Make sweets for your sweetheart this Christmas

Welcome to “Anything But Eickhoff!” the brand-spanking new food column courtesy of Lions Now’s resident food critic Maria Montroni. Maria will tip you off to the best eats around Ewing and dish out delicious recipes that are great for any season or occasion. Dig in!

The holidays are filled with love, cheer and the ringing of the Salvation Army Santa Bell. And, of course, presents – expensive presents. I always find that come Dec. 15 or so, my Christmas money jar (you know you have one too) is down to its last nickels and dimes.

There’s the ever-present question: how do I top my boyfriend/girlfriend’s present from last year? Then there are your family members and roommates to think about, and you can’t forget your friends and professors either! Just buying cards for them will empty your wallet, but lucky for us, the holiday season is chock full of inexpensive ways to spread that holiday cheer.

In all honesty, I think that one of the easiest and most thoughtful ways to stave off holiday debt (and world hunger) is with food. What could be sweeter and yummier than a delicious bag of cookies and candy tied up with string? And really, who has time to shop anyway? It seems like these last few weeks of the semester go by in a whirlwind. So, take a much-deserved break from studying and get all of your holiday gift buying done in one afternoon. It’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s fun and, best of all, you can eat your mistakes.

If baking isn’t your thing, don’t worry; the recipes range from super easy to easy, so you can decide which is best for you. Most of them only require a microwave, and many of the extras and toppings are optional.

Nutty Santa Cookies
Level: Super Easy
Ingredients: One package of Nutter-Butter cookies, one tube of white icing, one tube of red icing, one bag of chocolate chip minis.
How: Draw Santa’s face on the cookies. Use the white icing for a beard, the red for a hat and nose and the chocolate chips for eyes.

Chocolate-Covered Pretzels
Level: Extra Easy
Ingredients: A bag of pretzel sticks, one 12 ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate, one can of multi-colored sprinkles, one can of wax paper.
How: In a microwaveable bowl, melt chocolate chips until smooth. Then, dip the pretzels in the chocolate. Be creative! Then, roll the pretzels in a bowl of sprinkles. Lay them on the wax paper until they set.

Chocolate-Covered Marshmallows
Level: Really Easy
Ingredients: 10 ounce bag of marshmallows, 40 toothpicks, one can of chocolate frosting, sprinkles/caramel/nuts, wax paper.
How: Stick each marshmallow on a toothpick and warm the frosting in a microwaveable bowl (about one minute). Lightly dip each marshmallow in the frosting and then roll in nuts/caramel/sprinkles. Let set on wax paper.

Chinese Noodle Cookies
Level: Pretty Easy
Ingredients: One package of chocolate chips, one package of butterscotch chips, 10 oz. dry Chinese noodles, one bag of peanuts/cashews, wax paper.
How: Melt chocolate and butterscotch chips in a microwaveable bowl. Add the Chinese noodles and nuts, mix well. Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper, let set.

Fantastic Fudge
Level: Easy
Ingredients: Powdered sugar, cocoa, milk, butter, vanilla extract, measuring cup, eight-inch pan, pecans/walnuts.
How: In a microwaveable bowl, combine 3 2/3 cups powdered sugar, one cup of cocoa, one cup of milk, one cup of butter. Microwave on high three minutes or until butter is melted. Add one tablespoon of vanilla extract and one cup of nuts, then stir until smooth. Spread into a buttered eight-inch pan, let cool, then cut into squares.

While your holiday treats are cooling, pick up some colored cellophane bags. Then stuff them, tie them with colorful ribbon, write a note and voila: easy and scrumptious holiday gifts for everyone on your list. Happy baking!