Almond Biscotti Christmas Tree

My idea of a perfect winter evening would be to simply stay at home with Ryan, quietly sit, talk, and read together by a crackly fire, with hot mugs of cocoa, and a heaping plate of biscotti.  Make it a biscotti tree and it would be even better.  Then of course this biscotti tree seems much too large for just two, so perhaps it would make a better holiday centerpiece or party dessert.  Whatever the occasion, biscotti trees are so much fun to make and eat and I hope you will find some excuse to give this a try.  Although I would love to take all of the credit, the idea comes from this site that I came across a few years ago.  I’ve modified the dimensions a bit and changed the recipe, but the concept is the same.

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Ricotta Goat Cheese Polenta Bake with Mushrooms, Greens, and Caramelized Onions

December seems to be an especially tricky month for finding balance.  There is so much joy, so much celebrating, so much wonder.  Yet there’s also an inevitable busyness that leads to such a frantic pace of life, which seems so contrary to what this season is supposed to be about.  Eating in balance is also difficult when all I want to do is bake holiday goodies all day long.  This polenta dish provides at least some balance– a little savory to counter all of the sweet.  It’s simple enough for busy days and nourishing enough to compensate for having a bit too much dessert.  The caramelized onions, mushrooms, and greens along with some fresh thyme make an excellent trio; the ricotta and goat cheese add a touch of creaminess, just enough to make it slightly indulgent but not overly so.  The key to perfectly creamy polenta is cooking it over low heat for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and gradually adding more water.  While 30 minutes may seem a bit laborious, it’s just enough time to caramelize the onions, soften the mushrooms, and wilt the greens while the polenta cooks.  Afterwards with some quick assembly, it all melds together in the oven with mounds of soft and melty ricotta and goat cheese.  It’s perfect for chilly evenings gathered around the table with loved ones and friends.

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Simple Spiced Mixed Nuts

I hope all of my American friends had lovely Thanksgivings filled with rest and gratitude.  I spent the week with my sister’s family and I’m feeling refreshed, renewed, and ready for the joyous holiday season.  We’ve been enjoying this version of spiced nuts for some time now, but it’s so easy and simple I hadn’t deemed them worthy enough to share before now.  I had made them when it was Ryan’s turn to bring snacks to his tennis league and he came home telling me how much the guys loved them.  It was a good reminder that sometimes simple is best… and who doesn’t love both a simple and delicious recipe?  December seems like the perfect month for  these because there are so many gatherings, so many snacks, and I imagine that a big bowl of these would be welcome at any festive occasion.   These would also make delightful host and hostess gifts as well as beautiful holiday gifts.  The recipe comes from one my mom used to make for us growing up, but I’ve also incorporated some of the spices from Tara’s Seven Spoons version.  I had really wanted to make these with honey or maple syrup, but it just didn’t turn out quite right with those.  Both were tasty, but they didn’t quite have that crisp crunchy sweet coating that I was looking for.  These are a bit less sugary than many of the other recipes out there, but still plenty sweet.  The combination of cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, and cayenne balance out the sugar for the perfect savory, salty, sweet snack.  Happy December my friends!

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