a pig head with mustard sauce. However, this is not followed anymore In England. (My grandma tells me that her family used to use pig head to make hogs head cheese. I’ve seen pig cheeks prepared like bacon in fine dining. I’ve seen pig’s ears in the mystery basket on ‘Chopped’….yet I will never eat any meat from a pig’s head. Especially not with mustard sauce. Not gonna happen.)
  3. Oliver Cromwell stopped the celebration of Christmas in England during 1647- 1660. According to him it was immoral to celebrate the holiest day of the year. It was a criminal offence. He or she could find him or her behind the bars if he/she was found guilty of celebrating Christmas. (What.. a …tool.)

(Source: http://www.theholidayspot.com)

Butter Cookies3

Christmastime was so much fun for me growing up.

Seriously, I wish every kid could have had the chance to grow up in my house if for nothing else, for the Christmases. First of all, we were the type of family that decked the whole house out in yuletide gear. We had outdoor lights and wreaths hanging on the doors outside. Inside there were Christmas ornaments, decorations and cards displayed on empty tabletops and on the walls. Assorted nut trays and bowls with red and green Hershey’s kisses were out for guests. Our tree may have been fake, but it was pimped out to the maximum; every available branch held ornaments, candy canes, and the ugly little art projects me and my sisters made in school and at Sunday School that the adults put on the tree anyway. We wound lights, tinsel and streamers from the top and tucked them in between the branches. One of the clearest memories I have as a little girl is sitting in the living room at night with all the lights out just watching the Christmas tree.

Butter Cookies1

Church was really busy and bustling at that time of year because we were always in the Christmas pageant/show that the kids put on for the rest of the church. I can still remember the year where we all were given bells to shake during the song “Come on Ring Those Bells”. I dropped my bell on the ground. So I just started shaking my hand up and down, hoping that no one would notice. Good times.

I’m huge fan of those butter cookies you buy in the shiny blue tins at the store. They’re simple, but filled with so much flavor They tend to make more of a visible appearance at this time of year, and while I could have bought one, I (of course) decided to take the ‘scenic route’ and try to make my own. I found a recipe on Food.com that is actually very similar to the original. After they were done, I topped them with a simple icing (powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract) and sprinkles. Aren’t they purdy?

There are so many reasons why this movie is a ‘must’ at Christmas, I couldn’t even start to name them without boring you all. Hopefully I’ll just be ‘preaching to the choir’ rather than just actually trying to convince anybody out there that Elf is something you must make apart of your yearly traditions and rituals. It really doesn’t seem like it’s been that long since it first came out, but in reality it was released in 2003.

That’s ten years ago guys. Long enough for anything to feel like a classic. Also long enough for me to feel like I’m getting old.

Anyway, back to Elf. Will Ferrell plays Buddy, a human elf from the North Pole that comes to NYC to try to find his long lost  birth father who is on Santa’s “Naughty List” (dundunDUN). Safe for all ages, it’s a really sweet, feel-good story meant to get you in the Christmas spirit (literally). It’s also friggin hilarious….one of the few truly hilarious movies that Ferrell has been in. (Oops, did I just say that?) 

Friends don’t let friends be a cotton-headed ninny-muggins. They tell them to watch Elf for Christmas. That’s what I’m doing for all of you: watch it. It’s for your own good.

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Danish Butter Cookies

Recipe Courtesy of Food.com

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

1. Beat the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla together until smooth and creamy.

2. Mix in the egg yolk until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl at least once.

3. Add the flour and mix just until incorporated.

4. Scrape onto a lightly floured board and knead a few times, just until the dough smoothes out.

5. Turn onto a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a log, wrap up and refrigerate for several hours or freeze.

6. Before baking, preheat the oven to 325°F.

7. Line your baking sheets with parchment.

8. Slice the dough into slices about 1/8″ thick and place them on the sheets about an inch apart (they won’t be spreading very much, but they need air room around each cookie).

9. Bake until JUST beginning to turn golden around the edges, about 10-12 minutes.

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Vanilla Biscotti

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12 Days of Christmas {Treats}

I thought I’d kick off this post with some random facts about Christmas that you may or may not have known before:

  1. The common abbreviation of Christmas to “Xmas” is derived from the Greek alphabet. “Chi,” the first letter of Christ’s name in the Greek alphabet, is written as “X.” (So I guess all the ‘War on Christmas’ propoganda is a bunch of bologna. Go figure).
  2. The earliest known Christmas tree decorations were apples. (We actually had fake apple ornaments on the Christmas tree from my childhood. I never quite understood why until now).
  3. The most expensively dressed Christmas tree was valued at $11,026,900 and was displayed by the Emirates Palace in the United Arab Emirates last year. (That tree better be trimmed in “decorations from Tiffany’s” as  the song goes, that’s for sure.)

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I’ll give you guys some more trivia throughout the series, but for now let’s get down to treats. For the second day of our Christmas treat series, I wanted to try something new that I’ve never tried before, both in the kitchen and in general. Biscotti were something that I’ve heard of but never really thought I would care for. They’re essentially twice baked cookies that are meant to be dunked into coffee to make them soft enough to bite into, as the traditional Italian style ones are quite hard. The thought of jaw-breaker cookies was never very appetizing to me, so I never bought any that I would see at Starbucks. Interestingly enough, when I was brainstorming ideas for the series, biscotti came to my mind. I tried to ignore it, but it just kept coming up.

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You guys know me by now. Once I get an ‘itch’ to cook a new recipe, I’m gonna follow through with it. There are a TON of biscotti recipes online, but eventually I settled on this one for two reasons: #1, it’s supposed to be an ‘American’ biscotti which means that it won’t chip a tooth when you take a bite out of it without coffee, and #2, it’s a vanilla biscotti- and I love ANYTHING that’s vanilla flavored.

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They looked pretty good on their own when they finished their second round in the oven, but I went ahead and threw together a basic powdered sugar icing that I flavored with milk and vanilla extract, then topped them with red and green sprinkles. I think it makes them look so much more festive and ‘Christmas-ey’, don’t you think?

(Click on the Picture for a link to the YouTube playlist. You know you want to.)

Today’s Christmas album recommendation is for A Special Christmas by SWV- or, the Sisters with Voices. Anyone who was or still is a fan of the old school R & B from the 90’s (like me) is going to be a huge SWV fan. Their songs just never seem to get old, and their Christmas album is no exception. They give a smooth rendition to the traditional Christmas carols that are very reminiscent of 90’s music. It’s been apart of my must-haves Christmas collection for years now. It definitely should be apart of yours too.

Favorite Tracks: “The Christmas Song”, “Give Love on Christmas Day”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, “Christmas Ain’t Christmas (Without the One You Love)”

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Vanilla Biscotti

Recipe Courtesy of King Arthur Flour

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) one large (about 18″ x 13″) baking sheet.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, beat the butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, almond extract (if you’re using it), and baking powder until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

3. Beat in the eggs; the batter may look slightly curdled. At low speed of your mixer, add the flour, stirring until smooth; the dough will be sticky.

4. Plop the dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Divide it in half, and shape it into two 9 1/2″ x 2″ logs, about 3/4″ tall. Straighten the logs, and smooth their tops and sides; a wet spatula or wet bowl scraper works well here. Sprinkle with coarse white sparkling sugar, if desired, pressing it in gently.

5. Bake the dough for 25 minutes. Remove it from the oven.

6. Using a spray bottle filled with room-temperature water, lightly but thoroughly spritz the logs, making sure to cover the sides as well as the top. Softening the crust just this little bit will make slicing the biscotti much easier. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

7. Wait 5 minutes, then use a sharp chef’s knife or serrated knife to cut the log crosswise into 1/2″ to 3/4″ slices. Or cut the biscotti on the diagonal, for fewer, longer biscotti. As you’re slicing, be sure to cut straight up and down, perpendicular to the pan; if you cut unevenly, biscotti may be thicker at the top than the bottom, and they’ll topple over during their second bake.

8. Set the biscotti on edge on the prepared baking sheet. Return the biscotti to the oven, and bake them for 25 to 30 minutes, until they feel very dry and are beginning to turn golden. They’ll still feel a tiny bit moist in the very center, if you break off a piece; but they’ll continue to dry out as they cool.

9. Remove the biscotti from the oven, and transfer them to a rack to cool. Store airtight at room temperature; they’ll stay good for weeks.

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