Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Cookies for the Opportunity House

By Allrecipes Allstar, Sonja D
I live in a suburb of the poorest city in the nation, Reading, Pennsylvania.

People in the city are without work, without opportunity and largely without hope. Reading is rife with gangs and drugs — everything that you can think of happens here. Our crime rate rivals much larger cities. It is a rough place. Many suburbanites like myself won’t even go into the city. Unless they’re headed to work or to score dope, most would rather drive out of their way than into Reading. I, however, am headed specifically to the city Monday.

During the holidays, I feel that it’s especially important to do things for others who have less. The culture surrounding the winter holidays, no matter the race or religion, is one of good will toward others. This year, I am participating in Cookies Across America. It seems rather weird to me that I have never even heard of this event. I mean, it’s right up my alley! I can’t knit blankets or infant caps for maternity wards; I can’t run a marathon to raise money for cancer research, but I can bake my little pants off!

Cookies Across America is a national event in which independent home bakers volunteer to donate cookies to charities of their choice. I decided to bake for The Opportunity House, an organization that offers shelter, education and support for families in struggling on their path to independence in Reading. They do lots of great work for the residents of the city and it was my first choice. Bonus: the charity is not affiliated with any religious organization, a definite plus for me. After mailing to confirm that they could accept a homemade donation, I set out with a plan.

There was an “official” cookie donation day on December 10th, but I wanted to give my friends a chance to participate. For this reason, I waited until yesterday to start baking my cookies. I made a Facebook event and invited some folks over to help make and decorate cookies. It ended up being just my mother and I. That’s okay. I know that the holidays are busy for everyone. The extra hands would have been nice, though! I made 30 dozen cookies over the course of two days, and mom came over to help decorate eight dozen of these, which were sugar cookies.

Because I knew that I would be short on help, I decided to make the majority of my cookies in a way that would negate decorating. Making and baking is relatively quick, after all. The time consuming part is drawing, painting and sprinkling. I made seven dozen white chip chocolate cookies, six dozen chocolate chip, two dozen play dough cookies, three dozen peanut butter blossoms, four dozen raspberry thumbprints and the eight dozen sugar cookies I mentioned. I even made three dozen oatmeal raisin cookies just for Colin, not to be donated. So I really made 33 dozen!

These are the white chip and chocolate chip cookies.

Play Dough Cookies

Raspberry Thumbprints

Peanut Butter Blossoms

Kaelyn helped my mother and I decorate cookies. Chocolate chips, sprinkles and gummi snacks. Notice the nice holes she made with my food writer markers.

We sipped Colonial Hot Buttered Rum while we decorated. Mmm...

Okay, so we're not Picasso. But the effort was made; the cookies were decorated, and they will go to families in need this year. I'm sure they won't mind that our snowmen look like kindergarten craft activities!

I'll come back to post a picture of the trays when I put them together on Monday!

December isn't over! You can still bake a dozen cookies or two and donate them to charity. Will you take the Cookies Across America pledge and make a difference for someone in need this year?

I am an Allrecipes Allstar Brand Ambassador (a voluntary position), and I'm not compensated for my work with Products received from advertisers are only used for experienced-based reviews. The reviews, content and opinions expressed in this blog are purely the sole opinions of Sonja D.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Cookie Giving

By Allrecipes Allstar, Linda T
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, fellow foodies.

This month I participated in the Cookies Across America Campaign. This is being promoted by Allrecipes, Taste of Home magazine, and NestlĂ©®. They were asking us to bake and donate cookies to the needy or donating baking supplies to a local food bank.

I was very happy to join this project and selected Family Supportive Housing here in San Jose as the organization I would like to donate my cookies to.

I contacted them and they were glad to accept my cookies. I made 596 cookies to take to the agency - a wonderful place that provides temporary emergency housing to families. This place is the only place in the country that doesn't break up families. They each have their own room where the mother, father and children can all be together. They not only provide food and housing, but assist in job training and placement. If you are in the Santa Clara County and all looking for an organization to donate to, please consider them

Organization's entrance 

 Dining area 

Here are the following cookies I made - and here is a picture of them all ready to go!

Neopolitan Cookies

Raspberry Almond Shortbread

 Jumbo Dark Chocolate Cookies

Original Nestle(R) Toll House Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies


Chocolate Crinkles

I have to tell you what a good time I had doing this. I love to bake and am still on disability from my recent surgeries so I had the time to do this. I wish I had a big freezer because I would like to have made more. Giving makes you feel so good inside... I don't know who got more benefit out of this project, the organization or me.

I have a lot to be grateful for this year - survived two major surgeries and three hospitalizations in a very short period of time. I wanted to thank the doctors and nurses involved so I also baked for them.

I made 378 cookies to take to the hospital and the doctors. Here is the platter I took to the wonderful nurses at Good Samaritan Hospital , 3rd floor surgical care.

Here is one of the tins I took to the doctors.

I made the following:

Choclad Pinar

Buttery Swedish Coconut Cookies 



Awesome Browned Butter Swedish Cookies

I am an Allrecipes Allstar Brand Ambassador (a voluntary position), and I'm not compensated for my work with Products received from advertisers are only used for experienced-based reviews.  The reviews, content and opinions expressed in this blog are purely the sole opinions of Linda.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Baking a difference!

By Allrecipes Allstar, Sarah S

Today was a busy day, but in an amazing way! My day started out w/ a trip to a local news station where I was filmed live making Buckeyes - for all purposes I live in Florida, and I'm a gator girl, thus for the filming I referred to the Buckeyes as "gator bites". Given as many teeth as a gator has, I'm sure there's a sweet tooth somewhere!!!

Once the episode was completed, I left a tin of Chocolate Chip Cookies, Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies, Peppermint Kiss Cookies, and Buckeyes for the crew at the news station. I'll admit I am hesitant in linking the filming b/c of being a bit self conscious even tho I've had many friends AND strangers alike tell me that I was very engaging, entertaining and outstanding.

The recipe for the Peppermint Kiss Cookies is as follows:

1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup baking cocoa
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package Hershey's Peppermint kisses
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
2 tsp shortening

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture. Using a small spring loaded ice cream scoop (1 Tbsp size) place 2 in. apart on baking sheets lined w/ parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees F for 8-10 minutes or until the edges are firm. Remove to wire racks.

Immediately position an unwrapped peppermint kiss into the center of each cookie. Take white chocolate chips, and shortening and microwave in a microwave safe bowl* on high for 1 minute, stirring at 30 second intervals - repeat until melted. Drizzle over the top of the cookies.

*Alternatively take a Wilton disposable decorating bag, place white chocolate & shortening inside, repeat the cooking instructions, kneading bag (be careful it WILL be hot!) once chocolate is melted, snip a small portion off the end of the decorating bag and drizzle the white chocolate on top of the cookies.

After the filming was complete, I made a couple of stops to drop off more cookies. This time the cookies went to an Army Recruiting Station.

I never did expect it, but after dropping off the cookies at the Army Recruiting Station, I left w/ some Army Swag.

The pen & notebook will absolutely come in handy for writing down grocery lists -in addition I got a luggage tag and a little carrying pouch for various items, and a business card holder, and a bracelet! Who would've guessed that a USMC brat would be geared up w/ Army Swag! Thanks Army!

I also thought the gesture of the Army pin was very sweet! Go figure, I tried to be a blessing to the Army recruiter, turns out he was also a blessing to me!

After dropping off the cookies at the Army recruiting station, I headed to the Air Force recruiting station.

There's something about giving to others that really makes the Christmas spirit come alive, and I'm happy that I was able to share the cookies w/ some of the people in our Armed Forces! Thank you for your service and God be w/ you this Christmas season.

I am an Allrecipes Allstar Brand Ambassador (a voluntary position), and I'm not compensated for my work with Products received from advertisers are only used for experienced-based reviews.  The reviews, content and opinions expressed in this blog are purely the sole opinions of Sarah.

Friday, December 16, 2011

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

By Allrecipes Allstar, Valerie 

I am officially in the Christmas spirit. We went to the San Jose Reperatory Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol with Boys #3 and #4 on Saturday night, cut down our 12 foot Christmas tree Sunday morning, lugged it into the house and put about 1000 strands of lights on it, and then I did this. This is what made it official. Over the course of two days I mixed, baked, and iced about 14 dozen cookies. These are the treats I will package up and send off with friends and family. Over the course of the next couple of weeks I will be sharing the recipes and how to’s for all of the cookies pictured the the right.

This year in addition to baking for friends and family, I’ll also be baking for a cause. is partnering with Taste of Home Magazine and NESTLE® Tollhouse® on December 10, 2011 to unite cookie lovers across the nation to make a difference in their communities by baking and sharing cookies. You can participate by hosting a cookie exchange party, baking and donating cookies on your own, or donate some basic baking ingredients to a local food pantry. For more information and ideas on where to donate visit or the Cookies Across America Facebook page. If you’d like to join with others in your community you can check for cookie meetups in your area by visiting Join in on the fun and bake for a cause this holiday season!

I am an Allrecipes Allstar Brand Ambassador (a voluntary position), and I'm not compensated for my work with Products received from advertisers are only used for experienced-based reviews.  The reviews, content and opinions expressed in this blog are purely the sole opinions of Valerie.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


By Allrecipes Allstar, lutzflcat 

My freezer is filling up with freshly-baked cookies for this year’s Cookies Across America campaign. I’ll be out of town for two weeks this month, so if this is going to happen prior to Christmas, I need to get knee-deep in butter, sugar, and flour. And a look at my kitchen is a testimonial that it’s starting to happen.

My first tray of cookies will go next door. My neighbor, Karen, very recently lost her courageous five-year battle with ovarian cancer at age 57. She leaves behind her husband, son, daughter and one grandchild. Seems like only yesterday, she was calling out my name to come over, she wanted to show me her new kitchen. Two weeks later, she was gone, and this will be her family’s first Holiday season without her. I’m hoping some homemade cookies will bring a little cheer into their house and let them know that they’re in our thoughts.

I’ve talked with the manager of in-kind donations at Metropolitan Ministries about the campaign, and she’s very excited that I’ve decided to include them. I was watching 60 Minutes on Sunday evening, and they did a segment on the homeless in the U.S, more specifically families living in cars and trucks. One of the families featured was in Florida, and they mentioned that one-third of all the homeless people in the U.S. live in Florida. That statistic stunned me.

Metropolitan Ministries is a non-profit organization that serves the poor and homeless men, women, and children in the Tampa Bay area. They provide transitional housing with supportive services of counseling, food and nutrition, education and literacy, children services, recovery and sobriety, employment services, community living and pastoral care. On a daily basis throughout the year, they feed 1,700 people and provide Holiday food boxes to 30,000 families. Since inception in 1972, Metropolitan Ministries has served 23 million hot meals. This organization won “Best Non-Profit” in the recent “Best of the Bay 2011” Poll where nearly 300,000 readers participated. Without a doubt, an incredible organization which we have supported for many years.

During the Holiday season, they have many volunteers providing help in the kitchens, in the dining halls, as well as receiving and organizing food donations for the gift food boxes. The Donations Manager asked me how I felt about donating cookies to the volunteers. They are such an important link to making things flow smoothly, so I’m thrilled that in a small way I can say “thank you” to them this year. I then went to the Dollar Store, bought about 150 decorative little gift bags, and the plan is to fill each bag with three cookies and tie it up with a ribbon.

And there will be two more platters of cookies delivered. One will go to our local fire department and the other to our mechanic. Yes, that’s right, our mechanic who has taken care of our cars for 25 years. I’m recently retired from a sales career which involved logging many miles on the car. Never had a breakdown when I was on the road, and I know that to a large extent that’s because of this very conscientious mechanic. May sound a little silly, but he’s getting cookies, too!

I have some personal recipes that I’ll be preparing, but below are some photos of what I’ve baked to date from the Allrecipes site, mostly double batches. I’ll be home for about four days between trips this month, so the cookies that cannot be frozen will be prepared then. The Metropolitan Ministries cookie bags will be delivered on December 22, and the trays will be delivered on December 23rd.

Recent times have been tough for many people. I live in a state that still has out-of-sight unemployment rates and foreclosures with no relief in sight in the short term. Many of the folks who are in need of help this year are the same people who were providing help just a few years ago.

So won’t you join me in the Cookies Across America campaign and bring a little joy to those who are in need or maybe just a “Thank You” to somebody who has helped you in the past. Baking and sharing cookies is a small way for you to show that you care. And you know what? I bet you’ll feel really good about it!

Brickle Cookie

Brown Butter Cookies

Butterscotch Gingerbread Cookies

Jumbo Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

Easy Lemon Cookies

Original Nestle® Toll House Dark® Chocolate Chip Cookies

Jumbo Dark Chocolate Cookies

I am an Allrecipes Allstar Brand Ambassador (a voluntary position), and I'm not compensated for my work with Products received from advertisers are only used for experienced-based reviews.  The reviews, content and opinions expressed in this blog are purely the sole opinions of lutzflcat.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cookies Across America: A Sweet Way to Share the Season

By Ruth R. Hartunian-Alumbaugh, RMT/BC, Field Editor for Taste of Home Magazine in Willimantic, CT.

I have been making cookies for weeks now. I usually make four batches at a time and then refrigerate the dough until I can bake them. Truth be told, I started giving the cookies out the day after Thanksgiving. I just couldn’t wait until the 10th of December!

The cookies are easy to make and, as you know, my previous blog gave you tons of ideas on how to make cookies, even if you are busy. I hope the information and tips were helpful.

I mailed my son-in-law his batch of cookies to share with his troop where he is stationed. I got an e-mail from my stepdaughter telling me he got them already! It just so happens that his birthday is also in November so I used to opportunity to wish him well on two fronts instead of one. And I took advantage of the offer from the USPS to use the free boxes and packaging for troop mail that I read about in a recent Taste of Home magazine. Very helpful information! I will let you know what he thinks of the cookies.

For his batch and subsequent batches, I toasted three kinds of nuts to fold into the Original Toll House recipe; macadamia, pecan, and walnuts. Toasting the nuts brings out their flavor and really packs a yummy “punch” to the cookie itself. Toasting nuts is easy, too. Just lay them on a flat pan and place them in a 250 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until you can smell the nuts toasting. Then, let them cool and put them in your chopper! I use my toaster oven so I don’t have to heat up the whole oven for just a few nuts.

I also shared cookies with my local postal service workers as a way to say “thanks” for their service all year ‘round. Unfortunately, they were too busy to get their picture taken with the “Cookie Queen” so I just took a picture of myself by a mailbox so I could remember where I delivered cookies! One of the people I wanted to deliver to wasn’t in so I’ll go back another time. Everyone was happy to get cookies!

It’s tradition for our family to go out for breakfast the day after Thanksgiving, then cut down a tree and decorate it for the Christmas season. At the restaurant where we are breakfast, I gave away cookies to a woman and her son who is the director of the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry. She serves hundreds of people year round with practical needs; it was good to thank her and get her son in on the give away, too!

My neighbors were having breakfast that day, too, so I got a picture of them and the wrapped cookies, as well. One of my neighbors, Paula, was married last year. Our gift to her and her husband was a cookie of the month for the whole first year of their marriage. They could pick out whatever cookie they wanted and we would make and deliver two dozen of them each month. Great gift for a cookie lover, no?

I decided to go to my local WalMart (where I buy my stashes of chocolate chips) sporting my yellow “Nestle” apron, my “Cookies Across America” button, and a basket of cookies to see if anyone would ask me why I was wearing them. After one man thought I worked there (he was asking about where the restrooms were!), the cashier asked me the “golden question” and herself a plate of cookies! I took her picture with myself, too.

Then I stopped by our orthodontist’s office since we have a great team of people who work there and found two employees and one of her grandchildren. After an extended conversation about going gluten free, diet habits, and cookies, I gave them some cookies, too. They were thrilled! It was a very fun stop.

My daughter has the best horseback riding teacher, so she also got cookies this week. Mrs. Johnson has been teaching kids to ride for over 50 years. Her blend of competence, understanding of animals, and faith makes her a wonderful candidate for cookies! She said that she’ll relish them over tea. I encouraged her not to share them and keep them for herself since she is always so generous!

I also dropped cookies off for two employees who serve our town’s people who are HIV positive. I had provided them with music therapy services in the past and have high regard to these people who serve this population in my town. I hadn’t seen one of the people in a couple of years so it was a nice reunion.

A serendipitous opportunity presented itself while my daughter and I sat on a bench on Main Street. We like to do this and have a standing Tuesday morning date. While we perched ourselves on the bench, a man came by asking for directions to the local Salvation Army. I told him where it was. Our paths crossed again when we were heading back to our car and he had a couple of bags of items and was headed to his destination. He gave us a box of Christmas cards for free! And in return, I gave him (guess?) cookies!

My daughter, Rosie, enjoys taking guitar lessons each week. Even though I am a musician (mainly piano), Rosie surpassed me in guitar so I had to “cut her loose” with another local teacher. His wife, Bonnie, has taken good care of us for all our guitar/musical needs and always has her eye out for us when it comes to equipment or a referral. We thanked Bonnie recently with homemade cookies. Even though she says she can’t bake, she is one heck of a cook!

My son receives tutoring services from our neighbor (whom we love a lot; just a great guy!). A couple of times a week, Colt tutors Jonathan in MATH! This is Jonathan’s least favorite subject. Nevertheless, since Colt is a part of an often thankless task, he got his just desserts, too. Score for more cookies!

Today, I did a local radio interview with icon Wayne Norman. Of course, I brought cookies with me to share with the radio crew. If you want to listen to my interview, you can hear it here:

It was really great fun. And then, I went home and got another stash of cookies because someone at a local business who was listening to the interview texted me and asked if I was going to deliver cookies to his business. How could I turn him down? With crown in place, I hit the streets and went to businesses and places where I have appreciated the people there.

I stopped at the Spanish American Merchant Association, a couple of town organizations that serve populations of people with great needs, a couple of business owners, the local library, the local post office, the helpful receptionist, and even shared cookies at a book read through (before publication) in the evening.

While I was on campus, I shared cookies with administrative staff, international friends, and my hero, the parking lot attendant who foot my bill last week! He was my most recent hero!

Lastly, as I submit this last blog post, I want you to know that giving is really much BETTER than receiving. It’s been a joy to share my cookies. I have more to share and more to bake. And I am sure there will be stories to tell when the day is over. My local paper is publishing my stories to promote “Cookies Across America”, too. I am so fortunate. I really do hope people are inspired to bake and give!

I think I will be making more cookies soon! How about you? With cookies, the possibilities are endless!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Allrecipes Dishes Out Predictions for 2012 Food Trends

What will be hot in the kitchen, on the stove, and at dinner tables in 2012? Will ‘healthy cooking’ continue its surge? Will there be even more Flexitarians, label readers, snack fans, and sophisticated sandwich lovers? And how about those mini-desserts—pie pops, cake pops, teeny doughnuts? Are these budget and waist-friendly treats going main stream next year? Allrecipes tapped its community of savvy home cooks to find out and compiled a special issue of the Measuring Cup Consumer Trend Report outlining the top food trends of 2012. You can download the entire report here and read about all 10 trends. Leave a comment, and share your own trend predictions for next year too!