Monday, December 18, 2017

Santa, Horses, and Christmas Cooking

We spent the weekend recovering from the week with lots of togetherness, Christmas traditions old (seeing Santa) and new (Cora not crying when seeing Santa), Christmas movies (The Santa Clause, Home Alone 1, AND Home Alone 2, because sometimes the best family time is when you're all looking in the same direction and no one is talking), and baking and cooking ALL of the Christmas things.

Our Christmas food traditions have expanded over the years, so I thought I'd jot them down now, with recipes at the bottom, to preserve them in 2017 form. I don't think I can handle adding many more, but they're all so delicious I don't begrudge a one. (I also played Christmas music every minute a Christmas movie wasn't actively playing on the new living room TV. James hates Christmas music, he hates it, but he loves me, so he endures. This was his face at dinner Sunday night when I realized the music was off because it had reached the end of my 127 song playlist and I jumped up to restart it, and then captured this shot as I sat back down... He looks like he's trapped in a nightmare. He loves me so much.)

So the food traditions all started with the sugar cookies. They're amazing, they're my great-grandmother's recipe, and they are a sacred holiday task.

I remember decorating them every Christmas of my childhood (and young adulthood... my mom would wait to bake them until I came home from UT just so I could partake) and as soon as Landon was old enough to hold a plastic icing knife, I started making them for him (2009, apparently; I was pregnant with Claire!). They're a pain in the ass and they're DELICIOUS and totally worth it. Two bags full are already in the freezer to travel to Colorado this year.

About 7 years ago I started making homemade cinnamon rolls. It started as a whim, I think on New Year's Day, and has now turned in to a pre-Christmas requirement so we can eat them on Christmas Day with our brunch. Another pain in the ass, but oh so delicious. I usually make several trays and freeze them. Last year we had the last day with our Easter brunch and it was perfection. The kids now view them as a mandatory part of Christmas morning and two trays are coming with us to Colorado along with the cookies.

I still haven't found my perfect recipe yet, but it's because I like all the ones I date and can't decide on the one I should marry.

A few years ago I added the Santa Hat Chex Party Mix. A bigger pain in the ass than the cinnamon rolls (but probably less than the cookies), but also so delicious. This year I cheated and just made the chex mix and nobody yelled at me, so unless I have a bunch of extra free time or feel a need to punish myself, I'll probably stick with the simple pretzels + chex + m&m's + almond bark mix because it's super easy and quick (less than 10 minutes) and the Santa Hats are SO much work and I don't actually like eating them. James loves dark chocolate, so I often melt some and drizzle it over the finished product. So good, and pairs well with red wine and opening your presents late at night on Christmas Eve.

Cheater version

Then this year I made a new seasoned savory Chex Mix over thanksgiving. This quickly became my new obsession. I've fiddled with the recipe and now have my perfect ratio of spices and components of the mix (my recipe below). I've made at least 8 roasting pans full since the end of November and it's only mid-December. Be warned, while your first bite may not blow your mind, you will slowly but surely become addicted and reopen the gallon bag you keep the mix in every time you walk into the kitchen, no matter what time of day, until the bag is gone and you stare in shock and genuine horror. I can't explain it. You just keep eating it. (And yes, two gallon ziplocs-full are taking the trek up the mountains with us on Saturday, along with their sweeter cousins from above; if you're going to stay up late opening presents, you need to be properly fueled with sweet and salty snacks.)

Photographed with a giant pot of turkey chili that will also journey to Colorado.

In between all the baking, we headed to the historic Fort Worth Stockyards to see Cowboy Santa. Last year, Cora was SO excited to go and then filled with reluctance and dread upon the actual face-to-face event. Luckily there was a pony ride that blew her mind and made her spirits bright once again. (Re-posting the pony picture below because it's one of my best ever; it's peak-Cora-before-Disney levels of excitement.)

But this year, THIS year, she was ready. She is WAY into Santa and Christmas and her "Christmas house" and I was pretty sure our looks of betrayal were over. And so they were. She told Santa ALL about Disney World, her princesses, her desire for a new Jasmine dress and Tiana shows and an Ariel doll... they were besties right away.

The kids got stuffed horses as a parting gift- I guess Santa is sponsored by Wells Fargo? We absolutely did not need three new stuffed animals in our life, but they LOVE them SO MUCH and will love them FOREVER AND EVER. I guarantee you not one of them has any idea where their beloved horse is sleeping this very second. I can see one under the living room couch from here.

But yes, magical and special. I did enjoy the accidental jewel tone coordination of their outfits. You should know Landon is only in this long-sleeved shirt because all of his short sleeve ones were dirty. It was 45 degrees out and very windy. He told me the sleeves "felt weird" and he "didn't need them" about 75 times.

It really was a fun afternoon. We ate BBQ in the Stockyards, something we last did a year ago, in the same place for the same reason (neither of us like BBQ enough given where we live, but every now and then I remember that it can be delicious). There was a balloon animal guy floating around the restaurant and, because we were feeling the magical specialness of the outing, we got each kid an unnecessary balloon object to go with the horses they didn't need.

The balloons did not last the car ride home, but they brought much joy in their 45 minutes of life.

$3/kid well spent I suppose.

There are little mechanical rides everywhere. Neither James nor I had change or any interest in acquiring any, but that did not stop the kids from "riding" every single one.

(This horse is not moving. Cora loves it anyway)

It was a fun afternoon. We got home and I made more chex mix with the fireplace roaring and Home Alone playing on the TV. I love all of these things.

(My other love: this view of my living room just before midnight Sunday night as I was walking to bed. All the other lights off, the tree and mantle the last to go... it just makes me feel so warm and cozy inside, seeing the twinkling lights and knowing the kids are all cozy in their beds... Cora has dubbed our house "my Christmas house" since I put up the decorations and that's exactly how I think of it now... My Christmas house. It makes my heart happy- the fireplace, the lights, the coziness, the excessive movie watching, and the chex mix. It's our Christmas.)

And now the recipes. And a few pics of the aftermath of my kitchen on Sunday when I did the cinnamon rolls, savory chex, and turkey chili all at once. It was a mess. The Christmas music got me through it and it is now all back to normal. But I didn't want you to have any unrealistic expectations of what these recipes will do to your kitchens.

They're worth it though.

Sugar Cookies

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter (you can do all butter, but half and half is the original)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, well-beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

(I usually triple the above and that yields about 8-9 dozen good sized cut-out cookies, and also nearly breaks my KitchenAid)

1. Cream shortening, butter.
2. Add sugar, eggs, extracts.
3. Add dry ingredients.
4. Chill dough (at least 6 hours or overnight).
5. Roll out dough (with lots of extra flour for the board and the rolling pin) and cut out shapes.
6. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes until set, but not brown.

Sweet & Salty Chex Mix

~ 10 cups total of Rice chex, Corn chex, Pretzels (also nuts if you're a nut person; I am not)
Almond bark or white candy melts
Dark chocolate m&m's (or regular m&m's if you like that sort of thing)

Pour all the cereal and pretzels into a really big bowl
Follow the directions to melt the almond bark, stirring frequently until it is smooth and very liquid
Pour the almond bark over the cereal and gently toss to coat with a spatula (not a spoon; pieces get stuck inside the curve and nothing tosses)
When coated, pour out onto wax paper and spread with spatula so everything is in a thin layer
Sprinkle generously with m&m's
Let cool (or put in fridge; it sets better)
Break into pieces.
Eat so much so fast you won't believe how much is gone when you come up for air.

Rebecca's Savory Chex Mix

2-3 cups each rice chex, corn chex, wheat chex
2 cups bugles
2 cups cheez-it’s
2 cups pretzels
1-2 cups mixed nuts (or not; I prefer not and just go with a heavy 2 cups of everything else)

1-1.5 sticks butter (do 1.5, you will not regret it)
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce (or less; we just like it)
1 tsp seasoned salt (more if using unsalted butter)
1 Tbl onion powder
1 Tbl garlic powder

1. Set oven to 250 degrees. Melt butter in roasting pan in oven.
2. Once melted, add seasonings to butter and stir.
3. Add cereals and snacks to pan, toss to coat EVERYTHING.
4. Bake one hour at 250, stirring to re-coat every 15 minutes.
5. Devour. Feel ashamed. Do it again.

Cinnamon Rolls
I still don't have a favorite "go to" recipe and I need one. So far I've tried the following:

Epicurious: Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze (traditional; 2 rises; delicious)

Sally's Baking Addiction: Easy Cinnamon Rolls (fluffy; small batch; 1 rise)

Pioneer Woman: Cinnamon Rolls. (Never fails; detailed directions; makes a million) (My notes: I don't melt the butter for the filling and do a different glaze.)

Ambitious Kitchen: Best Cinnamon Rolls

Storebought Faves
Because we don't have to make everything from scratch

- Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe's. There is nothing better.
- Trader Joe's Mix popcorn. Chicagoans know that caramel popcorn goes PERFECTLY with cheddar popcorn, but I never found an acceptable (not equal, but acceptable) substitute for Garret's until TJ's started making this mix. It's amazing. Trust this.
- Other popcorn. Any popcorn. We eat it while we open presents on Christmas Eve. It's a sacred Swedish tradition. (It is not, but it IS better than Lutefisk)
- Tamales, to go with Christmas morning brunch. Homemade from a local Mexican restaurant are best; store bought from Central Market, HEB, Trader Joe's, or somewhere I haven't tried is acceptable. Steam them and serve with whatever else you're having for breakfast. They're delish.

Let me know your favorite Christmas foods (homemade or not!) in the comments. As I'm learning, there's always room for more. Maybe just not on the counter all at once...


  1. Sounds like a delicious Christmas is in store! My family has had Dutch Baby pancakes (aka German pancakes) on Christmas morning for about 20 years now. They’re actually pretty easy, and delicious with lemon and powdered sugar! If you’re interested, I can send the recipe.

    1. I would love it! That could be a New Year's Day treat for us! I don't like pies or cooked fruits, but I looooove the lemon juice or curd + powdered sugar + carbs. It's one of my very favorite combinations and I don't get it enough.

  2. Deckled Edges12/19/17, 7:32 AM

    I'm very tempted to add your cinnamon roll tradition to our Christmas morning routine, but there is NO WAY I'll ever get these made on Christmas Eve. What is your freezing/thawing method? Do you fully bake, cool and then freeze unfrosted? Or do you freeze before baking? How do you reheat them?

    1. Hi there! I follow all the steps of the recipe up to the end (baking and icing), let them cool, cover in wax paper (if you think the icing will stick to the top; depends how tall your rolls turned out to be!) and then cling wrap or foil and put in the freezer. To thaw I will either stick them in the fridge the day before I want to eat them (usually because we've traveled somewhere for Christmas and that's where they go after leaving the travel cooler) or put them on the counter (direct from the freezer) an hour or so before I want to heat them up. I bake them at 300 or 350, usually with the foil on, until they're warm - it doesn't take too long and I haven't found they get tough or crispy with their mini second bake. I've also done this straight from the freezer, but at the lower 300 degree temp. Once they're baked, I've found cinnamon rolls to be pretty hardy!

    2. Deckled Edges12/19/17, 8:28 PM

      Thanks! I can't wait to try!

  3. I'm waiting for my husband to revolt against the constant Christmas music. He didn't celebrate Christmas the first 19 years of his life before we started dating so I think the "newness" of it seven years later still hasn't warn off for him yet. I'm sure it's only a matter of time so I'm 100% taking advantage of it while I can.

    1. You should! James met me already hating Christmas music (his mother is a Christmas nut... like Christmas music all year sort of nut, so I get the hate, but I restrict it to be post-Thanksgiving through Christmas Day and he has to deal), but it's always nice to see evidence of how much your spouse loves you!

  4. IDK anyone else who does chili at Christmas so I am excited! #teamchili (Also my elementary school always served cinnamon rolls on chili day...) I sympathize with both you AND James on the Xmas music. Somehow my fave playlist is a little worn this year. How did this HAPPEN?! So, here's my tip for when the 127 perfect list could use a break, but it is yet absolutely not time for Xmas music to cease ringing through your halls! WQXR, our local classical music station (NYC), has a free mobile app which lets you hear not only what they are currently broadcasting locally but also a few other channels including a "Holiday" channel that has been entirely Christmas so far. It's a good mix of upbeat and midtempo stuff with only about 30-35% lyric/vocal content. Also, they are public radio so the only commercials are their own...or like "hey come to our concert of cellos next Tuesday". Actually, I'm not even sure the "Holiday" channel has commercials. Check it out if you need a gear-change! Merry Christmas, and thanks for the recipes!

    1. We actually don't usually do chili at Christmas (though my good friend does!), this is a casualty of tradition due to being in Colorado and going sledding and tubing all day on Christmas Eve. Normally we do a fancy dinner - steak, potatoes, veggies, rolls, etc. - before church, where we're all dressed up, using china, lighting candles, etc. I adore it and it's hard for it to feel like Christmas without one of my mom's beautiful table settings and candles and music for dinner. The casual eating comes after, when we open presents, and it's just as important, but I'm okay with chili this year given the conditions :).

      And thanks for more music suggestions! I have a Pandora mix I really like too (they have GREAT holiday stations), but recently got stuck in a nostalgic mix of the Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole holiday albums and they are so great. My mom had the records when we were young and I remember every single word. James will come to love them. Someday...

    2. the Minnesota Public Radio holiday stream is WONDERFUL. It's mostly choral and classical, so very good if you need a break from pop/secular.

  5. Oh, yeah, our fave holiday foods: Williams Sonoma's Peppermint Bark (I peek in the tins to find one with lots of candy pieces on top. Sometimes they can be sparse.), Popcorn Tins-childhood/nostalgia fave. They must contain "butter", "cheese(yellow)", and "caramel" flavors. It's best if large cardboard dividers section the tub into a 3-section pie graph (as seen from above), but lately they are just in there in their individual bags. It triggers that childhood love for boxes over contents--but in cylindrical metal! It's a seat! It's a drum! I like Champagne and cheeseboard (white cheddar, chevrè, maybe port salut) with plain Carr's water crackers. TJ's Parmesan baguette toasts are good here, too. For Xmas morning I keep flirting with breakfast casseroles, but just can't settle.

    1. I LOVE the popcorn tins! I also enjoy an organized snack food, even though I only ever ate the cheddar and caramel (and even then, the cheddar disappeared fastest). We also do champagne and a cheeseboard (and meats!) for Christmas Eve snacking while opening presents. (We do a fancy dinner in the early evening before church and then basically eat again at 9 p.m. when we're in our jammies and ready to open gifts!). I have not tried the TJ's parmesan baguette toasts, so we'll have to make that happen. And I have flirted with MANY a breakfast casserole and just can't settle. I think because you can't go wrong with egg + cheese + basically anything else ever and they're all delicious!

  6. My current favorite Cinnamon roll is Minimalist Baker’s Banana Cinnamon Rolls. My kids hated then because there are slices of banana in filling, but my husband and I loved them!

  7. I made cinnamon rolls using the Pioneer Woman's recipe and didn't fully realize the amount of rolls they would make. I went with a powdered sugar glaze I found on the internet. Where did you get your pans for them? I cannot find them at grocery stores.

    1. I'm 99% sure I got them at Target. If not there, then our Kroger must have them. I've definitely seen them in our stores! (And yes that recipe makes a TON, which is a nice output for the amount of work involved, but you have to be prepared!)

  8. My mother in law adds captain crunch to her savory chex mix. The little bite of sweet is a delicious addition.

    1. That's happening in my next batch! I LOVE salty, savory, and little bit sweet.

  9. I have a Cajun style Chex Mix recipenif you’re interested.

    Anon - jlv

    1. Yes, I would! Is it spicy? Or just spiced and flavorful? Either way, I want it!

  10. Thank you for the chex mix recipe!! There are no cheez-its in my family's recipe and cheez-its are go-o-o-o-od.

    My family food-related Christmas tradition is that every year Santa Claus gets 7 Layer Cookies and a coke. Per my dad, Santa is sick of milk and traditional cookies by the time he gets all the way down to SC. He also runs out of wrapping paper by the time he gets to SC, or at least that's what my dad said when I asked why Santa's gifts were wrapped in movies but mine weren't.

    Santa gets the first two Seven Layer Cookies, and on Christmas morning, you get to eat cookies while you open gifts. Everyone loves my mom's version and I think it's because instead of using 1 cup of each topping, she uses a whole bag. They're really rich, so a 9x13 pan lasts a long time.

    1 stick butter, melted
    1-2 cup graham crumbs – start with one and add more if needed
    12 oz (now 11oz) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
    2 cups pecans chopped (same amount as chips)
    12 oz bag butterscotch chips
    1 bag flaked coconut
    2 cans sweetened condensed milk

    Layer in the order listed with coconut on top and sweetened condensed milk poured evenly over the top. Bake at 350 until everything is melted and edges are bubbly.

    1. Cheez-its are the GREATEST. And they soak up the butter seasoning mix *beautifully.* I also LOVE your 7-layer-bars and coke tradition, that is so cute and so fun (the hallmark of all great traditions). I also love Seven Layer Bars and always forget about them, but they deserve a place in my dessert pantheon. Thanks for the recipe! I haven't found my perfect one yet.

      (And Santa doesn't wrap our gifts either! I thought it was because they're either a big gift Santa wanted you to see when you came downstairs or they're inside your stocking and sort of wrapped that way. When I got older I realized Santa doesn't wrap because my mom HATES wrapping and was absolutely not doing more. Now I carry on the tradition. I don't even hate wrapping, it just seems like something Santa doesn't do.)

  11. Although I appreciate the hack to circumvent the incredibly time-consuming, delicate Santa Hat piece of the Chex Mix, your posts about making those hats were always hilarious! Merry Christmas! Your longtime reader, Leigh

    1. Ha, I always love hearing when a post has stood out to someone. Sometimes I crack myself up when I'm writing and I wonder if anyone else laughs when reading (or if I'm just delirious because I made too many Santa hats). Merry Christmas to you too! (And I'm sure the hats will come back some year I think I have too much free time.)

  12. Hi -- first time commenting here. (Mom of 1 (14 yo), Biglaw tax (don't get me started) partner and barre lover for context). I love the meal planning posts -- if you have ever considered adding a section of the blog for these posts, I would vote in favor. thanks for blogging!

    1. Hi there! I have a "recipes" tag that you can click on on the far right that will take you to any post I've included a recipe or meal planning list, so that should help! I actually use it myself all the time to go find stuff I've made in the past when I'm meal planning on Saturday morning!

  13. The best cinnamon rolls ever are from Alton Brown's recipe:

    (So good they forced me to de-lurk and actually comment for the first time!)

    1. Ooooh I haven't tried those! They're next, and yay for delurking! Happy Holidays to you!

    2. YES! This is my go-to cinnamon roll recipe as well! It just isn't Christmas morning without them. Last Christmas we had a 5 day old baby - my other Christmas recipes just didn't happen but the cinnamon rolls did :)

  14. On sugar cookies, how do you help the cut out cookies keep their shape when they bake? Mine look like funny puddles this year. Must have done something wrong!

    1. Try putting them in the fridge for a bit (15-20 minutes?) after cutting them out. That works for me to avoid the spread puddles!

    2. I've never had this happen, but I do work with pretty cold dough (if I have to take a break in my rolling and cutting, I put the dough bowl back in the fridge) and I use a half-shortening, half-butter blend (I've found all butter spreads much more). Are you using my recipe or another that's meant for cut cookies? I think they also have a bit more flour than your average drop sugar cookie. I've never done a second refrigeration after they're cut, but I bet that would work too!

    3. I used a different recipe that was all butter. Tried lots of extra refrigeration to no avail. Next year I'm trying your recipe :)

  15. I just used your sugar cookie recipe to make birthday cookies for my preschool age daughter. I used the Smitten Kitchen cookie tips from here: and it actually made them pretty easy! Two of my favorite bloggers in one cookie project!

    1. Yay!! I love Smitten Kitchen and am deeply honored to be included in ANY kind of thought combination/single sentence with her! (Her applesauce spice cake is one of my favorite fall desserts ever; so good and way easier than cut out cookies!)

  16. For Rebecca's savory check mix, what is the seasoned salt? Like a Lowreys?

    1. Yep! I'm sure there are other brands, but Lawry's is what I have!

  17. Hi! Our #3 shares the exact same birthday as Cora, and he has also warmed up to the idea of Santa this year. Like he actually spoke to him and took a page from a catalog to show him the exact Transformer he wants. He wouldn't go so far as to sit on his lap, but that's okay. And he's still trying to process how Santa gets down the chimney and the flying reindeer, and is counting down until Christmas. It's amazing the difference a year makes.

  18. We eat honey mustard chicken on Christmas Eve (or any day of the year). Super quick and easy to make and clean up before church.

    Cut chicken into bite sized pieces
    Roll chicken in Kens Honey Mustard (only Kens and never low fat. Trust me. Everything else runs off)
    Roll chicken in crushed French’s Fried Onions
    Bake at 375 for 15 min.

  19. That might be the greatest picture of your husband in the history of pictures. Fantastic. It really should be the back picture of next year's Christmas card. hahaha

  20. Hello, I have only commented once before, but, I love your blog. Thank you for writing. I have to say that I have made both the Pioneer Woman rolls and the Alton Brown rolls and neither one is quite as amazing as this recipe: These are truly cinnamon roll nirvana if you like an incredibly doughy, soft roll that makes you hate yourself in the best way possible afterward. I can't recommend enough! Have a wonderful Christmas.

    1. I made these Girl Who Ate Everything Cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning and OMG I will NEVER make another cinnamon roll recipe. Thank you for sharing!