Friday, December 15, 2017

Christmas Stovetop Simmer

I’ve been making this stovetop simmer (or stovetop potpourri) for over 20 years now. I got the recipe from a Southern Living cookbook. It’s a spice mixture that simmers on the stove, filling the house with the wonderful spices of Christmas, such as cloves, cinnamon and citrus. It always smells like something heavenly is baking in our home when this mixture is bubbling away on our stovetop!

Recently I found a blog article where the simmer mix was bagged up for gifts. Why that never occurred to me is a mystery as I love making homemade gifts! I ordered bags and labels and bought some bulk spices at a local discount store. My 7-year old granddaughter assisted with the assembly of the gift bags, she really enjoyed that. She took home bags for her mommy, grandma and teacher. My bags got passed out to my Pilates classmates, some neighbors and friends. It’s an easy gift, I think this will become an annual tradition! If you make them for gifts, don't forget to attach instructions.  I had a label made that I put on the front of the bag.

Christmas Scent Stovetop Simmer

For one pot:
3 cinnamon sticks
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup whole cloves
1 lemon, halved *
1 large orange, halved or 1 mandarin orange *
1 quart water
Optional: handful fresh cranberries, evergreen or rosemary sprig

Combine all ingredients in a teakettle or saucepan and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer as long as desired. Check often, adding additional water, if needed. Mixture may be stored in refrigerator for several days and reused.

* If packaging for gifts, leave citrus whole.

My bags and labels were purchased from Evermine.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Gingerbread Cupcakes

What is it about the Christmas holidays that make us want to bake and bake? I think the lights on the Christmas tree must send out signals to our brain putting us in the baking mode. I'm seeing lots of social media posts where my friends are baking away so I know I'm not the only one under the spell!
It was a gingerbread weekend for me. I spent one evening with my granddaughter decorating gingerbread cookies. I sent her home with most of our masterpieces and found myself craving some by Sunday. So I made some more cookies and these cupcakes. I took most of them over to my parents, my dad has a real sweet tooth.  In fact he said, "you sure know how to make a man happy". Well, I try, dad!

 These are full of all the great ingredients that make up gingerbread and are especially spicy with a little extra ginger. I topped them with a basic cream cheese frosting and a small gingerbread cookie cutout.

 I think this weekend satisfied my gingerbread craving.  Now I have peppermint on the brain! This little one and I have a peppermint bark project planned!

Gingerbread Cupcakes
2 ¾ C flour
3 T ground ginger
2 t baking soda
1 ½ t ground cinnamon
½ t ground cloves
½ t ground nutmeg
¼ t salt
10 T unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 C packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ¼ C molasses
1 C hot water
Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 standard cupcake tins with 24 paper baking cups.
Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt; set aside.
Cream together the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a hand-held mixer) on high speed, about 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating slowly after each addition.  Add the molasses, mixing until well incorporated.
Add one third of the dry ingredients and one third of the water and mix thoroughly.  Repeat, stopping to scrape down bowl, as needed.  Add the last third of the dry ingredients and the water and mix thoroughly.
Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners (I use an ice cream scoop), filling about 2/3 full.
Bake for 16-18 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy.  Add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. After it has been incorporated turn the mixer onto the highest setting for about 10 seconds to lighten the frosting.  Add more powdered sugar, if needed, to get a thick consistency. Add in the vanilla and beat until well-blended, light and fluffy.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Persimmon Rum Bundt Cake

Everyone knows I love to bake so I'm often given food offerings.  This year I seem to be inundated with persimmons.  I have two bags in the garage and have already put pureed portions in the freezer.  I'm scrambling to bake something other than my beloved Grandma's cookies! In my search I found this recipe for a bundt cake, loaded with persimmon puree, walnuts, dates, and dark rum. To make it even more delectable it has a brown butter glaze.  Yum, it was good!

The recipe is a spin-off from a James Beard persimmon bread recipe.  Any type of alcohol can be used, including whiskey and brandy.  I'm not a big fan of either so I chose dark rum. It's definitely noticeable in the cake!

In many parts of the country persimmons are a fall treat. In central California they don't ripen until mid to late-November, so they are perfect for holiday baking. A slice of this cake, a cup of coffee, and Christmas carols playing in the background is the perfect diversion to help get through all the multitude of holiday season chores that await us!

Persimmon Rum Bundt Cake with Brown Butter Glaze

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
3 tablespoons dark rum (whisky or brandy)
2 cups persimmon puree *
2 cups toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup dried dates, coarsely chopped

Brown Butter Glaze:

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 tablespoons milk, or more as needed to get a glaze consistency

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 12-cup bundt pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, with a paddle attachment (or use a hand-held mixer), mix together the butter and sugars.  Add eggs and mix until combined.

Add about 1/3  of flour mixture.  Mix on low speed.  Add rum and half of persimmon puree.  Mix and add another 1/3 of flour mixture. Add remaining puree.  Toss dried dates in remaining flour.  Add flour and dates to batter.  Stir together until there are no longer any dry streaks of flour. Add walnuts and fold until evenly distributed.

Pour batter into prepared bundt pan.  Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and allow to cool to room temperature.

To make the brown butter glaze, melt butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. Once the butter has melted, continue to cook.  Swirl pan occasionally.  Mixture will bubble and foam as it cooks. Continue to cook until butter smells fragrant and nutty.  (The milk solids in the melted butter will turn rich brown in color). Remove from heat and pour into a heat-safe bowl.  Allow brown butter to cool for 20-30 minutes.

Combine cooled butter, powdered sugar, salt, vanilla, and milk in a medium bowl.  Stir until the mixture is smooth.  Glaze should be slightly thick but pourable in consistency.  If desired, add small amounts of milk until desired consistency is achieved. Pour glaze over cooled bundt cake.

* To get persimmon puree, wait for the fruit to be very ripe and soft.  Peel skin, discard seeds, and scoop out soft insides. Process in food processor until pureed.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Peppermint and Roses Tea!

The females in my family recently gathered at my home for our 11th annual Christmas Tea.  Each year I choose a theme and decorate accordingly.  This year's theme was Peppermint and Roses.  Some years I get a little carried away with the decorating (like the year I made 7 gingerbread houses!)  This year I was a little more low-key.  I decorated with red table linens, adorned with peppermint-striped packages and pink flowers in candy cane vases. Each place setting had a napkin folded in a rose shape with a peppermint center.  It was pretty easy to put together and made for festive and colorful tables.


My nephew's fiancée made the wreath!
 As in year's past, I open my home for the tea, provide the tea, fresh-baked scones, homemade lemon curd and homemade strawberry jam.  Everyone else brings a savory or sweet, some bring both. We always have more food than we can eat and it's all great!

I made the sugar bowls from Oui yogurt jars! The roses were easy to make with felt.

My cousin and I started our tea gathering when we were attending a family funeral and lamenting that the only time we saw everyone was at a funeral.  So we gathered everyone together one December afternoon at a local tea room.  I don't think we realized then how special this tradition would become. We all block out the first Saturday after the Thanksgiving weekend on our calendars. My granddaughter spends the night before with me and assists with table setting and decorating. On the day of the tea she gets to play with her second cousins while the two young mothers catch up on each other's lives. My nephew's bride now joins us. Each year it seems I have to add another chair and I don't mind! This year's tea was special for many reasons. Our mothers are aging, with many of the ailments that go with that.  My mom has some dementia issues, which is heartbreaking to witness. Our beloved 93-year old Aunt Millie lost her only child a few months ago and subsequently has moved to an assisted living facility. To say she's devastated would be an understatement. We are all realizing how important it is to gather together, life changes so fast.

A big surprise this year was the arrival of my aunt from Missouri.  She is my Dad's half-sister and only 18 days younger than me! She moved back east when we were in junior high but she comes out to visit every 4-5 years. We managed to keep her visit a surprise and it was so fun to see everyone's reactions when they saw her!

It was especially gratifying to see how much Aunt Millie enjoyed the day. She's been so sad and this family gathering was just what she needed to perk her up. My four-week old great-nephew made his appearance so we now have many pictures to cherish of the newest and oldest members of our family.

I have the 2018 theme rumbling through my head and will start buying some decorating things as Christmas items go on sale. Hopefully, our tea party tradition continues on for many, many more years!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Crescent Rolls

Grandma always made homemade rolls for all our family celebrations.  I don't recall that we ever had anything other than homemade! When the time came that she was no longer able to do that activity, Mom took over the duty. It's amazing we had any rolls by dinner because she would be swarmed the minute she walked through the door, everyone wanting a freshly-made warm roll! But, there always seemed to be enough!

Mom now has health issues and is unable to bake anymore.  The baton has been passed to me. For Thanksgiving I was tasked with making pies and rolls for our family gathering.  I went looking for an easy recipe as I would be making them Thanksgiving morning, with not a lot of time to spare. Most of the kneading for these rolls is done in a stand mixer. Then it's a matter of letting the dough rise, shaping the rolls, and rising again.  I accomplished other chores while the rolls were rising.  The rolls were light, fluffy, and, oh, so, buttery. We had a large crowd for Thanksgiving so I made two batches of the rolls.  There were only 6 or so left after dinner.  This is a keeper recipe!  Mom loved them and Grandma would be proud!

Buttery Crescent Rolls

1 1/4 cup warm water
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons softened butter
2 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup softened butter
2 tablespoons melted butter

Combine water, yeast, 3 tablespoons softened butter, eggs, sugar, salt, and 3 cups flour in bowl of a stand mixer.  Mix, using dough hook, until combined, on low speed.  Continue mixing about 5 minutes, gradually adding in the last 1 1/2 cups of flour. (Dough should pull away from side of bowl). Turn  dough out onto floured surface and knead 4-5 times and patting into a ball shape. Cover with kitchen towel and let rise 60-90 minutes, until doubled in size.

Divide dough into two pieces.  On a lightly floured surface, roll one piece into a 12-inch circle.  Spread 1/4 cup softened butter on the circle.  Slice each circle into 12 triangles (I used a pizza cutter).  Roll each triangle up from the outside edge, forming a crescent shape, slightly curving the ends toward the middle. Place on a parchment-lined or greased 12x17-inch cookie sheet (jelly roll pan). Cover with kitchen towel and let rise again for about 45 minutes, until puffed and light.  Repeat with remaining dough ball.

While rolls are rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until tops are golden brown. Brush melted butter on tops of rolls.

Recipe adapted from Its Always Autumn.

Monday, November 13, 2017

2017 Christmas Gift Tags

I've not started Christmas decorating yet.  I'm one of those who has to let the Thanksgiving turkey dinner settle a bit before I can tackle that chore!  However, I'm a pretty organized person and I'm almost done with Christmas shopping ( 2 more gifts to get!) I've also started on doing the gift wrapping.  In connection with that, I've completed the gift tags that will go on this year's packages.  They compliment the gift bags that I previously shared.

Yes, it would easier and more cost-effective to buy gift tags. I have an urge to create and design and this little project helps satisfy that urge. I make them in steps, doing a little at a time when I have a few spare moments. One of my favorite parts of the Christmas holidays is a decorated Christmas tree with pretty packages underneath its branches. My homemade gift tags add a little extra to my packages!

For this year's tags I used a few different shaped wreath stamps.  Using my Silhouette machine I cut out the tag shapes, one slightly larger than the other, and glued together.  I dabbed (is that a word?) red ink along the border of the white tag to add a little color and dimension. A little twine bow and all is done!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Christmas Gift Bags

Christmas Day is 7 weeks from today.  Yikes! Now that Halloween is over, I am finding that many people are already decorating for the Christmas holidays. I'm not ready to decorate yet, I like to celebrate Thanksgiving first! We can't overlook the turkey and pumpkin pie! However, I have been working on getting ready for Christmas for a while now.  I'm about 2/3 done with my Christmas shopping.  My wrapping paper and ribbon supply has been replenished and I've been working on making Christmas gift tags. For small items and gift cards, I use decorated bags that coordinate with the packages under the tree.  I've finished making this year's bags and have some with gifts inside, ready to go under the tree. This year my packages will be wrapped with brown and red kraft paper and coordinating ribbons.  The gift tags I'm making have small wreaths on them so it made sense that the gift bags did, too.  I found an inspiration picture from Papertrey Ink and made my own version, using standard kraft lunch bags. 

Like most paper projects, these bags involved various, but easy, steps.  First up was to make small tags and embellish them. A simple wreath and berries were stamped on the bag, then snowflakes and a peppermint border were stamped and embossed.  A little ribbon and the cute gift bags were done! I have a small TV in my craft room so usually do projects like this with football or the Food Network on in the background. It goes fast!

This project involved learning a new technique for me, embossing.  It was much easier than I thought it would be.  Using a special ink pad, an image is stamped on the paper.  Embossing powder is sprinkled over the wet image, then an embossing heat gun is used to form the embossing.  It was so cool to see this happen, in just a few seconds I had a raised image on the paper. I can see myself using this technique a lot in the future!

As I was doing the embossing my husband came in to my craft room and inquired as to what I was doing (it sounds like a blow dryer).  I showed him and he asked when I had acquired the embossing gun.  This from a man who has a garage full of tools and brings a new one home after each Home Depot trip!  I told him "you have your tools, I have mine!"