Open house

Although we don't seem to find the time or energy to open our home to friends and neighbors every Christmas, I'm always so glad when we do.  This December we managed to host Byron's brass group to play carols, and we invited a few folks to enjoy the music (and holiday light displays in the neighborhood) for the evening.  With more than 60 people who came for a visit that night, the house was a bit of a crazy zone.  But it was filled with good conversation, laughter, children's voices, cookie crumbs, and empty glasses.  Hopefully, everyone left with a bit more holiday cheer than they arrived with.  We had a blast.  And after everyone was gone, Byron, Wyatt and I went to Taco Time for burritos.  Perhaps a tradition was born!

I pulled together a table of holiday cookies and candies, a couple seasonal specialties from Larsen's bakery, mulled wine, and hot cider.  The mulled wine was a recipe I cobbled together from several recipes I ran across, and it turned out quite tasty:

Scandinavian Mulled Wine

1 bottle red wine
1 bottle port
1 cup brandy
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
10 cardamom pods
5 whole cloves
Peel of 2 medium oranges
1/2 cup of yellow raisins
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, quartered

Combine the wine, port and all the spices, fruit and ginger in a large pot.  In a separate sauce pan bring the sugar and brandy to a simmer, stirring often.  Simmer gently until sugar completely disolves and the mixture becomes slightly reduced and syrupy.  Add it to the wine mixture. Warm gently over low heat in a covered pot for about an hour.  Turn off the heat and steep for a couple hours after that.  Strain out all fruit and spices.  Serve warm.

Another addition to the treat table was a collection of gluten-free items.  Probably my favorite was a peppermint pretzel stick that I made the day before.  

Quite Addictive Gluten-free Peppermint Pretzel Sticks

Gluten-free pretzel sticks (I like Glutino brand)
Vanilla flavored candy coating (look in the baking section of your grocery store)
Broken peppermint candy pieces

Melt some of the vanilla candy coating in a double boiler.  When it's melted and smooth, dip one end of the pretzel stick into the coating, then roll it in the crushed peppermint.  Set it to harden on a parchment-covered sheet.  Store in an airtight container when hardened. 

Probably the most fun part of the preparation I did for our holiday open house was making a batch of snowflake sugar cookies the night before.  I decorated them with royal icing, crystal sugar, and silver dragĂ©es -- all after my two year old was fast asleep, of course. The sugar cookie recipe is the same one I used at Halloween, but here I tweaked it a bit, finding the right amount of flour and flavoring. They turned out quite pretty I think.

Cut-out Sugar Cookies
adapted from Basic Sugar Cookies from The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened but not room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 large egg
3 tsp. almond extract (sometimes I use 2 almond and 1 vanilla)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt

Cream butter and sugar together until well combined and light.  In a separate bowl, combine the egg and flavoring. Add to butter and sugar and mix until well incorporated.  Sift together flour, powder and salt.  Add a bit at a time to the butter mixture with the mixer on slow speed. Beat the dough for a few more seconds, until the mixture mostly sticks to the paddle.

Remove the dough and let it sit in a blob on the counter for about five minutes. On a well floured surface, roll it out to the desired thickness and cut your shapes.  Bake cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 400 degrees for about 8 minutes.  Cool completely before decorating.  If you want to use colored sugar sprinkles, add the sprinkles to the top of the cookies before you bake them.

Makes a couple dozen or so.


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