snowballs (butter balls) snow butter balls … they’re balls, y’all

There’s a version of these cookies floating around somewhere in the Christmas baking recipe box of a great many American familes. They’re certainly one of our favorites, and I always make sure I include them when I’m deciding what I’ll bake each year.

This past Christmas was a whirlwind for me. Earlier in the month, I’d traveled to visit Jay and Tereasa in Johnson City, TN. I seriously almost died on that trip. The snow was really pretty until I hit 3700 feet and the temperatures dropped.

sams gap

By the time I reached Jay and T’s, I pretty much wandered in with a dazed look begging for gin. Or Crown Apple. Maybe both. I think there was ginger ale. Sweet mother of mercy.

My travels and my trials weren’t over, though. My father was going to my Aunt Carole and Uncle Ron’s house in Georgia for Christmas, and I very much wanted to be with family. My cousins were there with their families and I decided I was going to have make a pot of gumbo for Christmas Eve dinner and cart it on down there. I set off right after work on December 23rd. It started raining mere seconds after I got started. It rained all the way to I-85, it rained all the way down I-85 into Georgia, and in Georgia, it stopped raining so that it could start pouring. Thunder. Lightning. The whole works.

If you’ve never traveled it, I-85 between Charlotte and Atlanta is pretty much the most wretched stretch of road on the face of the Earth. It’s 2 lanes in each direction where it should be 6 and 6 lanes where it should be 12. Every 18-wheeler ever created is doing 55 in both lanes in front of you and the guy directly behind you always has a serious case of road rage and is simultaneously flashing his brights, laying on the horn, gesticulating madly, and hoping his eyes will turn into lasers so he can blow my ass off the road.

road rage

Did I mention it was storming?

By the time I got to my Aunt and Uncle’s house, I pretty much wandered in with a dazed look begging for wine. Daddy had anticipated this and my cousin Jennifer was already opening it.

(I haven’t forgotten this a cooking blog and that I owe you the recipe for some kind of balls. I promise it’s coming. I’m not done traveling yet.)

So that was Christmas Eve Eve (my Christmas Eve Eve track record isn’t that great, now that I think about it.) I hung with the fam for Christmas Eve, which was truly lovely, and then went to bed early so I could wake up at zero dark hundred to drive to my daddy’s house in TN … where he wasn’t. But I needed a place to crash for a little while before I headed to my final Christmas travel destination to spend Christmas afternoon with Cristi, one of my oldest and dearest friends in the world, her sister YaYa, one of my newest and dearest friends in the world, their husbands and their mama. I’d seriously been looking forward to seeing them, and it was nothing less than wonderful. We played games, had a wonderful meal and just generally enjoyed one another.

Which brings me full circle because balls. Scott’s family (he’s Cristi’s husband, yo) makes snowballs in mass quantities every Christmas, except they call them butter balls. It’s a family tradition and I was given an adorable little box of them. I’d brought some cookies of my own to give to them, and I instantly had to compare my snowballs with Scott’s butter balls and you know what?

His were better. Like, WAY better.

He got out his recipe and I pulled mine up on my phone (yeah … I’m THAT girl.) They were almost identical except for a tiny couple adjustments, which I went ahead and made on my file.

And so, after a ton of ado, I give you a recipe I’ve never made. For snowballs.

(Erm. Butter balls.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup confectionery sugar (don’t argue with me and tell me it’s confectioner’s sugar. Just don’t. I’ll sic Cristi, Scott, and that road rage guy from up there on you.)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2-1/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375°. Beat butter for 30 seconds. Add 1/2 cup confectionery sugar and beat until well-combined. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour, a little bit at a time. (If you’re using a hand mixer, abandon it when you must and go forth without the aid of electricty. Also, get a stand mixer. So fabulous.) Add pecans.

Shape into 1″ balls and place 1″ apart on baking sheets. Bake about 20 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Roll in powdered sugar and cool on wire racks. Roll in powdered sugar again when cool.

(That double rolling thing was new. That and I used granulated sugar in the dough, and Scott’s family doesn’t.)

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pecan praline cookies

This is one of those stupid simple recipes that I should hate, but just don’t. Because yum. Serious yum.

Ingredients:

  • 35 graham crackers
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325°.

Place graham crackers on a baking sheet, covering the bottom. You can go a couple ways with this. You can break them into their smallest size before baking them, which gets messy and takes a little time. Or you can leave them large and cut them later, which gets messy. Either way, you’re making a mess. I prefer the pre-break method.

Bring sugar, butter and cream of tartar to a boil in a saucepan. Add the nuts. Pour mixture over the graham crackers.

Bake for 10 minutes. Let them sit for a few minutes after you take them out of the oven, then transfer them to wire racks to cool.

pecan tassies

Tiny pecan pies! I love the tiny pies. Also, bonus … you can hold one and pretend you’re a giant.

chandler-giant

You’re going to want to double this recipe. And then, after you’ve made them, and tried one to make sure it is okay, then tried another one after they cooled completely (cuz you can’t be sure if it was just good warm or if room temp caused some serious quality issues), and then grabbed a couple to eat while binge watching season six of Supernatural …

I mean, not that that has ever happened to me. I’m just saying … make extra.

These are staples in my Christmas baking. Mama always made them, too, though she stopped making them if she knew I’d be there for the holidays, because I’d always show up with a hugical platter of baked goods.

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz cream cheese
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Dash salt
  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325°. Combine cream cheese, ½ cup butter, and flour.  Mix thoroughly and chill, covered, for one hour.  Divide into 24 small balls and press into the sides and bottom of ungreased miniature muffin pans.  Combine eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, salt and remaining butter.  Beat until smooth.  Sprinkle pecans into tart shells.  Divide egg mixture evenly among the tarts, pouring on top of pecans.  Bake 20-25 minutes until pastry is golden brown.

veal stuffed shells

Okay … you’re gonna have to bear with me on this one. I don’t actually measure very much when I’m cooking italian. I mean, I literally just have the ingredients written down and I wing it for the most part. That goes for sauces, pastas, lasagnes … the whole she-bang. I’ll try to put something in there for you, but let’s be real; you’re just going to adjust it to your taste anyhoo. Amiright?

(You can nod. I don’t need verbal affirmation.)

joker nod

For the sauce:

  • Olive oil
  • Minced garlic
  • Chopped onion … pretty sure I just chop up a small one. Yellow, white, sweet … whichevs
  • Minced basil (I use fresh, but you can use dried if you wanna)
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Oregano (I try to use fresh, but sometimes have to settle for dried)
  • 1 large can tomato sauce
  • 1 large can whole peeled tomatoes 
  • A large dollop of tomato paste
  • Around a cup of water

In a medium pot, heat the olive oil. (I use my Dutch oven. Less splatter.) Add the onions, garlic and all the seasonings and cook over a medium heat until the onions are soft. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat to medium low and cook, uncovered, until the sauce has thickened. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed, then turn off the heat.

For the shells:

  • Olive oil
  • 1 box jumbo pasta shells
  • Salt
  • 1 large finely chopped onion
  • Minced garlic (I like lots)
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • 1 bag spinach leaves, roughly chopped
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • A handful of grated parmesan (grate it yourself, please and thank you. don’t use the shaker can stuff. bleh.)
  • A handful of grated romano (same as above)
  • A sprinkle or pinch or some such precise measurement of each of the following:
  • Paprika
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cayenne
  • Oregano
  • Thyme (use fresh if you can)
  • Basil (use fresh if you can)
  • Some grated mozzarella (totally grate it yourself .. don’t get the bag. I tend to like less than most, so use as much as you prefer)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly grease a nice sized lasagne pan.

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until just al dente. Drain and rinse in cold water.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are soft. Add the ground veal and cook until it is browned. Add the spinach, salt and pepper and cook until it is wilted. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine the cheeses and eggs, salt and pepper, and the rest of the spices. Stir in the veal/spinach mixture and combine thoroughly.

Spoon the mixture into the shells and arrange in the lasagna pan. (It often makes so much that I have enough left over for another small baking dish for freezing or sharing.) Pour the sauce over the top and sprinkle with more mozzarella.

Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until bubbly. Let it sit a few minutes before serving.

snickerdoodles

Only the best cookies ever. With the funniest name ever. Which got me to thinking … why the eff are they called snickerdoodles?

Because I am of the internets, I consulted the trusty Google. The Google consulted the Wiki, which had apparently consulted The Joy of Cooking, and spit back this:

snail noodles

Y’all. Snail noodles. Srsly.

All that aside, the cookies are awesome. And here’s how you make them.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar (which is neither creamy nor tartar sauce-y)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3/4 cup flour
  • Cinnamon-sugar mixture for coating

Preheat the oven to 400°. Cream together the shortening and sugar. Add the eggs. Add the dry ingredients and mix well. Form into balls and roll in cinnamon-sugar. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet 2″ apart for 8-10 minutes.

(Here’s Mama’s handwritten version. Happy Mother’s Day, y’all.)

snickerdoodles (1)

And here’s a copy of the beautifully used version my mother’s dear friend Charlotte Clifford has had since my sisters and I were neighborhood children running around with Charlotte’s kids.