"We use this recipe year-round for all of the holidays," says Laura Maychruk, co-owner of Buzz Cafe in Oak Park, Illinois (10 miles west of Chicago's Loop). "For Christmas, we make snowflakes and Christmas trees. The cookies are delicious even without the icing." If you want to store these at room temperature, use a butter icing.
South Dakota chef Doug Hanson shared this make-ahead recipe from his grandmother. "It's easy to make on Christmas Eve and pop in the oven Christmas morning while watching the kids play with toys," he says. "You can't go wrong with eggs, cheese and bacon."
Cranberry-Chocolate Cheesecake (top) uses cranberries both in the filling and in the sauce. White Chocolate Candy Cane Cheesecake (middle) is a variation on the mascarpone cheesecake made at Parkview Gourmet specialty foods in Libertyville, Illinois. Very Berry Cheesecake (bottom) uses both fresh berries and berry-flavored brandy, vodka or orange juice for its flavor.
Holiday peanut brittle adds a sweet, caramel crunch to ice cream -- and tastes even better with peach sauce. It's a favorite use of this seasonal sweet from Long Grove Confectionary Company in Long Grove, Illinois.
These Toffee Blondies are a popular variation on brownies. While they have a handful of semisweet chocolate pieces, most of the flavor comes from brown sugar, butter, chopped nuts and toffee pieces or butterscotch pieces. They make a nice gift from the kitchen, too; layer the ingredients in a glass or clear plastic container.
This lemon meringue pie recipe, which includes candied lemon peel, is a favorite at Southmoreland on the Plaza, in Kansas City, Missouri. The recipe comes from Luke Reichle, brother of Southmoreland co-owner Mark.
The holiday Pie Fest at Southmoreland on the Plaza features several dozen pies including Harvest Pie (front of picture), Sweet Potato Pie (left) and Sweetie Pie (top).
Harvest Pie blends the tastes and aromas of apples, cranberries and baked spices. Sweet Potato Pie has a soft filling with just a touch of sweetness. Pie lovers with a serious sweet tooth need to try the Sweetie Pie, full of melted chocolate, butterscotch, pecans and coconut.
Cherry pie is the specialty of Betty Reichle, mother of Southmoreland on the Plaza co-owner Mark Reichle. Her filling has a hint of cinnamon and almond. And she weaves a handsome lattice crust on the top. "I make points with Mark when I make this pie," she says.
This berry pie proves that there's beauty in simplicity. The piecrust is wrapped around a three-ingredient filling that includes fine dry breadcrumbs. You don't even need a pie plate to make this juicy treat.
Little Traveler in Geneva, Illinois (40 miles west of Chicago) uses creamy, tangy lemon curd to make these bars for its "girlfriend tea" events. Box them in striped paper and a simple wooden box (available at crafts stores) and add a festive red ribbon for a girlfriend-worthy holiday gift.
Cranberries give this syrup its rich color and characteristic tang. Use the sugar mixture as a base for drinks or as a topper for ice cream, cake or pancakes. Give in decorative bottles for food gifts, along with the recipe.