Rita's bake-and-take holiday treats


1 quart wavy sliced generic dills, drained (I like Krogers)

2 cups sugar

1 garlic clove, smashed

1 tablespoon mixed pickling spice

Optional but very good: 1/4 teaspoon or more hot red pepper flakes or several dashes cayenne powder  (that's what makes the fire part!)

Make a layer of pickles in a large bowl.  Sprinkle some sugar over.  Keep making layers of pickles and sugar.  Sprinkle pepper and garlic on top of the last layer and also pickling spice if using.  Stir pickles gently.  Let sit at room temperature until sugar dissolves – this can take several hours. Stir every once in a while. Remove garlic clove if you like.  Pour into jars with syrup that has formed and store in refrigerator.

Mulling Spices

Nice to give as a gift wrapped in little cheesecloth pouches and placed in a jar.

Mix together:

4 cinnamon sticks, about 2-3" long, broken up

3 whole cloves

2 whole allspice

Mulled Cider:

Place spices in 2 quarts apple cider. Add a sliced orange. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook 15 minutes. Taste and add a bit of sugar if you like. Strain out spices and serve.

Tip from Rita's kitchen:

Extra cider can be frozen in an ice mold for punch.

Brandied fruit starter

This is one of those recipes that creates memories, and starts traditions. You need to start this within about a month before using, or giving as a gift from the kitchen. This is easy and beautiful. Now if the cans of fruit are a bit less, or more, than what's listed below, that's OK. And packed in juice or syrup is OK, too. I used apricot brandy but plain or peach is OK.

16 oz can diced peaches, drained (or sliced peaches diced)

16 oz can apricot halves, drained and cut in fourths

20 oz can pineapple tidbits, drained

10  oz jar maraschino cherry halves, drained

1-1/4 cups sugar

1-1/2 cups brandy

Combine everything together. Pour into glass jar or glass bowl, cover and let sit at room temperature at least 3 weeks before serving, stirring twice a week. Serve over ice cream or cake. Reserve at least 1 cup starter at all times.

To replenish starter:

To your reserved cup of fruit, add 1 cup sugar and 1 of the first 4 ingredients every 1 to 3 weeks, alternating fruit each time. I'll taste the mixture and if it seems like it needs more brandy, I'll add a bit. Cover and let stand at room temperature at least 3 days before serving each time starter is replenished.

To make Wms Sonoma regular Fudge sauce, leave out the peppermint and add 1 teaspoon vanilla.

2/3 cup whipping cream

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1/3 cup brown sugar, dark

1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder

Couple pinches salt

Heaping 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1 tablespoon butter

1/8 teaspoon peppermint oil or 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract or more to taste

Bring cream and corn syrup to a gentle boil in a saucepan. Add sugar, cocoa, salt and blend. Simmer for several minutes, then stir in chips, butter and extract and cook until chips melt. Store in frig.


Preheat oven to 350. Arrange starlight mints on parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake until just melted, about 9-10 minutes or so. Let cool completely, remove from parchment and store at room temperature, covered.

You can make a pretty pattern on the tray if, after it comes out of the oven and cools a bit but is still fairly soft, take a patterned dish towel (I used one with a quilt pattern) and gently lay it on top of the tray, pressing down with your hands. Let it cool completely before trying to remove towel.


Mix together:

1 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup ea: dried cranberries and chocolate chips

1/4 cup each roasted pumpkin seeds, peanuts, Brazil nuts


This can be made right away, also.  If refrigerated overnight, allow extra baking time. You can also let it sit out to take the chill off for 20 minutes before baking. Either way, when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, it's done.


1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

8 oz sour cream

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon ea: baking powder and soda

Dash salt


Mix together:

1/2 to 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 to 1 cup chopped toasted pecans

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray a 9x13 pan.  Beat butter sugar and eggs together until blended and light, about 2 minutes.  Add sour cream and vanilla and blend.  Combine flour, baking powder, soda and salt and add to batter slowly and blend well.  Pour into pan.  Sprinkle streusel on top.  Bake 35-40 minutes.  Freezes well.