Jazzing up that Store bought Stuff

With treats being high on the list of holiday favorites and time being short, sometimes it’s nice to just buy a store bought treat for the multitudes of relatives that come to town. The basics like Brownie mixes and Sugar cookies are fast, easy, and taste great- but even the fudge wonder or that classic cookie can get old.  Then there’s the stress of avoiding embarrassment when the inevitable comes up: “This is great, did you make this?” and you are forced to answer “No, I bought it.”  When among friends and not seeking to impress, this is not such an issue, but it’s still fun to inject some pizazz into your classics once in a while. This year for some reason, I’ve very excited to make my own decorations and holiday treats, I’m just getting started!

Mint Chocolate Chunk Brownies. Probably the best I’ve had so far, these scrumptious minty goodies remind me of Christmas and even look nice on the table. First, I go to the store and pick out my favorite brownie mix, usually a dark chocolate or milk chocolate fudge. Then buy a bag of chocolate chunks and go to the candy aisle, there you can find Andes mints. One box of mints should be enough for two boxes of brownie mix. Bake brownies according to instructions, adding half a bag of chocolate chunks after all the other ingredients have been mixed. Then bake, and while you are waiting, take the wrappers off  half the Andes mints. As soon as you pull those piping hot brownies out of the oven, place the Andes mints evenly over the surface of the brownie.  They will start to melt after a minute or two, take a knife and evenly spread until the entire surface is covered, adding more mints as necessary. When cool, this will form a somewhat crunchy even topping that is almost like a hard mint glaze. Delicious!

Jammin’ Sugar Cookies. When I feel too lazy to make my own shortbread and cut it into circles, I like to buy the rolls of sugar cookies that you can just cut and bake. Once cut into circles, I take about half of them and cut out a little triangle from the center, or any shape I like, such as a star or square. Then I bake as directed, let cool, and take out my favorite jam from the fridge. I spread the jam of my choice (sometimes more than one) over the cookies that do not have a cut out. Then I place the cut-out cookies on top of the jam, and Voila! To make these even more holiday friendly, it’s nice to cut out a Christmas tree shape from the center, spread with red jam, and dust with powdered sugar at the end. So easy!

“Healthy” Nut Bites. Sometimes I have that craving for a little bit of chocolate, but I can’t tolerate the super sweet over sugared candy that is Snickers or Hershey’s. But somehow, taking bites out of a dark chocolate bar is just not as satisfying as crunching on something a little more substantial. I have decided to solve this problem by buying an array of mixed nuts, unsalted, at the grocery store, as well as some semi-sweet chocolate chips. If I melt the chips carefully and stir in all the nuts, I can dollop these out on a sheet of wax paper, refrigerate, and have some chocolate covered yummy-ness as a snack every once in a while, or to put out with tea for guests.

Homemade” Ice Cream. This is definitely something I have always wanted to try that I believe is easy to do, and this Christmas I will. No, I don’t have an ice cream maker at home, although if I got one I would surely enjoy it. No, this is simpler. Buy a pint or quart of straight vanilla ice cream, them (ready for it) microwave it for a few seconds until soft. Then, just add a few of your favorite mix-ins a-la Coldstone Creamery, using a large spoon to aid. It’s like working there without having to sing for tips. Mix-ins can include anything from chocolate cookie or brownie pieces to lemon juice and ginger shavings. Any spices (cinnamon) or even a fudge or marshmallow swirl, even peanut butter will be great. We can be our own mixologists and dream up the best flavor imaginable, without sacrificing our favorite ready-made flavor, which will always be at the store waiting.