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Mon, April 22

Easy-to-make treats to give as gifts... or keep for yourself

Courtesy photo<br>Oatmeal cranberry white chocolate chip cookies.

Courtesy photo<br>Oatmeal cranberry white chocolate chip cookies.

This time of the year, sometimes it seems like there just aren't enough hours in the day with all the seasonal demands. Since food and sweet treats are nice to make and give as gifts, here are a few that make a great impression in a minimum amount of time with ingredients you already have or which are easily obtainable.

Buttermint twists

This recipe is doable even for novice candy makers and makes 11 dozen candies.

1/2 cup butter, softened

5 1/4 cup powdered sugar

3 tbsp. whipping cream or half and half

1 tsp. peppermint extract

2-3 drops red food coloring

1-2 drops green food coloring

Beat butter in large mixer bowl at low speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy (1-2 minutes). Add powdered sugar, whipping cream and peppermint extract. Continue beating until mixture forms a soft dough (2-5 minutes). Remove half of dough; set aside.

Add red food coloring to remaining dough in bowl. Continue beating until mixture is pink (1-2 minutes). Remove pink dough from bowl; clean beaters. Return white dough to bowl. Add green food color; beat until dough is light green (1-2 minutes).

Roll green dough mixture into rope, set aside. Roll pink dough mixture into rope. Gently twist green and pink ropes together. Continue rolling and twisting until you form a 10-inch rope. Add more powdered sugar when rolling, if necessary. Cut diagonally into 1-inch

pieces. Place on waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until surface is dry (6-8 hours). Layer mints between sheets of waxed paper in airtight container. Refrigerate up to 1 month or freeze up to 2 months (or pack in pretty containers and give away)!

Easy gingerbread bars

Makes 48 bars

If you don't have time to decorate gingerbread cookies, but still love the taste of those cute little dancing guys, here is an easy way to make a batch of season favorites. From Land 0 Lakes.

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 cup soft baking butter with canola oil (A Land 0 Lakes product) Substitutes should work as well.

1 egg

3 tbsp. molasses

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. each ground

cinnamon and ginger

3 tbsp. decorator sugar or granulated sugar

Heat oven to 350. Combine first four ingredients in large mixer bowl. Beat at medium speed until creamy. Add next four ingredients; reduce speed to low. Beat until well mixed. Press dough into ungreased 15 x 10 x 1 inch jelly-roll pan. Sprinkle with decorator sugar. Bake for 16-20 minutes or until lightly browned around edges. Cool completely. Cut into bars or desired shapes with cookie cutter.

Marbled chocolate gems

Makes 4 dozen

This is similar to "peanut blossoms," but also has a hint of peanut butter so is a nice mix of two favorites. You can mix ahead then refrigerate and bake later.

1/4 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1 3/4 cup all -purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

2 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened baking chocolate, melted then slightly cooled

Topping:

1/2 cup sugar

48 milk chocolate candy stars or kisses

Combine butter, 1/2 cup sugar in large mixer bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed (1-2 minutes). Add egg and vanilla; continue beating until well blended. Reduce speed to low; add flour, baking soda and salt. Beat until well mixed (1-2 minutes).

Remove half dough; set aside. Add peanut butter to remaining dough in mixer bowl. Beat at low speed until well mixed (1-2 minutes). Remove dough from mixer bowl; wrap in plastic food wrap. Place reserved half of dough into mixer bowl; add melted chocolate. Beat at low speed until well mixed (about 1 minute). Wrap chocolate dough in plastic food wrap. Refrigerate both balls of dough until firm. (2 hours).

Heat oven to 375. Press about 1/2 tsp. of each peanut butter and chocolate dough together to create marbled effect; roll into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in 1/2 cup sugar. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until set and cookies just start to crack. Remove from oven. Immediately press 1 chocolate star or kiss in center of each cookie. Cool 1 minute. Remove from cookie sheet and cool completely on wire racks.

Oatmeal cranberry white chocolate chip cookies

Most everyone loves oatmeal cookies. These add seasonal cranberries and you get to choose on white or regular chocolate chips depending on what is in the pantry. Either are sure to please.

2/3 cup butter, softened

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 cup rolled oats

(I like old fashioned)

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/4 cup dried cranberries

2/3 cup white or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using an electric mixer, beat butter or margarine and sugar together in a medium mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs mixing well. Combine oats; flour, salt and baking soda in a separate mixing bowl. Add to butter mixture in several additions, mixing well after each addition.

Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

Cranberry or carrot bread

Most people welcome nut breads and there are about as many recipes as there are stars in the sky. I chose this one for you because of its versatility. Also, don't forget you can bake them as stated here in a loaf pan or use the small size for mini-loaves. Another variation that can be dressed up for gifts is baking them upright in clean, well-greased cans from vegetables, etc. Just be sure to test and check more often in reduced sizes for doneness, but not overdone. Have fun! Remember with nut breads, minimal stirring, just moistening ingredients to eliminate tunnels.

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. baking powder

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

1/3 cup melted margarine or butter

1 cup chopped raw

cranberries or 1 cup

grated raw carrots*

1/2 cup raisins (opt.)

1/2 cup chopped nuts (opt.) your choice

2 tsp. grated orange rind

*If you have zucchini left from summer in your freezer, you could also use it.

Stir together flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Set aside. Beat eggs in large bowl. Add milk, melted butter and fruit (or your variation) to eggs. Add flour mixture to egg mixture. Stir just enough to mix, about 25 strokes. Do not over mix. Pour into well greased pan or pans of choice. For large loaf pan bake at 350 for about 50-60 minutes. Adjust times and check for smaller pans.

Enjoy all the beauty of the season and next column will help with last-minute and sides ideas.

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