A gingerbread house is a perfect activity for young children

A gingerbread house is a perfect activity for young children

Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Building Christmas memories

Gingerbread houses, cookie decorating are activities that are fun for the whole family and help create memories for a lifetime

There are so many things we can do with our children in preparation for the Christmas season that could forever bring fond memories back to them.

When my children were small, we would gather with a number of other families and head to an Armstrong mountain to cut our own Christmas trees. Mr. Coldicott, one of the grandparents, always went ahead and had a big fire burning near small hills that the kids could slide down, or near a pond where they could skate for awhile. We’d all stand around the fire warming up before heading back to Grandma Coldicott’s house where she had the dining room table all set up for making little candy houses. While our potluck supper was heating, the moms would help the kids and the men would set up the old folks’ tree. We built wonderful memories and I’m so thankful for having been included in this yearly event. With a month to go before Christmas it’s time to think about building memories with your children by including them in fun activities.

Perhaps this year making candy or gingerbread houses could become the start of a tradition. The first recipe below is for Candy Houses. They can also be made without the cartons by simply icing graham crackers together to form the house.  Another activity  kids enjoy is making gifts in a jar for their teachers and relatives; I’ve included two recipes for gifts in a jar today.  Enjoy the next couple of weeks before the rush and spend time with the kids.

Graham Cracker Candy House

Graham crackers

Assortment of candies for decorating

2 egg whites

1/8 tsp. cream of tartar

2 tsp. water

2-1/2-3 cups sifted powdered sugar

Clean an empty half gallon or smaller cream or milk carton in chlorine bleach and water solution. Let carton dry and trim until straight sides measure 2-1/2 inches in height. Staple the top closed.

Prepare icing as follows: Beat egg whites, cream of tartar and water until frothy. Gradually add powdered sugar. Beat until mixture holds soft peaks. Fix carton to a square of cardboard with icing. Attach graham crackers to the milk carton using the frosting mixture as “glue”. Decorate with candy and extra frosting. Even small children love doing this.

Gingerbread House

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temp.

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup light molasses or dark corn syrup

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons water

For assemblage and decoration:

Melted white chocolate or Royal Icing (recipe follows)

Gumdrops, licorice and peppermint, and candy as desired

To Make the House:

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and baking soda together until the mixture is smooth. Blend in the flour and water to make a stiff dough. Chill at least 30 minutes or until firm. Preheat oven to 375 F.

Cut paper patterns for gingerbread house: Two rectangles, 3 by 5 inches, to make front and back of the house. Two rectangles, 3 by 5-1/2 inches for roof. Two pieces for ends of the house, 3 inches wide at the base, 3 inches to the roof line, and slanted to a peak 5-1/2 inches from the bottom. Four smaller rectangles, 1-1/2 by 1 inch for the roof and sides of the entryway. And one piece, 2 inches wide at the base, 1-1/2 inches to the roof line, and slanted to a peak 2-1/2 inches from the bottom for the front of the entryway.

Roll gingerbread dough (1/4-inch thick) out to edges on a large, rimless cookie sheet. Place paper patterns onto the rolled out dough. With a sharp, straight-edged knife, cut around each of the pieces, but leave pieces in place. Remove pattern pieces. Bake at 375 degrees F for about 15 minutes until dough feels firm. Place patterns on top of the gingerbread again and trim shapes, cutting edges with a straight-edged sharp knife. Leave to cool on baking sheet.

Place royal icing into pastry bag with a writing tip and press out to decorate individual parts of house, piping on decorations, windows, door, etc., as desired. Let dry until hardened. Glue sides, front and back of house together at corners using royal icing. Place an object against the pieces to prop up until icing is dry (it only takes a few minutes). Glue the two roof pieces to the pitched roofline of the house. Then, similarly, glue the sides and roof of the entryway together with icing. Attach the entryway to the front of the house. Continue decorating the house, glueing on gumdrops, licorice and peppermint, as desired.

Royal Icing:

1 pound (3-3/4 cups) powdered sugar, sifted if lumpy

1 to 2 large egg whites, or substitute 4 tsp.packaged egg whites and 1/4 cup water

(liquid egg whites are available)

1 tsp. almond extract, vanilla or lemon juice

Mix all of the ingredients together using an electric hand mixer, until the icing is smooth and thin enough to be pressed through a pastry bag with a writing tip. Add more lemon juice, if necessary.

Gift in a Jar Cookie Mix

1-1/3 cups all purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup cooking oats

3/4 cup M&Ms

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup white sugar

1/3 – 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Order of appearance of items in the jar:

1. flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt

2. oats

3. M&Ms

4. chocolate chips

5. brown sugar

6. white sugar

7. chopped pecans

Instructions on jar:

Place all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl, then add the following:

1 slightly beaten egg

1/2 cup butter (melt slightly in microwave)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine with dry ingredients in your mixing bowl, and mix well.

Use the back of a large spoon to work it all together. You may even need to use your hands to get everything incorporated. Roll the dough into 1-1/2 inch balls; place onto a parchment-covered baking sheet  and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for approximately 10 minutes. Make sure the oven is preheated fully before adding cookies.

Country Soup in a Jar

1/2 cup barley

1/2 cup dried split peas

1/2 cup uncooked white rice

1/2 cup dry lentils

2 tablespoons dried minced onion

2 tablespoons dried parsley

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper

2 tablespoons beef bouillon granules

1/2 cup uncooked alphabet pasta

1 cup uncooked twist macaroni

In wide mouth 1 quart jar, layer barley, peas, rice and lentils. Then layer around the edges the onion, parsley, salt, lemon pepper, bouillon and the alphabet pasta. Fill rest of the jar with the twist macaroni.

Seal and attach a gift card, which should read: Add contents of jar to 3 quarts of water, 2 stalks of chopped celery, 2 sliced carrots, 1 cup of shredded cabbage (optional) and 2 cups diced tomatoes. Over medium low heat, cover and simmer about 1 hour, or until vegetables are tender.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.