Well, here’s the lowdown: First to address the “cookie swap” part. A cookie swap involves several people agreeing to make their favorite recipe and to exchange cookies (or other sweets) on a certain date (December 5th in our case). When the cookie swappers get together, guests leave home with several different varieties of cookies to either devour themselves, pass along to hungry hubbies, give as gifts, serve at other holiday shindigs, or in a pinch, use as leverage to get their toddlers to stop screaming because they’re refusing to let him/her leave the house in the Cinderella dress/Superman cape.
As for the play date part, this involved me inviting moms and their kids to share in the cookie fun. For my get-together, I set up a table in my garage with paper plates and plastic, kids-safe knives. I made almost 50 sugar cookies ahead of time and let the kids get creative and decorate their cookies with an assortment edible decorations, including sprinkles of all colors and incarnations, candies like Red Hots and M&Ms, frosting and even some shredded coconut. I set the decorating station up on a red plastic tablecloth to allow for easy clean-up.
Honestly, when I sent out my Evite invitation, I figured moms would probably be thinking, Is Kate crazy? I have enough to worry about over the holidays – as in a nursing infant, a tantrum-throwing toddler, and/or a gift list that would make even Santa stress out – without having to transform into Martha Stewart and whip up an extra batch of cookies. So I stressed that moms were welcome to come even if they arrived “cookieless.” The main point of my little get-together was to carve out some girl time and get the kiddos together to play.
I also didn’t follow the normal “rules” of a cookie swap and didn’t ask guests to bring mountains of cookies to share (most swaps require guests to bring at least six dozen cookies or so). I just told moms to bring a batch of their favorite recipe and to double it, if necessary.
Well, my laid-back, little shindig was a huge success. We had ample sweet stuff to go around (I am kicking myself because in my harried hostess mode I neglected to take a photo of our delicious spread). Most importantly, the little ones stared at each other and exchanged a few, “Goo-goo, gaa-gaas,” the older kids had fun decorating their cookies and the moms had time to chat.
Amazingly, I ended up having 22 people in our cozy townhouse, including 13 children 3 and under. Even more amazingly, nothing got broken – not even any of the Christmas knick-knacks that now adorn our home. There were no fights over whose turn it was to make stone soup with Madeline’s play kitchen and miniature pots and pans. There was no frosting in hair (although plenty of it ended up in tummies). It was a wonderful day and I was so proud of the mommies I know and how well-behaved their little ones are. Not that I would have been upset or surprised if battles over Shout! Elmo had ensued or if at least one sippy cup had leaked onto the carpet. Kids will be kids, after all, especially when you load them with sugar and thoughts of Santa Claus. But I do think it says a lot about the moms that were there that it was such an easy crowd.
I plan on making this an annual tradition because I had so much fun and I’ve already been able to use some of the extra cookies to spread holiday cheer. Best of all, Madeline is still talking about our cookie swap. She ate one of her lovely decorated cookies for dessert tonight, in fact.
Just in case you’d like to try to host a cookie swap play date down the road (I can see it working well as a Valentine’s Day party), I’ve included some ingredients – sorry, I couldn’t help myself – for success below:
Keep it simple.
Like I said, I didn’t ask moms to bring dozens and dozens of cookies because my intention wasn’t to add stress to their chaotic holiday schedule. I encouraged everyone to stick with tried-and-true recipes. I did ask for everyone to email me what they were planning on bringing ahead of time just to make sure we didn’t end up having five batches of chocolate chip cookies. To make my life easier, I used Evites for my invitations and communicated to everyone with follow-up emails.
Serve a light lunch.
To counteract all the sweets, serve a light lunch. I’m a big fan of soup because it’s so easy to create a large quantity of something that’s pleasing to the palate. I threw together a big pot of homemade chicken noodle soup. Several guests asked for the recipe, but the truth is, I always make this soup just by tossing things together. That said, I’ve included a rough idea of how I make the concoction below, along with some of the cookie recipes. I served whole wheat rolls with the soup and one friend brought a fruit salad and another brought pinwheel sandwiches to share.
Let kids get creative and messy.
I’m a big believer in allowing children free reign when it comes to their creativity. The problem is I’m also a bit of a control freak and not big on huge messes. That’s why I set up the kids’ cookie station in the garage. In addition, I reminded moms their little bakers might get messy and suggested they bring an old t-shirt of Dad’s along to use as a smock.
Don’t forget the doggie bags.
Ask guests to bring extra zip-lock bags or cookies to bring their goodies home in. Have some extra bags on hand.
Make a recipe list for guests.
I asked my guests to email me their recipes. I then created a Word document with all of the recipes listed in alphabetical order and sent it to everyone. I’ve included a sampling of some of the cookies/treats that showed up a the cookie swap, as well as the chicken noodle soup recipe. Enjoy!
Chicken Noodle Soup
Saute about 1/2 of a chopped onion, about 1 clove of garlic and a generous handful of chopped celery in olive oil, pepper, and some celery seed. Add chicken stock (just eyeball it – I used about six cups) and raw chicken chunks. Bring to boil and then lower to simmer. I usually let it simmer for an hour or two to really infuse the broth with all the flavors. Add a package of frozen veggies (this time I used frozen soup veggies, but you can use any variety your family likes). About 10 minutes before serving, bring broth back to boil and add egg noodles (I used almost an entire 16 oz. package). Cook as directed, usually for about 8-10 minutes or so and then bring back down to a simmer to keep warm and serve. Enjoy!!! NOTE: you may need to add more chicken stock since the noodles may absorb some of it.
Chocolate Chip Butterscotch Bars
Mix the following:
1 box yellow cake mix
1 stick butter, melted
Press into greased 13×9 dish and bake at 350 for 7 minutes.
Then mix the following:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups butterscotch chips
1 tsp. vanilla
Pour over warm crust and bake at 350 for an additional 22-28 minutes.
3/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cups all-purpose flower
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
16-oz. bag of mini semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1. In a large bowl, mix the melted butter, cocoa powder and sugar; beat in the eggs and vanilla extract.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Slowly mix in the wet ingredients, then stir in the chips. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Form the dough into 1-inch balls and roll in confectioners’ sugar. Bake on an ungreased baking sheet for 12 minutes. Makes 25 to 35 cookies.
Source: Family Fun magazine
Cranberry Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup regular oats
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts
2 1/2 tablespoons semisweet chocolate minichips
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
5 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons honey
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1. Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours, oats, baking powder, and the next 5 ingredients (through chips) in a large bowl.
2. Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add honey, vanilla, egg, and egg white; beat well. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture; beat at low speed until well blended. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 350°.
4. Drop batter by tablespoonfuls onto a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes. Cool 2 minutes on pans. Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.
Yield: 36 cookies
Source: Cooking Light
No Bake Cookies
1. In a boiler put:
2 cups of sugar
1 stick of butter or margarine
4 T. cocoa
1/2 cup milk
2. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 2 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and quickly add 1/2 cups instant oatmeal, 1/2 cup peanut butter, and 1 tsp. vanilla to mixture
4. Stir and drop by teaspoons onto waxed paper.
5. Cool and eat!
15 graham cracker sheets
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1 3/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup butter
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
1/2 cup white chocolate morsels
1. Separate each graham cracker sheet into 4 crackers. Place in a lightly greased 15- X 10-inch jelly roll pan. Sprinkle chopped pecans over graham crackers.
2. Bring brown sugar and butter to a boil in a saucepan over medium high heat. Boil 2 minutes. Pour brown sugar mixture over graham crackers in pan.
3. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Quickly remove graham crackers to wax paper, using a spatula, and let cool completely.
4. Microwave semisweet chocolate morsels in a microwave safe bowl at High 30 seconds. Stir and microwave at High 30 more seconds or until smooth. Drizzle chocolate evenly over cooled bars. Repeat procedure with white chocolate morsels.
NOTE: My guest used a peanut butter cookie dough recipe to make her reindeer cookies. She also used the extra PB dough to make the cookies with the chocolate kisses. You press the kisses into the PB cookies immediately after removing them from oven.
1 roll of pre-made sugar cookie dough
Small pretzel rings
M & Ms
Mini chocolate morsels
1 bell shaped cookie cutter
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Open cookie dough and mix in about 1/4 cup of flour to make the dough a stiffer consistency. Lightly flour the table, then roll the dough out to 3/4 inch thickness.
3. Using the bell cookie cutter, cut out 12 bell cookies – this will vary depending on how thick you roll out the cookies. (Or, you can just shape the dough into reindeer faces.)
4. Lay the cookies, all the same way with bell facing you, onto the cookie sheet. Now, turn the cookie sheet around so that the bells are upside down. This is your reindeer face! Place a red M&M for his nose and one pretzel on each side of his head for the ears. Add two mini chocolate chips for eyes.
5. Bake for 10 minutes or until very lightly browned around edges. Remove from oven and let cool on the baking sheet for 1-2 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack to finish cooling.