Archive for the ‘Great for Gifts’ Category

Fluffy Frosted Sugar Cookies
As someone who bakes rather a lot of cake, it might surprise you to know that I actually don’t bake many cookies. If you invite me to a dinner party, you’re more likely to answer the door to find me carrying a teetering stack of tender cake layers, smeared with berries and whipped cream, than a plate of half a dozen cookies. Well, I should clarify: I make a LOT of chocolate chip cookies, as it is Brad’s favorite and one recipe that I could likely make in my sleep. No, I haven’t posted that recipe here yet, but I promise I’ll remedy that situation soon.

In the meantime, though, I desperately want to talk about this cookie.

Frosted Fluffy Sugar Cookies
If you’ve ever enjoyed one of those Lofthouse cookies, or the grocery-store knock-offs, this recipe is for you. Not only are these cookies SHOCKINGLY easy to make, but they are soft and fluffy and flavorful and cute and everything you want them to be without the weird sugar-y aftertaste of their inspiration.

Simple cookie ingredients
We start with a pretty basic array of ingredients. Flour, baking powder, and salt combine to form the dry set, butter and sugar cream together to form the base, and egg, vanilla, and just a bit of almond extract wrap it all up.

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Perfect Autumn Caramels

Oh dear friends.

October is doing that thing again where it goes by too quickly. It’s my favorite month: the peak of autumn on most of this continent, and I may have mentioned once or seven-hundred times that autumn provides me the greatest joy of any season. A plentiful harvest of food to enjoy in the moment and store for the winter, repressed pigments unleashed in the forests in a glorious display of color, a chance to layer every article of orange, green, purple, and brown clothing I own in endless combinations for my daily attire (it is the only season I feel my wardrobe is remotely fashionable).

And of course, autumn recipes. This one in particular is the pinnacle of fall flavor unity: a basic caramel sweetened with maple syrup and punched up with a quart of apple cider boiled down to pure apple goodness. And now is really the best time to make them because it’s the one time of year you can buy fresh-pressed, unpasteurized apple cider.

Freshly picked apples

And while yes, the primary purpose of my annual expedition is a supply of local fruit to get me through the winter, the added perk is access to this incredible cider. Unpasteurized apple cider, contrary to its grocery store counterparts, is thick, opaque, and must be refrigerated. But it’s filled with the most incredible flavor: you can still taste which varieties were used to press the cider. Most apple orchards sell it, but you can also occasionally find it in specialty grocery stores or farmers markets. Get out there and get some!

I also had a bottle of maple syrup that I bought in Wisconsin. It seemed appropriate to add to this autumn candy, right?

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Marmalade for the holidays

I’ve always strongly associated oranges with summer. Their summery orange glow, bright flavors, and balmy geographic origins have all contributed to this perception. And yet I also remember that my dad always brought home the best grapefruits, even in thoroughly NOT balmy Colorado, in January and February. Occasionally, we’d receive boxes of citrus as Christmas gifts, and I even recall the local chapter of FFA selling them to neighbors as a fundraiser in the weeks preceding the holidays.

Citrus is cultivated year-round in many of the southern-most states of our continent, but it really shines in the winter. Not surprisingly, when I was driving back to North Carolina from a late-November trip to Florida with the fam, I simply couldn’t resist stopping at a roadside stand for a bag of this fruit so far outside my normal local fare.

Florida souvenirs

I probably could have just eaten or juiced each and every one of these golden orbs, but I’ve been curious for some time about marmalades. I don’t remember growing up with marmalade in the house, though my mom confirms that she loved it when she was a child. Our spreadables tended to be homemade from the berries and stone fruits my grandma and grandpa grew in their garden, so perhaps that accounts for the marmalade vacuum of my youth. I’ve heard from some that marmalade is an acquired taste, that it’s a bitter product not suited for those who prefer sweet jams. I wanted to give it a shot, but wasn’t sure how I would feel about a bitter final product. I ran across this recipe, a blend of oranges and cranberries, and thought that it might be just the transitional product between sweet and bitter I was looking for.

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New favorite cookies
I’ve got cookies on the brain today. And in the fridge, actually. Today my sister and I are baking the sparkly, classic sugar cookies we’ve been baking (and eating) every Christmas for most of our lives. Each year seems to have its own theme though. There was the year of 1000 fish when we found a tiny fish-shaped cookie cutter in our eclectic mix of shapes. And the year of multi-cultural gingerbread people. And one year when I believe we used the smallest cookie cutters we could find to create a gazillion bite-sized stars, trees, and bells.

I’ll always love my mom’s classic sugar cookie recipe. It tastes like tradition and family gatherings and anticipation for what Santa might put under the tree. But I must admit: these cookies, based on a recipe I’ve been eyeballing for a while, are definitely worth repeating. And while I only make classic sugar cookies at Christmas, these maple-rockin’ ones qualify for year-round baking.

Magic flavors

The stars of this little cookie show are maple syrup, nutmeg, and sea salt. I’m not certain I’ve ever tasted cookies so magical and complex in flavor before. I also added a bit of cinnamon to bring even more seasonal flavor to the mix, but the combination of sweet maple and the occasional punch of salt make each bite a pleasure.

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I’m not entirely sure where November went, but December (and with it, the holiday cooking season) seems to have arrived quite suddenly. Before Thanksgiving, I felt like I was finally on it for my holiday planning: I had lists, I had a rough cooking schedule (don’t judge me), I had some hard-to-find ingredients ordered. But now we’re here, hurtling through the first week of December, and I feel overwhelmed and scrambled and concerned that I won’t get everything done. As usual, I’ve probably scheduled waaaaaay too many recipes to try, I decided months ago that throwing a food-filled holiday party this weekend would be a good idea, and I have a fantastically busy schedule at work.

However, at least one of my gift-giving projects is already under way and is actually right on schedule. And just in case you think it’s a swell idea too, I’m gonna go ahead and ruin the surprise for those of you on my Santa list this year.

Everyone on my list is getting homemade mulling spices! And, because it’s fun and I like sharing, I’m hosting a little giveaway so that three of you readers can have some too!

Last year, my holiday crafty-gift-project was making these little hot chocolate sticks. They were a hit, and they make a mean mug of hot chocolate, but this year I wanted to come up with something a bit more versatile. After seeing tiny containers of mulling spices being sold at a market in Ohio, I knew I had found my next project.

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Ginger has never really been something I’ve thought about very much. Occasionally, my dad would add some ground ginger to stir fry, or I’d use some in fall desserts. But the farmers near Durham have been showcasing mounds of baby ginger at their tables for the last few weeks, and my curiosity about this knobby little root grew with each table I passed.

And with fortuitous timing, I came across this recipe for ginger apple chutney. Combined with apples & onions, also plentiful at local markets, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to buy a chunk of ginger. The recipe wasn’t written as one for canning, but I suspected the acid content would be high enough for canning and checked with a deft canning blogger to be sure.

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Apple cider. It is,without question, my favorite thing to drink. I’m rather fond of apple cider cold and unpasteurized, straight from an orchard, but I also believe that apple cider is truly at its best served warm, in a cozy little mug, for a soothing drink on cool nights in the fall and winter. From early October to New Years Eve, I need only the tiniest hint of a social gathering to bust out the crock pot and a half gallon of cider and am forlorn when parties I attend elsewhere don’t feature this essential holiday beverage.

The singular challenge I face with my affection for spiced hot cider? Unless I am hosting a party, I simply need one mugful. I’ve tried various packets of instant cider mix, but I usually find them far too sweet and not apple-y enough for my tastes. And the Caramel Apple Spice from Starbucks? Tasty, but not good for the wallet. And again with the too sweet.

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To kick off my favorite season here at 30 Pounds of Apples, I have something for you. I was trying to wait. I thought these would be good to share right when you are planning treats for Halloween parties. Maybe around Thanksgiving? Or do I dare wait until the holiday season?

But they’re too good. I simply couldn’t wait to share this secret with you, because it will change your world. At least, it will change your world if you have pecans on hand and a deep or even moderate love of those tasty nuts that cost $10 a cone at any given festival or county fair. I’m here to report that you may never buy those again. Why?

Because you can make them yourself! And they are dangerously, frighteningly easy.

I must confess, I had never considered making these little gems myself until I started pulling together recipes for this little wedding cake project I’m working on. I sort of expected them to be a challenge. After all, the first few recipes I ran across involved oil and frying and a precise level of humidity. Yikes. It seemed like a difficult process. But this particular recipe involves none of those pesky hurdles.

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We had a bit of a cold front move through North Carolina this weekend. Saturday dawned cool and cloudy. I pulled out a pair of jeans for the first time since, I don’t know, April? In combination with students returning for the first week of class, late summer suddenly felt just a teensy bit like autumn. Obviously busting out a fall baking project became an immediate weekend priority.

But what?? Every once in a while, I see a recipe for homemade cheddar crackers traipsing about the internet, and I promise myself, “THIS! This is next!” And then it never is. Until today! This particular cheddar cracker is a pretty basic one (as I imagine all cheddar crackers are) composed of a little butter, a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat flour, some salt & peppers, and a beautiful heap of sharp cheddar.

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This morning, we’re here to talk about breakfast.

Most of the other breakfast-y treats I’ve posted here are warm, savory treats: they tend to revolve around potatoes, eggs, or bacon. You might assume that I eat these hearty country breakfasts every day, when in truth, breakfast is usually more of a poached egg and apple sort of affair.

But maybe there’s a happy medium. Something hearty and tasty, but quick enough to pack before I run out the door in the morning. How about some homemade granola?


This granola is not boring. This granola is not bland. This granola is full of oats and almonds and coconut, all toasted together on an ugly old cookie sheet.

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