The Magic of Christmas: It Shouldn't Cost a Fortune
I know I am not alone in saying that I absolutely LOVE the holidays. I cherish experiencing the pure magic of Christmas through my children's eyes. To share in their wonder and excitement over everything related to Santa, his elves and those reindeer, makes me feel like a child again, myself. I love the smells and aromas that waft out of our kitchen after an afternoon baking with my kids. I marvel in seeing the love and kindness that seems to seep into everyone's souls at this time of year.
Strangers even seem to be friendlier and more patient with one another (okay, maybe not at the malls). We all seem to be a bit more generous. I love that people seem to really embrace the spirit of giving. But, this doesn't mean that we need to max our credit cards and spend money we don't have just to show people we care. In my family, giving gifts at the holidays doesn't cost a fortune. Each Christmas, I love exchanging hand-made gifts with my three sisters.
Over the years, we've shared treasures of hand-made jewelry, candles, soaps, family cookbooks, knitted scarves, pottery and my personal favorite: food! Is there a better way to show someone you love them, than by taking the time to create something with your own hands? Each time I put on my beautiful blue, aquamarine necklace one of my sisters made me, I feel her love and kindness wrap around me. Every time I make my younger sister's Savory Monkey Bread, I think of her and her infectious laugh. And, every time it is cold and I reach for my oldest sister's soft, hand-knitted scarf, I smile and feel my heart grow warm. If you feel inspired to create a gift, rather than buy it, try one of my favorites below. I think they'll be the perfect way to show that special someone you love them!
Christmas Morning Banana Muffins (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free)
These are seriously SO GOOD that you (and your guests) won't have any clue that they are vegan and gluten-free. And, they are perfect for your kids' school lunches as they are nut-free! I love baking an extra batch or two and freezing them for up to 3 months (they don't ever last this long!). And, they are so easy to make, all in one bowl, minimal clean up.
(makes 12 large muffins or 24 mini muffins and takes about 5 minutes to prepare and about 25 to bake)
- 1 1/3 cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 4 medium or 3 large)
- 2 TBSP ground flax seed (make sure it is ground!)
- 1/3 cup plant-based milk (I like almond milk, or water works fine too!)
- 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted (you can substitute apple sauce, but the muffins won't be as fluffy)
- 2 TBSP pure maple syrup
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 6 TBSP coconut sugar
- 1/2 cup gluten-free rolled oats
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups gluten-free oat flour
- OPTIONAL TOPPINGS: Chia seeds, sliced bananas, chopped walnuts, chocolate chips, coconut flakes
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Use a bit of the melted coconut oil to grease the muffin tins.
- In a large bowl, mash the banana until almost smooth (I like to leave a few chunks as I love biting into these in my muffins, but mash according to your texture preference).
- Stir the wet ingredients (ground flax, milk/water, melted oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract) into the banana until combined.
- Stir the dry ingredients (sugar, oats, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and flour) into the wet mixture. If the mixture seems too runny to you, add a TBSP more of the oat flour.
- Spoon the dough into the muffin tins and fill until about 3/4 way full. This is the time to add any of your toppings, if you chose to. You may have to press them gently into the batter to make sure they stay put when baking!
- Bake for about 22-24 minutes depending on your oven. I check mine with a toothpick in the center after 22 minutes. If the toothpick comes out clean, they're done!
- Cool completely (if you can wait that long!) and enjoy with someone you love.
Blue Cheese Cranberry Spread (Gluten-Free, Vegetarian)
This has been a long time favorite of my family and friends for a few years now. I may be biased, but I think this spread goes amazingly well with our Onesto Sea Salt crackers! This cheese spread is also pretty tasty smeared on a baguette, broiled and then topped with some prosciutto or left over turkey from your holiday dinner!
(serves 12-14 generously as an appetizer, takes about 10 minutes to prepare and and additional 30 minutes to chill)
- 4 ounces of your favorite type of blue cheese (we love Great Hill Blue from Marion, MA)
- 1 x 8 ounce container of organic cream cheese
- ¾ cups of raw nuts (walnuts are preferable)
- ¾ cup organic dried cranberries
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- Generous pinch of sea salt
- Lots of freshly grated pepper
- A good drizzle of local honey
- Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add the nuts and toast until they are fragrant and browning, about 3-4 minutes. Don’t leave the pan, they burn quickly!
- Remove from heat and set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine all of the other ingredients and don’t mash when you stir. Try to fold the ingredients. Taste as you go along to make sure you have enough salt, enough heat from the cayenne and enough sweetness from the honey. Your amounts may vary depending on your preferences.
- Chill for about 30 minutes before serving.
- Serve in a beautiful bowl or dish with your favorite Onesto crackers!
Easy Cheddar and Gruyere Tarts (Gluten-Free, Nut-Free)
I dare you to try to eat just one. These tarts make my house smell amazing and keep everyone in the kitchen at dinner parties waiting for them to come out of the oven!
(makes about 12-16 mini tarts, takes about 1 hour to prepare and bake)
For the Tart Pastry: (Dough can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled, or freeze up to 1 month.)
- 1 tsp raw sugar
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup gluten-free, all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
- 6 TBSP chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 2 large cage-free eggs, beaten to blend
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Whisk sugar, salt, and 1 cup flour in a medium bowl.
- Add butter in by mixing it in with your fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal with a few pea-size pieces remaining.
- Drizzle 1 beaten egg over butter mixture and mix gently with a fork until dough just comes together. You will have an easier time manipulating the dough if you let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Don't chill, it is harder to work with.
- Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth (a few dry spots are okay).
- Roll to out to about 1/8 inch thick.
- Gently oil mini muffin tins with olive oil or coconut oil.
- Using a circular cookie cutter (I recommend one with a 2-3 inch diameter) cut out circles and then carefully place them over the muffin holes. Using your fingers, carefully press them into the molds.
- Using the second beaten egg, brush each tart and PARTIALLY bake for about 6 minutes.
- Set aside to cool and increase the oven to 375 degrees F.
For the Filling:
- 2 1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese
- 1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
- 8 oz. container of cream cheese
- 1 TBSP Dijon mustard
- 1 TBSP chopped fresh oregano
- ¾ tsp fresh ground pepper
- 1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil, diced
- 1 large sweet yellow onion
- 2 TBSP fresh thyme, minced
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Mix Gruyère, Cheddar, cream cheese, mustard, oregano, and pepper in a small bowl and set aside.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet, add onions and minced thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat until dark brown and caramelized -- about 30 minutes.
- Spoon about a TBSP of the cheese mixture into the tart shells
- Top with a teaspoon of the caramelized onions.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the cheese mixture is bubbly.
- If freezing, let cool completely before wrapping in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil and storing in an air tight container. These freeze well for up to 3 months. When ready to cook, let come to room temperature and bake at 375 degrees F for 10-12 minutes. Serve warm.
Assorted Dark Chocolate Truffles (Gluten-Free, Vegan, Nut-Free Options)
Guilt-free dessert? Check. Easy recipe to follow? Check. Fun for the whole family to make together? Check. This recipe has it all!
(makes about 30-40 truffles, takes about 20 minutes to prepare and an additional 20-30 minutes to chill)
- 8 ounces of high quality (dark chocolate 62% cacao or higher), well chopped into small pieces
- 1/2 cup of coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
- Finely chopped nuts (walnuts, cashews, macadamias and pistachios are my favorites!)
- Cocoa powder
- Coconut flakes
- Minced dried cranberries
- Ground flax meal
- Crushed peppermint candies (think candy canes)
- Crushed pretzel pieces (sweet and salty combos are amazing)
- In a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat bring the coconut milk to a simmer (this may take a while, be sure to stir and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula every few minutes).
- Place the chopped dark chocolate in a separate bowl. Pour the heated milk over the chocolate, add the vanilla extract.
- Slowly mix together until smooth and shiny. (This chocolate base is called a ganache).
- Place in the refrigerator for about two hours.
- Remove and with a teaspoon roll out balls of the ganache. Roll in your hands quickly (as it will melt from the heat of your hands) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in the freezer for about 20-30 minutes until firm.
- Arrange your toppings in low/shallot plates or bowls. Roll the truffles in the toppings and place back on the parchment paper.
- Store the truffles in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to one week or freeze for up to 3 months.