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Shortbread cookies are delectable treat; presentation is key to great gifts

POSTED December 26, 2015 9:09 p.m.
Your kind wishes of Christmas cheer are sure to be appreciated when you present your neighbors and friends with delicious homemade treats.

Cooking for a crowd is easier when you use quantity and quality preparation techniques. Professional cooks and caterers stock their kitchens with multiple sets of measuring cups and spoons, two or more bowls for the mixer and food processor, and extra baking sheets to speed the process along. Use high-quality ingredients such as real butter and fresh flour and flavorings to ensure excellent results. Use ¼-inch wood dowels as guides for rolled cookies; just lay them alongside the dough as you roll it out.

Special presentation is the key to showing the care and thought that went into your homemade treats. Use cellophane and ribbon to wrap baked goods — think boutique bakery. Check your favorite bakery or holiday magazine for creative wrapping tips. The baking aisle of a craft store will yield all types of creative wrappings for food, and items can often be purchased at a discount with coupons. Also look for decorated photo storage or "memory" boxes that can be filled with fresh muffins and other baked treats and are often as adorable as the more expensive gift boxes.

If you are sharing the bounties of your garden, make the gift even more special by adding a little something extra, such as a cellophane bag filled with fresh tortilla chips to go with homemade salsa, or pairing jars of your jam with petite loaves of bread wrapped in cellophane with a strip of kraft or Christmas paper tied around the loaf with baker's twine.

Short on time? Bottles of sparkling cider and juices make festive yet easy gifts. Quart canning jars, each filled with a lemon, a cinnamon stick and an individual container of honey, await the addition of boiling water to make a healthy hot drink that helps chase away winter sniffles.

The featured Scottish shortbread cookies from my "A Harvest and Halloween Handbook" are a sturdy choice for decorating and make a delicious treat paired with hot cocoa or spiced cider. We have served them at each of our children's weddings, Christmas and other special occasions.

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McMurtry Shortbread Cookies

They need no adornment, but you may wish to frost them or sprinkle them with sugar before baking. Melted white chocolate can be drizzled over the cooled cookies.

1 cup butter, room temperature

2/3 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup finely milled whole-wheat flour

¼ cup cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Heat oven to 325 F. Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. In a separate bowl, blend the flours, cornstarch and salt. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and mix just until a crumbly dough is formed. Add pecans if desired.

Place dough between two sheets of waxed paper and roll to ¼-inch thickness. Remove paper and cut with cookie cutters. Transfer to a parchment- or waxed paper-lined baking pan and sprinkle with sugar or cookie decorations if desired. Bake smaller cookies at 325 for 15 minutes and larger ones for about 20 minutes or until edges are just starting to turn golden.

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Cinnamon Lemon Refresher

When winter chills start to invade, chase them away with this healthy hot drink that boosts your immune system.

1 fresh lemon, washed and cut into ¼-inch slices

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half

3½ cups boiling water

1 tablespoon honey or more to taste

Place the sliced lemon and cinnamon stick in a quart canning jar. Carefully add the boiling water and allow to steep until cool enough to drink. Remove the lemon and cinnamon and add honey to taste. Sip throughout the day.

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