Jingle Schells

Merry Christmas

with lots of love

(and guacamole quesadillas)

from The Schell Cafe


Christmas Appetizers

One of the countless tips I’ve learned from Mia is to always have a tasty treat to offer friends who stop by for a visit.  Of Mia’s many talents, the Lord gave her the gift of Hospitality (x2!).  She is the most gracious hostess I have ever known.

Since this is clearly the season for friends to drop-in & pop-in, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite savory snacks to have on hand. These are easy appetizers to make ahead and tasty enough that you might just find your friends coming ’round more often.

Nana’s Cheese Straws

Make a double batch of these yummy cheese wafers and keep ’em in your freezer.  Ten minutes in a 410 degree oven and you’ll have a warm bite with a kick to offer friends.

2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 cup flour

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp red pepper (I like more for a kick!)

1 stick margarine (do not use butter)

Sift the flour, salt, and pepper.  Combine with cheese and margarine.  Form long rolls, wrap in wax paper and chill over night, or freeze.  When ready to serve, slice frozen dough into 1/2 inch thick wafers and bake for 10 minutes at 410 degrees.

Rosemary Cashews

These rosemary infused nuts are just perfect.  I make them often! If you are lucky enough to end up with a few extra, toss them in a salad for a yummy crunch.

1 lb roasted, unsalted cashews

2 Tbs minced, fresh rosemary

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

2 tsp light brown sugar (I use a bit more)

1 Tbs kosher salt (I use less)

2 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the cashews out on a sheet pan. Toast in the oven until warm, 5 – 10 minutes.

Add melted butter to large bowl and stir in sugar and spices.  Toss warm cashews and stir to coat.

These nuts are great served right out of the oven, but they keep for a week in a sealed container.  Let me know if they last that long in your house!

Dried Okra

This is one of my very favorite prepared ‘tizers. I know what you are thinking.  Dried okra? No way.  Trust me they are out of this world yummy and every.single.person who has tasted them at our house has been pleasantly surprised.  I serve them in a fun tall glass, then step back to watch for the ah-ha moment to appear on happy faces.

I pick up my stash of dried okra at Central Market.  And I spied a similar version at Trader Joe’s last summer in California.  My HEB has a packaged brand, although I have not tried it.

Keep your eyes peeled and if you stumble upon dried okra, grab it! You’ll be thrilled and your friends will be too.

Spice Drop Cookies

Last year about this time, I wrote about my favorite Christmas cookie.  The Four Seasons’ Chocolate Ginger Cookies are so good I couldn’t get them off my mind.  Until I tried these Spice Drop Cookies.

A month (or more) ago, I was in Little Rock visiting my brother and his family.  While I was there, I was fortunate enough to attend a women’s retreat on Discipleship at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, where my little brother is a pastor.  If you’ve ever attended a women’s church retreat, you undoubtedly were blessed with amazing food.   Church women can cook.  It’s a fact. Actually it’s a gift, but I’m just sharing recipes here today.

As soon as I tasted this delicious cookie I knew I had to have the recipe.  After bugging asking politely, my sister-in-law’s good friend shared the ridiculously simple recipe with me.  She should have guarded it more closely as the cookie’s great flavor belies it’s simplicity.  But that’s the thing about church women.  They can cook, and they are honest.

So, how do Spice Drop Cookies compare to my favorite Chocolate Ginger Cookies? I’ll let you be the judge.  Let’s just say if easy is your thing, you won’t be disappointed in the bang for your buck with these simple and crowd pleasing cookies.

Spice Drop Cookies

1 box of Spice Cake mix

1 egg

3/4 c canola oil

1 package of butterscotch chips

Mix first three ingredients together until well combined.  Fold in butterscotch chips.

Drop by heaping teaspoon on to un-greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 9 minutes.

Seriously.  That’s the recipe.  Try ’em and let me know what you think.  Littlest helped me make the most recent batch (we’ve made them plenty!) and so we might have ended up a tad short on butterscotch chips.

No one noticed.

Enjoy the cookies!

Cheese Straws

One of the most shocking entries on my calendar occurred on August 8th.  The entry at the top of the day read: make cheese straws/freeze for Christmas.

I’m not sure what moonshine I was sippin’ when I added this event to my calendar, but rest assured August 8th came and went sans cheese straws.

In my defense, I actually remember adding this task to my calendar last year. I was in the throws of the holidays and wished I had planned better by freezing things like cornbread for the dressing, gingerbread dough for cookie decorating, and appetizer essentials like cheese straws. So I planned ahead and scheduled cheese straw production for the dog days of summer.

To further my own defense, I also remember laughing out loud on August 8th.  Cheese straws did not get made that hot, summer day.

But, since I find myself quarantined home again this month, week, morning I thought I’d make use of my time and make cheese straws for Christmas. My sick Little seems to have shaken the swine, but not ready to return to school.

Cheese straws have been in my family longer than I have.  The simple recipe comes from Mia’s mother’s best friend Ellen.  I’ve always called them Nana’s cheese straws after my grandmother, but apparently her neighbor should get the credit.  I’m sure Mia could share more history of these must-have holiday bites. Maybe she can also fill us in on why they are called cheese straws as they are really tiny wafers.

Truly nothing could be more simple to make than these savory bites.  Since I was blessed with two additional hands this morning, we doubled the batch and made plenty to freeze.

Nana’s Cheese Straws

2 cups Sharp Cheddar Cheese, grated

1 cup flour (it’s spelled flower on the original recipe! Don’t you love that?)

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp red pepper (I use a bit more for extra heat)

1 stick margarine (do not use butter)

Sift flour (or flower), salt and pepper.  Combine with cheese and margarine.  Form into long rolls, wrap in wax paper and chill over night.  Slice. Bake 10 minutes at 410 degrees.


I know it seems archaic, but please grate the cheese for this recipe.  And be sure to use sharp cheddar.


This recipe dates itself by calling for margarine.  But substituting butter is a no no!  Don’t be tempted, your cheese wafers will spread.  Use room temperature margarine.


Sift the salt, red pepper and flour. Then mix in the cheese and margarine.  Mix well with your hands until combined and mixture forms a ball.


Divide dough and roll into long, skinny logs.  Roll each cheese log in wax paper.


We are saving ours for the holidays, so I packaged them in a freezer bag.  When needed I can pull out one or more logs, slice and bake.  Make sure you slice and bake when the dough is still very, very chilled.  Allowing the wafers to come to room temp will cause them to spread.

Watch your oven carefully.  I usually take a good peek at 8 minutes as the wafers can burn in a matter of seconds.  You want them golden just around the bottom edges.

Make some this weekend! You’ll be thrilled to have these on hand during the holidays.

Have an early Merry Christmas!

Nana’s Olive Balls

I love family recipes that have precious memories.  My Nana passed away when I was two, so I cherish stories like this that Mia passed along to me.  I’ve nibbled on these olive balls all of my life and at some point along the way added the martinis too.  I think Nana would be thrilled to know her great granddaughters enjoy making her delicious olive balls.  And, for the record the Littles have not had martinis yet.
From Mia:
Mother made these almost every time she entertained…and that was often. When Poppy built the walk-in bar and he became quite adapt at making a fabulous martini the olive balls made history among friends and family.
Mother introduced me to a martini at a restaurant/ bar in Dallas. I honestly don’t remember where, but my guess is the Melrose as she loved to stay there because of family history living in the Penthouse. In fact, remember that the first time you were ever in a swimming pool was at the Melrose Hotel’s pool?
Sorry, got lost in memories. Here is THE  recipe. Remember they freeze great!
Nana’s Olive Balls~~With or Without Martini’s
2 cups of grated sharp cheese
1/2 cup of soft BUTTER (remember butter wasn’t used often)
1 cup sifted flour
1/2 tsp of salt
1 tsp of paprika
48 stuffed green olives
Blend cheese with butter, add flour, salt, paprika
Take about a teaspoon of mixture, place into palm and put an olive in it.
15 minutes at 4oo degrees
These freeze and can be taken out as many as you want at a time.

Try these as an appetizer for your next get-together with family and friends.  They will disappear in a flash!

Merry Christmas!


I started at least a dozen posts with wonderful recipes I intended to share over the last few days.  And here it is Christmas Eve and I didn’t get around to finishing them.  I guess I could claim that I’m ahead for next year instead of behind for 2008?!?!

Our Christmas Eve dinner (in a mere 8 7 hours) will be:

Spinach Salad with Oranges, Avocados & Red Onions

& Pomegranate Chipotle Dressing

Osso Buco

Risotto Milanese

Dulce du leche ice cream & Tuaca

Tomorrow however is still a moving target!!!  Even as I write our Christmas Day menu is evolving. Text messages and emails are flying back and forth with helpful updates on recipes, which store has the ‘good’ rolls, and even last minute menu changes.  For example, we were just given venison sausage from the largest axis on record in Texas this year.  Our dear friends (I so wanted to write deer friends) shared the bounty of their hunt and I am excited to add it to our Christmas table.  At the advice of Lulu, I will cook up the venison with a little beer (burp) and my sister-in-law’s Jezebel sauce for a delicious appetizer.  Nothing like last minute menu changes and a family of good cooks to execute!

*Update: One of the Littles just took a photo of me with Littlest.  She’s helping me taste the saffron risotto. ‘Nummy, nummy’, she said.


Whatever ends up gracing our table tomorrow, it will be the reason for our celebration that garners the most attention.  I hope that whether your family celebrates the birth of Christ or the festival of lights with a menorah or a kinara that you are surrounded by family and friends and blessed with the gifts of peace, joy and love.

Merry Christmas!



Grandma’s Oreo Peppermint Ice Cream Cake


I’ve never had a Christmas without this dessert.  If you’ve been around the cafe for a while, you can figure out that this will by my 41st Christmas.  That’s a lot of Oreo Peppermint Ice Cream Cakes.  Who knows how long my grandmother (Popa’s mother) made this treat before I joined the scene?!?  All I know is it wouldn’t be Christmas without this sweet tradition.

Mia took over the honor of making the cake when Grandma was no longer able.  And we are all grateful she’s kept the tradition alive, especially Popa and my brother.  This year, I’m stealing the duty from Mia.  Mostly, so I can share the love of our family’s Christmas cake with you.

Merry Christmas!

Grandma’s Peppermint Ice Cream & Oreo Cake

1 lg. pkg. of Oreo Cookies (hint: buy two packages!)
1/2 gal. (2 qt) Peppermint Ice Cream
1 stick of butter, melted
Pulse cookies in a food processor until coarsely crumbled.  Melt butter and add to cookies. Pulse until combined.  
Add 1/3 of cookie mixture to form crust in bottom of 9 x 13 pyrex dish.  Place crumb filled dish in freezer to set, 15 – 20 minutes.  Freezing crumbs makes it much easier to spread the ice cream!
Place ice cream in a large mixing bowl and allow to thaw slightly.  You should be able to stir the ice cream, but it will still be near frozen.  
Layer 1/2 of the ice cream on top of frozen crumb crust.  Layer 1/3 more of the cookies on top of the ice cream layer.  Place dish back into freezer to set, about 15 – 20 minutes.  I put the remaining ice cream in the fridge while the cake sets in the freezer.  You don’t want it to melt.
When cake is firm to the touch, remove from freezer and  repeat layering remaining ice cream and ending with cookies.  
Depending on how many cookies were eaten when  you started this recipe, you may or may not have enough cookie mixture to completely cover the cake.  If it looks slim, you can either add more cookies to the original mixture and pulse to combine or hand crumble a few and sprinkle on top!  
We were short about seven or eight cookies this year….I’ll let you decide where they went??!!! I had to dip into the extra package of Oreos to get enough cookies to cover our cake.  I think Grandma would have approved. 😉
The cake should be made at least 24 hours before serving.  Store in freezer and remove about 20 minutes before serving to make it easier to cut and serve.