Holiday Potpourri

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, quick homemade potpourri simmering on the stove….wait what? That’s right; the next thing to add to your list of holiday preparation is making a batch (or two, or ten) of this simple potpourri, which will make your house smell like the sweet, warm, spicy goodness of the holiday season. I’d never made potpourri before now, and I can’t believe what I’ve been missing! I had all the ingredients at home, it took me about 2 minutes to put together, and it simmered away for hours, making my house smell like Christmas! I can’t imagine how many other sumptuous potpourri combinations I could come up with…I’m thinking of trying some sort of lemon version or maybe using apple cider instead of water. Yum!

If you’re looking for a quick, inexpensive gift for the holidays, consider putting together  potpourri mixes. Just tie up an orange, cranberries, and the whole spices in a cute little bag with instructions and you’ll be good to go!

I’ll be back soon with more delicious holiday recipes…since it’s still only November I’ve been trying super hard to hold back my enthusiasm for Christmas but it’s becoming more and more difficult…soon it’ll be like trying to hold back Niagara Falls with a Kleenex. It’s safe to say that I’m pretty into the holidays. <–Understatement of the year. In the meantime, start off the season by filling your house with the delicious smell of potpourri. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or any other occasion, this fruity, spicy scent will be sure to get you into the holiday spirit!

Holiday Potpourri

Peel from 1 large orange or 2 medium satsumas

1/2 cup fresh cranberries

1 Tbs whole cloves or 1/2 tsp ground cloves

3 cinnamon sticks or 1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Pour 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Add in orange peel, cranberries, spices, and vanilla. Turn up heat to medium, bring mixture to a boil, and reduce to a low simmer. Simmer for as long as desired, refilling water every 30 minutes or so as it starts to evaporate. Potpourri can be re-used for up to 3 days or until it starts to lose its scent.

(Recipe inspired by Make it Do)

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Chocolate Chip Gingerbread

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Lights are being put up, Christmas music is appearing on the radio, and the calendar is quickly approaching December. My family and I chopped down our Christmas tree over Thanksgiving break and I’ve started making my Christmas list. My car also smells amaaaazing because I sold three wreaths as part of our senior-class fundraiser and they hung out in my car for a couple days. Fresh pine is about a million times better than any car freshener!

I know it’s only November 25, but I just couldn’t wait to get started on Christmas-y things!  Thanksgiving is over so Christmas is fair game, right? Right.

Start off your holiday baking with this Chocolate Chip Gingerbread! I made it last year and immediately bookmarked the recipe to make again. The addition of chocolate to warm, spicy gingerbread is a match made in heaven, and the tiny pockets of melted chocolate chips are to die for. And the recipe makes two loaves, which means you can give one to a friend! That way you can spread some holiday cheer…and also keep yourself from single-handedly devouring two loaves of warm delicious chocolate gingerbread. Which could definitely happen. It’s a win-win!

Chocolate Chip Gingerbread 

Makes 2 loaves

2 1/2 cups + 2 Tbs all-purpose flour, divided

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1 cup molasses

1 cup very hot water

1 12-oz package miniature chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9″x5″ loaf pans.

Toss chocolate chips with 2 Tbs flour in a small bowl. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.

Using an electric mixer, in a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed. In a small bowl or 4-cup measuring cup, whisk together the molasses and hot water. Alternately add in 1/3 of the molasses mixture, 1/3 of the flour mixture, another 1/3 of the molasses mixture, another 1/3 of the flour mixture, the remaining molasses mixture, and the remaining flour mixture, beating after each addition. Fold in chocolate chips.

Divide batter between the two loaf pans and bake for 55-60 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Tops should be set and firm but not dry. Let bread cool in the pan for 20 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Serve with whipped cream for a special treat.

(Recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe)

Thanksgiving Recipe Round-up

No, this post has nothing to do with Cleo, my beagle.  I just thought that this expression encompassed what we’re all feeling right now, which is excitement about stuffing ourselves silly tomorrow!  Although I think Cleo could do with a little reminder that Thanksgiving isn’t just about eating an obscene amount of food, but about taking time to celebrate all that we have to be thankful for.  Like food, and walks, and soft blankets, and food, and new smells, and walks, and food, and tummy rubs, and animals to bark at, and food.  Let’s just say that Cleo has a tiny bit of an obsession with all edible (and often inedible) objects that come within 100 yards of her hound-dog nose.

I know it’s a little late, but I’ve put together a round-up of recipes that I think would be great for Thanksgiving.  I tried to go with dishes that were a little out of the box and might be fun to add to your menu at the last minute, since I’m assuming most sane people have already planned what they’re cooking!  Regardless of whether you’re hosting dinner at your house, visiting family, or even eating out, it’s never too late to whip up a little something extra to celebrate.  I don’t think it’s possible to have too much food on Thanksgiving!  I hope you all have a happy, safe, and DELICIOUS holiday!

Appetizers/Treats:

Mrs. Waterman’s Stuffed Mushrooms from Brown Eyed Baker

Oreo Turkeys and Cookie Pilgrim Hats from Our Best Bites

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Acorn Cookies from Lindsay Soul Food

Spinach-Artichoke Dip from The Pioneer Woman

Salads & Sides

Easy Baked Cranberry Sauce from Our Best Bites

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes from Annie’s Eats

Maple Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Salad from Two Peas and Their Pod

Chopped Brussels Sprouts with Dried Cranberries, Pecans, & Blue Cheese from Two Peas and Their Pod

Sweet Potato Casserole from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

Twice Baked Potato Casserole from Annie’s Eats

Cornbread Dressing from Ezra Pound Cake

Bread & Rolls

Corn Spoon Bread from Our Best Bites

Lion House Dinner Rolls from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

Desserts:

Chocolate and Coconut Cream Pie Bars from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

Cranberry Ice Cream Pie from Brown Eyed Baker

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream from Your Home-Based Mom

Pumpkin Maple Cupcakes from Your Cup of Cake

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Pie from Brown Eyed Baker

Pumpkin Roll from Brown Eyed Baker

Leftovers

Turkey Tetrazzini from Brown Eyed Baker

Italian Turkey Soup from Your Home-Based Mom

Thanksgiving Leftovers Casserole from Brown Eyed Baker

Pie Fries from Your Home-Based Mom

Leftover Cranberry Sauce Muffins from Two Peas and Their Pod

Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread

I first read the book Cranberry Thanksgiving when I was about 5 years old.  Being an aspiring little baker and a cranberry lover at an early age, it quickly became one of my favorite books.  For those of you who don’t know the story, the Cranberry series is set on a cranberry bog in New England and features a little girl, Maggie, who lives with her old-fashioned grandmother, named Grandmother (oddly enough).  Mr. Whiskers, Maggie’s good friend and an ex-sea captain, lives close by near the beach and is always being scolded by Grandmother for his disheveled appearance and unrefined manners although he’s actually very warm-hearted.  The books are short, sweet, and funny, with a story for every occasion.  Cranberry Christmas, Cranberry Birthday, and Cranberry Easter are some favorites of mine.  In all honesty though, Cranberry Thanksgiving remains my very favorite.

In the book, Grandmother has a top-secret recipe for cranberry bread that she keeps hidden behind a brick in the fireplace.  As a little girl I was enthralled with the idea of having a special recipe that no one could know about, and you can imagine my delight when I discovered the secret recipe for Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread featured on the last page of the book!  To my five-year-old mind it was like uncovering the lost city of Atlantis.

Almost every November since then, I’ve pulled out our worn copy of Cranberry Thanksgiving and flipped to the flour-stained recipe at the back.  My mom and I, and sometimes my brother and dad, would set ourselves up with knives and cutting boards and chop up cupfuls of cranberries to bake into a loaf or two of the famous cranberry bread.  I can remember the year I was finally allowed to use a sharp knife, the year I baked the bread all by myself from start to finish, and the year I baked it in a new kitchen after moving to Washington.  I’ve made it with the suggested mixture of cranberries and golden raisins, with cranberries and regular raisins, with cranberries and nuts, and my personal favorite, with all 3 cups of nothing but cranberries.  It still tastes the same every year, and fills the kitchen with the familiar smell of sweet-tart cranberries and freshly grated orange zest.  There’s nothing like a warm piece of cranberry bread with a cup of tea in the morning, and it would also be a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving dessert table!  Here comes the recipe…you should feel very honored because after all, it’s not top-secret for nothing. 🙂

Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1/4 cup butter, cut into small pieces

1 large egg, beaten

1 tsp grated orange zest

3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 3 large oranges)

1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, chopped

1 1/2 cups golden raisins (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease or spray a 9x5x3″ loaf pan.  Set aside.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.  Cut in the butter until crumbly using a pastry blender, two knives, or your hands.  Add in the egg, orange zest, and orange juice, mixing until just combined.  Fold in the cranberries and raisins.

Spread the batter into the prepared loaf pan.  Bake for 60-70 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.  Slice and serve.

(Recipe adapted from the book Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin)

Pumpkin Gingersnaps

 

Last year I received a wonderful Christmas gift: a cookie jar!  Surprisingly enough, although I’ve been an adamant cookie-baker since I was about five, I’d never actually owned a cookie jar to fill with my creations.  Tupper-ware containers and saran wrap-covered plates did the job, but there’s something so thrilling about reaching your hand into a cookie jar and pulling out a homemade cookie.  I love my new(ish) cookie jar.  It’s off-white, with a speckly blue lid and a painting of a rooster on the front.  It sounds weirder than it looks, I promise.

The rest of my family also loves our cookie jar, especially my dad and brother.  When I first got it I made even more cookies than usual, and they trained themselves to reach into the cookie jar hoping for a treat every time they wandered through the kitchen.  Then a little problem occurred.  One day as I was unpacking a large amount of groceries, I ran out of room in the fridge.  Luckily the only produce I had left was a bag of potatoes, which can easily be stored at room temperature.  However, the counter was also pretty jam-packed with food…(when I grocery shop, I grocery shop hard!)  Hah.  So my pretty little potatoes (which were actually, like most potatoes, not so pretty) had no place to live.  Until I spied the empty cookie jar sitting suggestively in the corner…aha!  Out came the cookie jar, in went the potatoes, on went the lid, and I thought nothing of it.

Here comes the sad part.  My dad, strolling into the kitchen after dinner for a little snack, saw the cookie jar sitting proud and center in the middle of the counter and happily reached in…only to feel the rough, tough, dry, dirty skin of a potato.  Big letdown.  Biiiig letdown.  Huge.  Unfortunately, I was too excited about my new potato-storing idea to give it up, and periodically my dad or brother will eagerly peer into the cookie jar hoping for something delicious and be met with the sight of a lowly potato.  What can I say?  Fool me once, shame on you…fool me twice, shame on me!  (Or them, in this case 😉 )

The good news is that right now, the cookie jar is not empty.  It is not filled with potatoes.  It is filled with soft, chewy, sweet, spicy, delicious pumpkin gingersnaps!  I found this recipe last fall and fell in love with it.  These cookies have everything to love about gingersnaps (warm spices, molasses, sugar-coating) but with a twist of pumpkin.  These Pumpkin Gingersnaps would be a great addition to your fall/winter baking list!  And they’re much, much better than a potato.

Pumpkin Gingersnaps

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cloves

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1/4 cup molasses

1 tsp vanilla extract

Additional sugar for rolling

Directions:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.  Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy.  Add in the egg, pumpkin puree, molasses, and vanilla.  Mix well.  Gradually add in the dry ingredients, mixing until combined.

Cover dough and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.  When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or baking mats.

Pour a few tablespoons of granulated sugar into a shallow bowl.  Scoop dough by tablespoonfuls, roll in the sugar, and place 2 inches apart onto prepared cookie sheets.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until tops are crackly and set, but cookies are still soft.  Let cookies cool on the sheets for 2-3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.  Enjoy!

(Recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)

Pumpkin Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake

This weekend *we* (meaning my mother) decided to rearrange the house–at 8:30 pm on a Saturday night.  This rearrangement entailed moving the piano, both computers and the printer, dusting every visible surface of the house, and piling all of the loose papers, gadgets, etc. onto the kitchen table.  When I was assigned the job of cleaning the filthy, black, dusty wood-burning stove, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, but I’m pleased to report that there were no casualties.  Which is actually a little surprising, considering the fact that two overtired parents and two surly teenagers were trying to clean and organize a house at 10 at night.  Not to mention a poor little dog who was trying to sleep in peace on her armchair, which kept getting dragged around to new locations.  She finally sat up among her rumpled fur blankets and stared at us with resentment in her eyes as her chair was swiveled around the living room.

The cleaning frenzy continued bright and early on Sunday morning.  Unfortunately, I was set on baking a Pumpkin Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake for my parents’ dinner guests, but the kitchen was in the process of being cleaned.  Which meant that there were gloves, pen drives, envelopes, potted plants, and who knows what else piled onto my usual counter space.  No matter where I tried to work, my mother seemed to be right behind me with a wet washcloth or a bottle of windex, so I ended up scrunched into a tiny corner with my recipe balanced on the toaster and my bowl of dry ingredients placed precariously on top of a bowl of oranges.  Finally, I got my cake safely into the oven, which was thankfully undisturbed by cleaning tools.  Although I’m pretty sure the only reason my mom refrained from cleaning the oven at that point was because it was strategically heated to 350 degrees and therefore untouchable.  Hah!

Hopefully if you try out this to-die-for cake, your baking experience will be much more peaceful and pleasant than mine.  It really is a winner…moist, lightly spiced pumpkin cake filled and topped with a layer of cinnamon streusel, then drizzled in a sweet cinnamon glaze.  Yum!  The perfect reward for a hard-working weekend of cleaning 🙂

Pumpkin Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake

Streusel:

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 pinch salt

6 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Cake:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

1/2 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt

Glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

2-3 tsp milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan with baking spray.

For the streusel, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt.  Cut in the cold butter using a pastry cutter or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Set aside.

For the cake, in another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and salt.  In a large bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar until smooth and creamy.  Add in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Beat in the vanilla.  Add in the pumpkin puree and Greek yogurt, mixing until combined.  Slowly add in the flour mixture, stirring until incorporated.  The batter will be thick.

Spread half the batter into the prepared pan.  Sprinkle half the streusel mixture over the batter.  Pour the remaining batter over the streusel and top with remaining streusel.  Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Transfer the pan to a wire cooling rack and let cool for 15 minutes.  Remove sides of spring-form pan or remove cake from cake pan.  Slide cake onto cooling rack.

While the cake is cooling, whisk together the glaze ingredients, adding the milk 1 tsp at a time until glaze reaches desired consistency.  Drizzle the glaze over the warm cake.  Cut and serve.

(Recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod)

Banana Maple Muffins

On my front porch sits my Jack O’Lantern.  Three weeks ago, when I bought my pumpkin from the local pumpkin patch on our island, it was firm and healthy, orange with a few streaks of green on the back.  Two weeks ago, when I carved into it, my pumpkin was still young and fresh, emitting that sweet, earthy pumpkin smell and full of moist, slimy seeds.  On Halloween, my Jack O’Lantern stood proudly on the stoop, smiling its toothy grin and glowing with candlelight.  Last weekend, I noticed that my pumpkin looked a little saggy.  Its skin was starting to droop and wrinkle, and when I peered inside that toothy grin I spotted a very colorful field of mold growing inside.  Disgusted, I hurried away.  So there it sat.  A few days ago my pumpkin fell off its perch and onto the porch, where it lies in a mildewy puddle of water, a crumbled mess of wrinkly orange skin and moldy speckled flesh.  And there it lies today.

Why haven’t I taken a garbage bag and scooped up my rotting pumpkin remains?  Why haven’t I taken a shovel and hauled it off into the woods to decompose away from the welcome mat of my home?  Good questions.  An even better question would be, why didn’t I pick my pumpkin up off the steps on November first, back when it was still firm and mold-free, and dispose of it like a normal human being?  I have no idea.  For some reason, the more times I walk up the porch steps and spot my sad, sorry mess of a Jack O’Lantern rotting on the ground, the less likely I feel I am to get rid of it.  It’s kind of a little game I’m playing, waiting to see how long it will take before either I or an unlucky member of my family finally breaks down and gets rid of that soggy mess.  Considering the fact that we still have our Christmas lights up (from last year), it could be a while.  I’m half hoping that my pumpkin will just decompose into the wood on the porch or slip down the cracks to the ground below…or something.  I think I’m giving the word “laziness” a new definition.

The good news is, I don’t like to make the same mistake twice.  We had two large bananas sitting in the fruit bowl for quite a while.  As new bunches of ripe yellow bananas got purchased by unknowing family members and placed next to the two brown-spotted bananas, the two old ones kept getting passed up for the new.  It was a sad process to watch; the old bananas kept getting browner and browner, shoved aside for the fresh ones.  Determined not to see this poor pair of fruits suffer the same fate as my Halloween pumpkin, I set myself on a mission…because the best thing to do with brown bananas is bake with them!  Enter these Banana Maple Muffins.  The combination of sweet bananas, rich maple syrup, and a touch of cinnamon and allspice results in a wonderfully moist, sweet muffin.  I also decided to use half whole wheat flour which a) makes them healthier and b) gives the muffins a great hearty texture.  These are a huge step above your everyday common muffins that are virtually unfrosted cupcakes.

I still feel sorry for my squished little pumpkin, but at least these bananas ended up in the form of delicious muffins!  If you have brown bananas, definitely make these.  It will make you feel like you’ve done a good deed!  Or maybe I just need to suck it up and take two minutes to throw away my pumpkin so that I can stop feeling the need to redeem myself by saving two brown bananas…regardless, all these decisions led me to these amazing muffins.  And for that I am glad.

 

Banana Maple Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp allspice

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup mashed bananas (from about 2 large bananas)

3 Tbs vegetable oil

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup pure maple syrup (dark amber is best)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a 12-tin muffin pan with paper liners or spray with baking spray.  Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, allspice, and cinnamon.  In a large bowl, whisk together the mashed bananas, vegetable oil, sugar, maple syrup, and vanilla.  Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir just until combined.

Scoop batter into prepared muffin tins, filling each cup about 2/3 of the way.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the tops of muffins bounce back when lightly touched and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

(Recipe adapted from Baking Bites)