December brings with it a host of special events. From neighborhood open houses and office parties to New Year’s Eve its best to have a little something in hand for your host. The I’m recommending are all bottles I’d be happy to receive. Starting at well under $20, there is an appropriate selection for any occasion.
A fun little Italian wine, Olianas 2017 Cannonau Di Sardegna DOC comes in at $13ish and isn’t one you’ll find everywhere. I always enjoy a wine that’s a bit obscure because it implies that the giver has put a bit more effort into selecting it. This one isn’t going to be the 15-case display inside your wine shop. It will impress with rich, bold flavors like chocolate, fragrant tobacco and hints of myrtle berries (menthol). A big mouthful of silky red wine.
For a fancy affair, seek out 2015 Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. With 86% Cab juice and about 10% Merlot, this beauty smells like black currants & strong coffee. It’s got a solid tannic structure but the tannins themselves are subtle and feminine. In the mouth, you’ll get flavors of bramble fruit, ripe black cherries and cocoa with a gorgeous spicy finish that won’t quit. $55
My most recent wine crush (pardon the pun) is another California wine from St. Helena in Napa Valley. 2015 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc makes a statement. What it says is, “I’m a very structured and concentrated wine, with firm tannins.” Each sip grips you with dark berries, tarragon, chervil and scads of chocolate and leather. This lovely is a big mouthful that stands up nicely to heavier holiday fare. $65 Worth. Every. Penny.
#OlianasCannonau #FrankFamilyVineyards #EhlersEstate
I’ve been on a molasses kick lately. Which is great since cookie baking season is officially upon us. Ever hosted a cookie exchange? Here’s your guide to planning and hosting a fun get-together that streamlines your baking this holiday season. For those unfamiliar with this long-time holiday tradition, a cookie-exchange has each guest make several dozen of just one kind of cookie, then invitees can sample and swap equal amounts of cookies with other guests. #winwin
Be sure to offer a few weeks’ notice to guests since there is prep-work involved for them to attend. In your invitation, be sure to ask each person not only for an RSVP, but also have them let you know what they plan to bring so there aren’t duplicates: that’s no fun. The amount is up to you, but generally speaking, 5 dozen is a good number. Advise guests of the quantity they’ll need to bring and ask them to have printed copies of their recipe available.
Once the big day arrives, have platters and baskets set out for guests to display their cookies. Also provide “name cards” for each cookie being offered. List the name of the baker and the name of the cookie. It’s also a good idea to note any common allergens, like nuts on the name cards. Place copies of the recipe for each nearby the corresponding plate.
Plenty of plastic bags or aluminum foil are a must so that swapped cookies can be repacked for travel. When asked for cookie travel tips, my dear friend, Diana Anzorena, owner and cookie artist of Pretty Sweet Confections by Di says, “When I prepare my cookies…I wait until the icing it completely dry (about 24 hours). I wrap them individually in cellophane bags and twist tie them. Then I choose a box or tin where they will fit without a lot of room to move around”. This is great advice if you are giving cookies as a gift. Pretty Sweet Confections by Di is on Facebook under that name & her custom cookies are un-rivaled, gorgeous creations. Go to her page for inspiration!
Offer coffee, milk (obviously, right, since we’re talking about cookies?) and something festive like mulled cider or cocoa for your gathering. Definitely consider an additional small and SAVORY snack (think cheese or veggie plate) to cut through all that sugar.
Each guest goes home with the same number of cookies they came with but will have an assortment to gift or enjoy. Best of all, you’ve made time to spend a fun few hours together.
Here are my three favorite cookie recipes to jump-start your planning:
Grandmother’s Mexican Wedding Cakes
1 c softened butter
6 T sugar
1 t vanilla extract
2 c sifted all-purpose flour
1 ½-2 c finely chopped pecans OR walnuts
1 c confectioner’s sugar
-Heat oven to 325 degrees
-Cream butter VERY well then add sugar and cream again.
-Stir in vanilla extract, then flour and finally nuts.
-Roll into 1 ½ inch balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet (about 2 inches apart)
-Bake for 8-12 minutes until they are a delicate yellow color.
-While warm, roll in confectioner’s sugar and allow to cool before serving.
Grammy’s Sugar & Spice Cookies
¾ c shortening
1 c sugar
2 c flour
2 t baking soda
¼ t salt
1 t cinnamon
¾ t ground cloves
¾ t ground ginger
1 c confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
-Heat oven to 375
- Cream shortening and sugar, then add remaining ingredients except confectioner’s sugar.
-Mix together and form into 2” balls.
-Place the balls 3 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet
(or one fitted with a silicone baking mat).
-Bake 10 minutes for a softer cookie and 12 if you prefer crunchy.
-Place confectioner’s sugar in a shallow and when cookies are still warm,
roll each side so that they are” dusted.”
Mia’s Favorite Oatmeal Cookies
2 sticks of salted butter, softened
1 ¼ c firmly packed brown sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 ½ c all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t ground cinnamon
½ t salt
3 c quick cooking oats
-Heat oven to 350 degrees.
-In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar.
-Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.
-Combine remaining ingredients in a second bowl, mix, then add to wet ingredients.
-Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
-Bake 8-10 minutes.
-Cool for one minute before removing to wire rack, then cool completely.
Elizabeth Morse cooks professionally, is an Advanced Master Gardener and lover of all things local.