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Planning a holiday recipe exchange with friends

A holiday cookie exchange can yield a much wider variety of treats than you would be able to prepare on your own. Photo by - Forum Communications, Co.

One part honesty, two parts laughter and the occasional glass of wine is the perfect recipe for friendship for nine friends.

The women, who are all in their 20s, get together at least once a month to cook, share recipes and catch up on life. They say their best gatherings happen in the winter.

Last week, they had a Christmas cookie exchange.

Food, while the reason for gathering, comes secondary to the bonding that occurs during their monthly or bi-monthly gatherings, Horace resident Chelsea Jaeger says.

"It's therapy we don't have to pay for," Jaeger says. "We have withdrawals from each other if we don't catch up regularly."

The women take turns hosting the parties. This is the second year they've exchanged cookies.

"It's really fun to share memories of the old family recipes we use,"

Moorhead resident Lexie Kreps says. "It sparks a whole conversation."

Most of the women have known each other since college, and others have become part of the group through mutual friends.

"We say, the more, the merrier," Jaeger says. "It grows our circle of friends."

For most gatherings, the women cook together and one person organizes the meal. Each woman brings a meal component to contribute, and no one knows what the meal will be until they get to the party.

The gatherings' frequency and types have evolved with the women. Their first year, they usually met every Wednesday night.

"This group will always be my Wednesday Night Girls, even though we don't see each other every Wednesday like we used to," Fargo resident Ashley Shannon said.

The first year of their parties, they cooked "cheap" meals. Now, they cook "fancy" meals, and all the women have careers, most are married, and half of them have kids.

"We've really realized how close we all are, and it's crazy how life has changed," Jaeger said.

Most of the women don't have sisters, so the circle of friends calls themselves surrogate sisters. They also jokingly refer to themselves as "modern church aid ladies."

"A lot of our funniest stories come from those nights," Kreps said. "It's just a reason for us to get together and keep in touch."

Here are some tips for hosting a successful girls' night and cookie exchange.

• Set a day and time. "Not everyone will always be able to make it," Kreps said. "Just get over that and set a date."

• Make it a priority. "Do something for you," Fargo resident Elissa Waasdorp said.

• Make plans for the next party at the current party. "If you don't, you might not plan a day," Kreps said.

• Rotate hosting so it's different every time. "We all have different styles, and we meld together," Reiles Acres resident Kelsey Simonson said.

• Bring at least one dozen cookies. "Then you can exchange cookies with everyone else, and it'll save you time and money," Kreps said.

• Build your recipe box.

Have guests bring copies of their recipes so everyone goes home with a set of new ideas. Or, if you and your friends are on Facebook, it's easy to create a cookie swap exchange event to share pictures and recipes.

• Plan for a mix of both experienced and novice bakers. This allows the hobby bakers to share some of their secrets and provides an opportunity for beginners to learn some new tips and tricks for cookie baking success.

• Be mindful of the cookies you bring. Last year, someone brought mint cookies and they stunk up everyone's containers of cookies once they were exchanged, Shannon said.

• Dress it up. Spruce up versatile, go-to recipes with seasonal flavors and creative decorations. Play with festive cookie cutters, colorful frosting, spices and extracts.

• Any setting makes a cookie swap. The office, living room, break room, school lunchroom or community center can be a perfect setting for a swap with close friends or a casual super swap.

• Keep it simple. The women ordered pizza this year for their cookie exchange.

"We usually cook a big meal, but we wanted to make it easy on ourselves this year," Kreps said.

• Bring the kids sometimes, and leave them at home sometimes. Most of the women's parties are kid-friendly since so many of them have children. Some nights though, they like to have an adults-only night and go out after their dinner.

McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this story.