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Kara’s Sights & Bites: Shop local; bake and create in your kitchen

By Kara Kimbrough

    It’s time for my annual “Please stop sending all your hard-earned money to large out-of-state conglomerates with no interest in Mississippi” plea. On a more postive note, I’m also asking you to at least consider baking some of your Christmas gifts.
    But first, the shopping dilemna. I don’t consider shopping at large supermarket and specialty chains located throughout our state a bad thing.  They employ local residents, pay local and state taxes, support local causes and keep the economy strong. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: If we stop shopping with our local stores, we’ll be reduced to a nation of 18-wheelers (try traveling on crowded highways now for a preview) and empty cardboard box landfills.

 

Last, for no other reason, shopping locally can be fun, invigorating (it’s free therapy!) and you actually get to see and touch firsthand the items you’re buying.

 

With that out of the way, I’d also like to encourage everyone with a working oven to at least consider making homemade Christmas treats for friends, family, teachers, co-workers and bosses and others who deserve a pat on the back during the spirit of giving. Nothing says you care more than a bag filled with Christmas tins containing a few sweet treats you made yourself.

 

This Christmas, I’m feeling nostalgic for a bygone era, so I began searching for tried-and-true Christmas treats that have withstood the test of time. Here are four of my favorites; I’ll share more as we get closer to Christmas.

 

Last, don’t forget…do your part to keep your community viable and healthy…shop local!

 

Rocky Road Fudge

12 ounces chocolate chips

1 cup butter

4 cups sugar

1-1/2 cups evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed milk)

1 teaspoon vanilla

20 large marshmallows, left whole
2   cups chopped nuts

10-15 large marshmallows cut into pieces (then freeze them)

In large bowl, cut the chocolate chips into the butter. Set aside. Next, combine the sugar, milk and the 20 marshmallows to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour this mixture over the chocolate chips and butter mixture. Stir until thick. Add the nuts and the vanilla and the frozen marshmallows. Pour into buttered 9-inch by 13-inch pan. Chill until firm. Cut into squares.

 

Candied Pecans

½ cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg white
1teaspoon vanilla extract
1  pound pecan halves (about 4 cups)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugars, cinnamon and salt. In a large bowl, whisk the egg white and vanilla extract until very foamy, about 1 minute. Add the pecans and stir until well coated. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the pecans and toss until fully coated. Spread pecans into an even layer on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes. Stir and spread out evenly again. Bake for another 20 minutes or until the nuts are very fragrant and are starting to darken in color. Let the pecans fully cool in the pan on a wire rack (the sugar will harden as it cools). Break into individual pieces. Store in an airtight container in the pantry for up to 2 weeks.

Dating back decades, M & M Christmas Sugar Cookies are still a popular holiday treat.

Dating back decades, M & M Christmas Sugar Cookies are still a popular holiday treat.

Old-Fashioned M & M Sugar Cookies

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened just to room temp

⅔ cups sugar

1 3.4 oz package instant vanilla pudding (dry powder)

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract  

1 cup white chocolate chips

Shaker of red and green Christmas sprinkles or sugar

Cup of red and green M&M’s, divided

In a large bowl, add flour, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together well and set aside. In bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the softened butter and sugar on medium high, until light and fluffy. Add pudding mix and beat until incorporated. Add eggs and vanilla extract, blending well.

     Slowly add in the flour mixture. Using rubber spatula, fold dry and wet ingredients together just until fully incorporated. Add the white chips and 1/2 cup M&Ms and mix into the dough. (If it gets too hard to mix, use clean hands) Gently work in 3 TB sprinkles, taking care not to manipulate the dough too much, which may result in the bleeding of sprinkle colors. Dough will be a bit sticky. Cover tightly and chill in fridge for at least 1 hour or overnight.

     Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Form 1 inch balls of dough and lightly press down on dough balls to form 1/2 inch rounds. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheet.

    Sprinkle on more of the colored sprinkles on top (or lightly roll cookie tops in a bowl of sprinkles.) Press on the remaining 1/2 cup of M&M’s on top of each dough round. Bake about 8 minutes or just until edges look golden brown. Cookies may seem slightly underdone, but they will firm up upon cooling. Don’t over bake.

     Cool on baking sheet about 10 minutes, and remove to wire rack to finish cooling.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer and travel agent from Mississippi. Email her at kkprco@yahoo.com.

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