Four Delicious, Stress-less, Homemade Holiday Treats

Crock-Pot Cocoa, Italian Breakfast Casserole, Sugar Cookies and Cake Mix Chex Mix

We all want our kids to have sugarplum memories of the holidays. We’d rather them forget the stress, the fights to keep those $10 Christmas bows in their hair and the threats of Santa’s bad list. But it’s not so easy when you’re running ragged trying to simultaneously be Santa and Martha Stewart.

One of our strongest associations with the season is with food. Our holiday recollections are wrapped up in cloves, cinnamon, royal icing, buttery rolls and brown sugar-coated ham. But, if you’re anything like me, the list of foods you want to make far exceeds the time you have to make them. Paring down that list, highlighting the foods that have become family traditions and taking a few shortcuts will make for a holiday that’s less stress for you and more fun for the kids. Believe me, the kids would rather have more time with you sprinkling red and green sugar on frosted cookies than they would to eat that new panettone recipe you discovered on Pinterest.

When the to-dos begin piling up, keep your mind on what makes the season magical for your family. In these years when we have children at home, we could all benefit from picturing the season through our kids’ eyes.

Here’s a start, with four ideas to keep your and your children’s spirits bright.

 This recipe for Crock-Pot Cocoa is rich, like dessert in a mug. You’ll love that you can make a big batch, and everyone can help themselves. Any variety of chocolate chips will work in this recipe, but it’s best with good-quality bittersweet chocolate.

Crock-Pot Cocoa

• 1 1/2  cups whipping cream
• 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
• 6 cups whole milk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 2 cups chocolate chips

  1. In a Crock-Pot, stir together all ingredients. Cover, and cook on low for 2 hours. Occasionally stir to make sure chocolate is melting. Stir before serving.

Making a big breakfast Christmas morning is fine if you have lots of hands to help with the cooking – and cleanup. But with little ones under your feet, you may want to avoid an hour in the kitchen when you could be playing. So, make a breakfast casserole that sits in the fridge overnight. Pop it in the oven first thing in the morning, and breakfast is ready in no time at all. Here’s one of my favorites, a twist on the traditional eggs-sausage-cheese version.

Italian Breakfast Casserole

• 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage
• 1 diced zucchini
• 1 cup sliced mushrooms
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon pepper
• 1 (7-ounce) jar roasted red bell peppers, drained and chopped
• 1 Italian bread loaf, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 8 cups)
• 2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
• 6 large eggs
• 1 1/2 cups milk

  1. Remove and discard casings from sausage. Cook sausage in a large skillet, stirring until sausage crumbles and is no longer pink. Drain grease from pan.
  2. Add zucchini, mushrooms, salt and pepper to sausage. Sauté a few minutes until vegetables are tender. Stir in roasted bell peppers. Drain and cool.
  3. Spread 4 cups of bread cubes in a lightly greased 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Top with half each of the sausage mixture and cheese. Repeat with remaining bread, sausage and cheese.
  4. Whisk together eggs and milk. Pour egg mixture over bread. Cover and chill 8 hours.
  5. Bake, covered, at 325 degrees for 1 hour.

Christmas cookies are as much a tradition as stockings on the mantle and presents under the tree. This super simple recipe is great for baking with kids. Let them help make this forgiving dough, or bring them out when the real fun begins – decorating.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

• 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
• 2 cups white sugar
• 3 eggs
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 4 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 teaspoon salt

  1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle parchment paper or a wooden cutting board with powdered sugar.
  3. Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 6 minutes at 400 degrees.
  4. Let cool completely, then frost and decorate.

My kids love making this Chex Mix. Use red and green sprinkles for a cute dessert to put on a Christmas Eve dessert buffet. And, your kids can say they made it.

Cake Mix Chex Mix

• 9 cups Rice Chex cereal
• 1 cup white vanilla baking chips
• ¼ cup butter, cut into pieces
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 cup Betty Crocker vanilla cake mix
• ½ cup powdered sugar
• 3 tablespoons decorating/candy sprinkles

  1. Heat oven to 250 degrees. Pour cereal into large bowl.
  2. In small bowl, microwave white chips and butter, uncovered, on high for 30 seconds; stir. Continue to microwave in 30-second increments until chips and butter are softened and can be stirred smooth. Stir in vanilla.
  3. Drizzle mixture over cereal; toss until well coated. Sprinkle dry cake mix, powdered sugar and sprinkles over cereal; toss until coated. Spread in single layer in jelly roll pan or large rimmed cookie sheet.
  4. Bake uncovered 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes. Cool about 15 minutes. Store tightly covered at room temperature.

Natalie Mikles is the mother of three kids 3 and under. She can simultaneously pour sippy cups, wipe noses and sing “Wheels on the Bus.” She hopes to make foodies out of her kids, and there’s hope since they equally love chickpeas and chicken nuggets.

Categories: Food, Holiday