Breads · Brunch · Uncategorized

The 12 Days of Christmas, Day 11: Pumpkin Pie Bread Pudding

Make your Christmas morning SIMPLE with this make-ahead show stopper. All you need to do is pop it into a preheated oven, before you unwrap gifts and it will be ready when you are.

This pumpkin pie bread pudding is a dream recipe because it is not only ridiculously simple to make, but it uses simple, inexpensive staples most everyone always has on-hand in their kitchen.

Pro tip: Always keep a loaf of stale french bread on top of your fridge or in your bread box. Its a great multi-tasker, whether for bread crumbs, bread pudding, or more.

In my fridge recently sat a lonely, partial can of pumpkin just begging to be used up. With the big holidays I try my best to prepare as many dishes in advance so that I don’t have to deal with many messes on the big day, so this was a no brainer. We don’t (yet) have a traditional breakfast which we do on Christmas mornings because our children are small and enjoy pretty much everything. This year I concluded, who doesn’t love bread pudding? It’s easy, versatile, and potentially more nutritious (or at least less unhealthy) than so many other breakfast staple options.

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Preparing to go into the oven!

You will need:

9×13 casserole dish, liberally buttered

1 loaf of stale bread, cut or torn into approximate bite size pieces

1 cup melted butter

12 eggs

2 cups pumpkin puree

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 cups whole milk

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

pinch of salt

Whipped cream

Maple syrup

Toasted pecans

Directions: Cube bread and place into greased casserole dish. Drizzle melted butter over stale bread. In a large bowl, beat eggs, whip puree into eggs, then add sugar, salt, pumpkin pie spice, and vanilla, and mix until combined. Slowly incorporate milk, one cup at a time. Pour over the bread and butter. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until sides are lightly browned and a toothpick comes out mostly clean from the center.

Serve with whipped cream, maple syrup, and toasted chopped pecans.

Sides · Special Occasions

The 12 Days of Christmas Bake Along, Day 10: New England Holiday Dressing

I couldn’t post this yesterday because I was having complications. Every once in a while, though thankfully much less often than it used to be, my body reminds me that I have limitations, that I have done too much and need to slow down. My best friend in the world counseled me, “The most important part about being a domestic goddess is knowing that sometimes life happens and you can’t beat yourself up about it.” So I gave myself a pass, took some extra fast acting calcium and put my feet up.

Another one of my favorite recipes I learned while living in New England was dressing to accompany the holiday meal. It is aromatic, flavorful, and unique, highlighting many of the best flavors possible in what is usually portrayed as an overtired, underappreciated side dish. It’s a nice way to class up the traditional box mix, or you can go all the way and use your own bread crumbs as well.

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You’ll need:

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 McIntosh apples, diced

1/2 pound chopped carrots

1/2 pound celery

1/4 pound sliced mushrooms

1 pound ground sausage (use your favorite kind– I used sage pork sausage)

2 sticks of butter, cut into cubes

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (be sure to use a lot of the mace also)

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme

1/2 teaspoon freshly chopped rosemary

1/2 teaspoon sage

Olive oil, salt, pepper

6-8 cups of your favorite dried bread crumb blend. (Depending on time, either go the easy route and use a blend from the store, or whatever you have on hand.) I used equal amounts of marble rye, pumpernickel, and sourdough breads.

4 cups chicken broth

Directions: Cook and crumble sausage. Drain and set aside. In olive oil, saute all vegetables and fruit until everything is tender but not mushy. Be sure to season every layer with salt and pepper. Add seasonings and herbs, add sausage, and mix. Slice all bread into relatively equal sized cubes. I did half to three-quarter inch pieces. It doesn’t have to be precise. Toss the aromatic blend into the bread crumbs.

Boil chicken broth and butter. Pour over dressing mixture and fluff with a fork. Serve immediately.

Baking

The 12 Days of Christmas Bake Along, Day 9: Pistachio Brittle

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I fully credit my sister for this brilliance, as well as the work that went into making this batch of brittle for me to photograph in action.

As a child I never cared for peanut brittle. Until my sister decided to make it with pistachios one year, I had no idea how good this fun holiday treat truly was. Now it proudly sits near the top of the family’s traditional holiday baking list every year. I gladly give her all the glory for effortlessly whipping up this lovely batch photographed above.

The recipe for Peanut Brittle is from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. It’s perfect the way it is and we have never felt the need to alter it except for changing the nuts from peanuts to pistachios.

My siblings and I grew up learning how to cook out of this book. In our home it is simply called “the red and white cookbook.” My children will learn how to cook many things from this book also. If you’re a novice in the kitchen and want to build your cookbook collection and home your skills, the is the first and foremost cookbook recommendation I will happily give to anyone.

Pistachio Brittle

2 cups sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup water

2 1/2 cups shelled pistachios (salted if possible)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Lay 2 regular silpat baking mats on the counter. This is where you will be pouring the candy to cool at the end, so make sure it is a spot you won’t need to work on later.

“Butter the sides of a 3qt saucepan. In the pan combine the sugar, corn syrup, butter, and water. Cook and stir over medium-high heat Until the mixture boils. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low; continue boiling at a moderate, steady rate, stirring occasionally, until the thermometer reads 275 degrees Fahrenheit (hard crack stage), 15-20 more minutes.

Remove pan from heat; remove thermometer. Quickly sprinkle baking soda into mixture, stirring constantly. Immediately pour onto baking sheets.”

Use a silicone spatula to spread the mixture evenly onto the mats so that the nuts are in a single layer. It must be cooled completely before breaking into pieces.

Breads · Special Occasions

The 12 Days of Christmas Bake Along, Day 8: New England Apple Cake

I’ve been late in the day posting my lovely recipes these past few days because of kids holiday and school activities. Last night, two of my children had to choose between two different singing gigs on opposite sides of the valley. They opted for Christmas caroling. The thing is that one of the people who helped plan it ended up having emergency gall bladder surgery, couldn’t attend, and the group needed an extra driver. They saw me pull up in my minivan and I couldn’t say no. It turned out to be an extremely enjoyable evening and I feel blessed that I could be part of it. At the end, one of my new friends gave me a bag of gorgeous hand picked apples which she picked up from an orchard in Santaquin, Utah last week. They’re so beautiful, aren’t they?

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I was delighted. I’m not sure what kind these are, but they apples are fragrant, firm, delicate in flavor, and super sweet. They brought back fond memories of when I lived in New England, surrounded by apple orchards and farms, and you could pick your own apples and pay by the bag full. Out there those were McIntosh apples, which are my absolute favorite, followed closely by Granny Smith. In fact, I have both kinds in my kitchen right now. I bought them for today’s featured recipe, but these gift apples were so pleasing, I could not resist honoring them by featuring them in my special apple cake.

Over a decade ago now, I served a mission for my church to Hartford, Connecticut. It was one of the best experiences of my life and some of my fondest friends live there. During my first few months, my trainer and I visited a dear woman every week. She would tell us stories and make us dinner and care for us almost like we were her own daughters. One of my best recipes is one she taught me, and this one came from her grandmother. I miss her and think of her every time I make it. She simply called it apple cake, but I call it New England Apple Cake. The only difference I have made is that I changed the oil to butter and increased the quantity and variety of spices because it reminds me even more so of New England this time of year.

New England Apple Cake

4 cups of apples, peeled and chopped (Pick your favorite kind. I usually choose between McIntosh, Granny Smith, or Honeycrisp, depending on availability.)

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup melted butter

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla

2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp dried ginger

1/2 tsp cardamom

1/4 tsp cloves

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Liberally grease a 9×13 pan.

Mix apples, sugar, spices, and butter. Allow to sit for a couple minutes to draw the water out of the apples. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Fold in the salt, baking soda, and flour. Fold in nuts if desired. Spoon mixture into pan and gently spread evenly. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Baking · Special Occasions

The 12 Days of Christmas Bake Along, Day 7: Ohhhhhhh Fffuuuuuuuuuuuudddgggge!

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I’m talking about candy fudge. Not “the f-dash-dash-dash word.”
Most people, at least here in the US, make fudge for Christmas. Usually chocolate, sometimes peanut butter, because you know how much Americans love peanut butter, and occasionally some other random flavor. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told, “My family uses the original See’s fudge recipe.” Even my husband’s grandmother said that to me once. Which is funny because my family fudge recipe is titled “See’s Fudge.” But you know what? They are different recipes. I could do a blind taste test and tell you whose fudge recipe is whose.

This was over 10 years ago now, and at the time it amused me enough that I decided to do some digging. I ought to preface this by telling you straight off the bat that what I learned is that this popular American fudge recipe is not true fudge to begin with. It’s not the same cooking process/ingredient list.

What is the difference between real fudge and “See’s Fudge? And why is it called See’s fudge? Old fashioned fudge consists primarily of dairy, butter, sugar, and cocoa powder with a couple little extras depending on personal preference. The ingredients are the biggest difference and require a tad more skills in the kitchen. We will have to visit this fun recipe another time. Let’s play with the easier version for now.

See’s fudge is called that because of a well known candy chain who made this simplified fudge recipe famous decades ago. Approximately the same time, it was called Wonder Fudge. A well known marshmallow manufacturer then took it a step further and called it Fantasy Fudge. Brilliant on their part, to alter the name and recipe so that they could put it on the back of their products, no? For purposes of clarification, let’s call it Simplified Fudge to differentiate it from Old Fashioned Fudge.

Simplified fudge is awesome, almost as much as Traditional Fudge. The difference– the KEY is that is uses marshmallows! (I know, I gave that spoiler above.) Long story made very short, the reason this is helpful is because marshmallows have cut down the cooking time, simplified the cooking process, and best yet, significantly decreased the risk of accidentally crystallizing the entire batch of candy. (Although it’s still a possibility if you’re careless. But don’t let that deter you!) This is seriously worthwhile for any intermediate baker to attempt as long as you know how to follow instructions. Once you master this, there’s no telling what you can accomplish in your kitchen!

Simplified Fudge

3 cups granulated sugar

2/3 cup evaporated milk

3/4 cup butter (cut into cubes)

12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips

10 oz. mini marshmallows

1 cup chopped nuts

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Liberally butter a 9×9 baking dish.

In a large mixing bowl, layer the ingredients in order: chopped nuts, chocolate chips, marshmallows, butter, and vanilla extract. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring sugar and evaporated milk to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. (Don’t scrape the sides– this would cause it to crystallize and you don’t want that!) Continue boiling for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly. (Don’t scrape the sides.) Pour the milk mixture over the remaining ingredients. (Don’t scrape the sides!) Stir vigorously until fully incorporated. Pour into the greased baking dish and let cool. When ready to serve, cut into 1-inch squares.

Breads · Brunch

The 12 Days of Christmas Bake Along, Day 6: Nuns Puffs

Want to feel like a bad*** in your kitchen?  Do you sometimes have visitors who will be coming for tea in less than an hour and you didnt have time to prepare something?  Wish you could whip up something special at the drop of a hat?

Memorize this:  “Half a cup, one cup, three-quarters cup, four.”

“1/2c, 1c, 3/4c, 4.”  (Say it again about 5 more times in your head.  It’s SO worth committing to memory.)

It’s that simple.  What is it, you may ask?  Pâte à choux!  You know, the fabulous balls of buttery pastry which are used for croquembouche (cream puff towers) and éclairs.  (Pâte= paste/pastry, Choux= cabbages/rosettes.  This is why you will always see the batter piped into small rosettes before baking for cream puffs.)  However, I am not going to make either of those with it today.  Éclairs and cream puffs usually use pâte à choux as a vehicle for fancy fillings.  Today I am going to let it shine on its own.

20171218_1143131992266626.jpgAs Nuns Puffs have gained popularity recently, even taking on different shapes, stories of origin, and even cooking methods, this is the original way I learned, and by far the simplest method to cook them.

All you need in addition to the ingredients is a heavy pan (I use a ceramic coated cast iron pot), a high quality wooden spoon, a muffin tin, and your muscles.  Now, you already know the sequence.  Lets add ingredients to it.

1/2c butter

1c milk

3/4c flour

4 large eggs

This makes one dozen puffs.  I always have to double it for my family (which is what I have done in the pictures, but not in the written recipe).  Oh, and before I forget, I want to share with you something wonderful: this recipe works wonderfully with 1:1GF flours.

Liberally grease (or butter) one 12 cup muffin tin.  Preheat your oven to 375.

Melt butter until it is lightly golden browned and starts to smell nutty.  Add milk and bring to a simmer.  I like to just barely scald it.

20171218_105220875735176.jpg(I adore the look of those foamy bubbles on the edges of the milk as it begins to scald.)

Turn down the heat to its lowest setting.  Dump in the flour and stir vigorously until it forms a semi-tight ball.

20171218_1056371934934236.jpg Just about there!  Now, let it rest for 5 minutes.

Then add your eggs, one at a time.  Mix it thoroughly until fully incorporated before adding each additional egg.  (Sorry!  I got distracted by my newborn and forgot to take a picture of what it looks like after all the eggs are incorporated.)  Now spoon equal amounts into your muffin tins and bake for 25-30 minutes, until theyre golden brown and pull away from the edges of your tin.

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I like to serve them with raw honey and a light dusting of ground cinnamon.  For less than 15 minutes of prep time, this is a pleasing presentation for your family on Christmas morning, or any time at all.  Happy baking!

Brunch · Soups · Supper

The 12 Days of Christmas Bake Along, Day 5: Ginger Chicken Soup

Look, I get it. This is also a cheat because it is cooking, not baking. But you need this! It’s worth it. I justify it because it is good to have healthy foods to savor in the midst of the sugary goodness I keep promoting throughout this series. Oh, and this is a perfect use for the green tops of the scallions which I suggested you to save when you made your party cheeseballs.

Last month one of my sweeties had a relapse of strep throat. I’m constantly commuting with 5 kids in tow, errands and activities to and fro. My sweet husband took over dinner and enabled me to pick up my muffin’s Rx in peace, and he told me to buy myself a treat while I was out. (I had been dealing with a bad case of post partum depression for the first time in my life, and it was healthy for my well being to steal a moment away from the chaos. We will discuss more on the topic of PPD at a later time because it is an extremely incredibly important topic that needs to be acknowledged in our society more than it is.)

Well, next door to the pharmacy is my favorite grocery store. They are a (mostly) healthy minded grocer. One of my favorite things is that they have a hot soup station near the front of the store. I steal away to have lunch there often. This night one of the soups du jour was “Asian chicken soup.” I loved it!! When I got home I scoured the internet for a recipe. No luck.

This is when having basic cooking skills and an enjoyment for replicating or adapting recipes proves beneficial. So, on a cold night when you are feeling overwhelmed with your life and need a boost, here is a warm hug from the inside out.

Ginger Chicken Soup

3 large chicken breasts, shredded

6 cups chicken stock

8 cups water

3 bunches of scallions

16oz sliced baby portabella mushrooms (shitake are great too)

8oz sliced bamboo shoots

4 tablespoons soy sauce (or coconut aminos)

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

3 tablespoons ginger paste (or freshly grated ginger)

Optional: 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginseng

Sesame oil for garnish

Shred chicken breasts by hand into tender bite sizes. Set to the side. Slice bamboo shoots into match sticks and sauté in olive oil. They are more enjoyable in this soup when they are slightly less dente than straight out of the can. Slice the green tops of the scallions at a diagonal. Spice the whites in paper-thin rounds. Add to the bamboo shoots and cook until nicely wilted. Add sliced mushrooms and cook mixture until mushrooms shrink to half their size. Give the mixture one light sprinkling of salt and pepper. Add ginger and ginseng. Mix evenly. Pour chicken stock and water over the mixture. Add soy sauce and vinegar. Simmer for 10 minutes. Garnish with a few small drops of sesame oil. Serve while hot.

Stay warm, my friends.

Baking · Cookies

The 12 Days of Christmas Baking, Day 4: Spiced Pumpkin Cranberry Breakfast Cookies

Every autumn, as a personal rule, I greedily hoard fresh pumpkins of every size, and I carefully tuck away a few bags of fresh cranberries into my freezer. I find a guiltless satisfaction knowing I have such beautiful ingredients to add to any recipe on a whim. And who could blame me? In these cooler months it is vital to our health to boost our meals with as much extra nutrition as possible, to ward off any threats to our immune system. I’m not necessarily calling pumpkins a super food by any stretch of the imagination (although I do adore them in all forms), but cranberries definitely possess enough antioxidants and vitamins to speak for themselves.

As these are two of my favorite flavors in the world, I couldn’t help but come up with a recipe which embraces the pleasures of both ingredients harmoniously. This was, surprisingly, much simpler than I anticipated. Instead of channeling a traditional pumpkin spice cookie vein, I immediately reflected on a beautiful breakfast cookie that my grandmother used to make when I was a child. Instead of the simple, charming flavors she used to use, I turned it seasonal and rich with warming spices.

The texture is a cross between a muffin and a cookie in its density. Since word combining seems to be all the rage with recipe hybrids lately, would we call it a muffie or a coofin? (Would anyone care for a cronut or a merookie?). It matters not. A cookie by any other name would taste as sweet.

Continuing on the antioxidants topic, I shamelessly added dark chocolate, too. I like a LOT of comforting spices in my recipe. It’s not adequate unless the aroma fills your home with warm holiday cheer. Normally one would not expect chocolate and the combination of spices to play nicely together, but this is a pleasant exception.

Tuck in with a plate of these cookies, a cup of your favorite tea and some good morning literature on a cool, quiet morning. You’ll be glad you did.

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Spiced Pumpkin Cranberry Breakfast Cookies

1 cup butter (room temperature)

2.5 cups sugar

2 cups pumpkin

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon powdered ginger

3 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

3 cups all purpose flour

1 cups finely ground oat flour

2 cups chocolate chips

2 cups cranberries (dried or frozen)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add eggs, then pumpkin and vanilla. Sift together all dry ingredients and spices. Slowly add dry to wet ingredients a few scoops at a time to combine. (Do not over mix.) Gently fold in the chocolate chips and cranberries. Scoop quarter cup portions onto a parchment lined baking sheet. (I usually do 5 per tray so they don’t run together.) Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom and the centers spring back. Cool before serving.

In my original recipe I used dried cranberries. Recently I did not have anything on hand except my cheerful bags of frozen cranberries. This was a delightful shift in not only the texture, but also taste. While it truly comes down to personal preference, I happily sacrificed the chewy dried cranberry pieces in exchange for the tart jewels which brightened every bite. I leave it up to a vote amongst my readers which choice of cranberries you believe is better.

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Look how those gorgeous rubies bleed their sweet juices into the cookie. Heaven!

Special Occasions

12 Days of Christmas Bake Along, Day 3: Party Cheeseball

We are going to switch gears to a savory note today.  It just wouldnt be the holidays without this essential holiday staple. My aunt gave a variation of this recipe to my mother decades ago.  I think she received it from a friend before that.  My family has enjoyed this cheeseball during the holiday season every single year of my life, or pretty close to it.

I’ve tweaked the family recipe to my own family’s liking.  With notes of green onion, lemon juice, garlic, and more, you’ll find it has a wonderful balance between tangy and salty, smoothness and crunch.  I can’t imagine a Christmas or a New Years Eve without this gorgeous cheeseball in the party spread.  Serve it with a classic Ritz Crackers or Wheat Thins and you wont be disappointed.

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All of these measurements are for 2 good sized cheeseballs: one for Christmas and one for New Years Eve, although it is doubtful that the second one will last that long.  (We always end up making multiple batches of this throughout the month of December.  It makes wonderful gifts, too!)

Easy Party Cheeseball

2 8oz. boxes of full fat cream cheese

1 large bunch of scallions (green onions)

4-6 ounces corned beef sandwich slices (such as Buddig)

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2-3 tablespoons lemon juice

1-2 teaspoons minced garlic

1-2 cups toasted pecan pieces

Toast the pecan pieces and lightly chop, then set aside to cool.  Take the corned beef and slice into small confetti pieces.  In the warm pan, quickly warm the minced garlic and corned beef.  Put room temperature cream cheese into a medium mixing bowl.  Wash the scallions and remove the roots.  Slice them lengthwise first, and then finely slice into little pieces.  Use at least 2 thirds of the scallions so that you get some of the delicious green into it.  Toss it on top of the cream cheese.  (Don’t discard the rest of the scallion tops! Put them into a baggie into your fridge for tomorrow’s wonderful recipe.)  Add the corned beef and garlic, mayonnaise, and lemon juice.

20171214_2156421545247555.jpgHere comes my favorite part– with super clean hands, get in there and squish it all together  for.a couple minutes until it is evenly combined.  Taste it and see if it needs anymore lemon juice or garlic powder.  Once it is to your liking, form it into two balls and roll them in the toasted chopped pecan pieces (or leave plain if you don’t care for nuts).  Grab a kitchen buddy and have them help you wrap these in plastic wrap.  Chill in the fridge overnight so that the flavors intensify.
Be sure to come back here and tell me how you like this recipe. And tune in tomorrow for the next installment of the 12 Days of Christmas Bake Along.

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