One of my earliest holiday memories is learning to make eggnog with my Maternal Grandmother. She lived in Shelbyville, Indiana and drove up to spend Christmas with my family in our home in Indianapolis. It was 1979 and I was 5 years old. My Grandmother brought with her an old cookbook, which had been my mother’s: The Better Homes & Gardens Junior Cookbook (Pictured above). We used the recipe in that book and made a delicious, frothy nog that wedged pleasantly in my mind. The recipe that follows is loosely based on that recipe that I made a million times. It has been updated with more, ahem, “grown-up” flavors.
a dozen eggs
12 T white sugar
1 pint whipping cream
1 t vanilla extract
4 cinnamon sticks
Freshly ground nutmeg
12 T Bourbon
When you are entertaining this holiday season, give this golden oldie a whirl. You’ll be shocked at how delicious it is and what a festive cocktail it makes at your holiday party. Of course, you can omit the bourbon for a “virgin” version.
Cheers to making memories with your loved ones!
December brings with it a host of special events. From neighborhood open houses and office parties to New Year’s Eve its best to have a little something in hand for your host. The I’m recommending are all bottles I’d be happy to receive. Starting at well under $20, there is an appropriate selection for any occasion.
A fun little Italian wine, Olianas 2017 Cannonau Di Sardegna DOC comes in at $13ish and isn’t one you’ll find everywhere. I always enjoy a wine that’s a bit obscure because it implies that the giver has put a bit more effort into selecting it. This one isn’t going to be the 15-case display inside your wine shop. It will impress with rich, bold flavors like chocolate, fragrant tobacco and hints of myrtle berries (menthol). A big mouthful of silky red wine.
For a fancy affair, seek out 2015 Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. With 86% Cab juice and about 10% Merlot, this beauty smells like black currants & strong coffee. It’s got a solid tannic structure but the tannins themselves are subtle and feminine. In the mouth, you’ll get flavors of bramble fruit, ripe black cherries and cocoa with a gorgeous spicy finish that won’t quit. $55
My most recent wine crush (pardon the pun) is another California wine from St. Helena in Napa Valley. 2015 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc makes a statement. What it says is, “I’m a very structured and concentrated wine, with firm tannins.” Each sip grips you with dark berries, tarragon, chervil and scads of chocolate and leather. This lovely is a big mouthful that stands up nicely to heavier holiday fare. $65 Worth. Every. Penny.
#OlianasCannonau #FrankFamilyVineyards #EhlersEstate
I’ve been on a molasses kick lately. Which is great since cookie baking season is officially upon us. Ever hosted a cookie exchange? Here’s your guide to planning and hosting a fun get-together that streamlines your baking this holiday season. For those unfamiliar with this long-time holiday tradition, a cookie-exchange has each guest make several dozen of just one kind of cookie, then invitees can sample and swap equal amounts of cookies with other guests. #winwin
Be sure to offer a few weeks’ notice to guests since there is prep-work involved for them to attend. In your invitation, be sure to ask each person not only for an RSVP, but also have them let you know what they plan to bring so there aren’t duplicates: that’s no fun. The amount is up to you, but generally speaking, 5 dozen is a good number. Advise guests of the quantity they’ll need to bring and ask them to have printed copies of their recipe available.
Once the big day arrives, have platters and baskets set out for guests to display their cookies. Also provide “name cards” for each cookie being offered. List the name of the baker and the name of the cookie. It’s also a good idea to note any common allergens, like nuts on the name cards. Place copies of the recipe for each nearby the corresponding plate.
Plenty of plastic bags or aluminum foil are a must so that swapped cookies can be repacked for travel. When asked for cookie travel tips, my dear friend, Diana Anzorena, owner and cookie artist of Pretty Sweet Confections by Di says, “When I prepare my cookies…I wait until the icing it completely dry (about 24 hours). I wrap them individually in cellophane bags and twist tie them. Then I choose a box or tin where they will fit without a lot of room to move around”. This is great advice if you are giving cookies as a gift. Pretty Sweet Confections by Di is on Facebook under that name & her custom cookies are un-rivaled, gorgeous creations. Go to her page for inspiration!
Offer coffee, milk (obviously, right, since we’re talking about cookies?) and something festive like mulled cider or cocoa for your gathering. Definitely consider an additional small and SAVORY snack (think cheese or veggie plate) to cut through all that sugar.
Each guest goes home with the same number of cookies they came with but will have an assortment to gift or enjoy. Best of all, you’ve made time to spend a fun few hours together.
Here are my three favorite cookie recipes to jump-start your planning:
Grandmother’s Mexican Wedding Cakes
1 c softened butter
6 T sugar
1 t vanilla extract
2 c sifted all-purpose flour
1 ½-2 c finely chopped pecans OR walnuts
1 c confectioner’s sugar
-Heat oven to 325 degrees
-Cream butter VERY well then add sugar and cream again.
-Stir in vanilla extract, then flour and finally nuts.
-Roll into 1 ½ inch balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet (about 2 inches apart)
-Bake for 8-12 minutes until they are a delicate yellow color.
-While warm, roll in confectioner’s sugar and allow to cool before serving.
Grammy’s Sugar & Spice Cookies
¾ c shortening
1 c sugar
2 c flour
2 t baking soda
¼ t salt
1 t cinnamon
¾ t ground cloves
¾ t ground ginger
1 c confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
-Heat oven to 375
- Cream shortening and sugar, then add remaining ingredients except confectioner’s sugar.
-Mix together and form into 2” balls.
-Place the balls 3 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet
(or one fitted with a silicone baking mat).
-Bake 10 minutes for a softer cookie and 12 if you prefer crunchy.
-Place confectioner’s sugar in a shallow and when cookies are still warm,
roll each side so that they are” dusted.”
Mia’s Favorite Oatmeal Cookies
2 sticks of salted butter, softened
1 ¼ c firmly packed brown sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 ½ c all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t ground cinnamon
½ t salt
3 c quick cooking oats
-Heat oven to 350 degrees.
-In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar.
-Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.
-Combine remaining ingredients in a second bowl, mix, then add to wet ingredients.
-Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
-Bake 8-10 minutes.
-Cool for one minute before removing to wire rack, then cool completely.
Yo, shameless plug for my private events. Thanks to those of you who have already scheduled. Can't wait! For those who've inquired, I've attached the basics and please feel free to share. Cheers :)
As the air turns crisp, we seem to long for comfort foods. Heavier, warmly-spiced fare that's often associated with the holidays. One of my favorites is traditional gingerbread. My first memory of it was when I was very small and visiting Colonial Williamsburg for Christmas with my family. One of the shops (Raleigh Tavern because I looked it up to see if it still existed) offered thick, chewy but crumbly cookies. They are served slightly "dusty" with flour. At any rate, I was less than 5 years old and remember little else of the trip. I believe the experience spurred my love for all things molasses: gingerbread, molasses cookies and gingersnaps.
My dilemma is that gingerbread isn't terribly good for you, like any dessert. So, I've been playing around with a version that I can make in a hurry, quick-bread style. Much faster than a rolled and cut cookie, the resulting recipe is healthy enough that I leave it out in my cake dome for the kids to enjoy at their discretion.
Take note: My version does contain a bit of dairy but you could eliminate it by substituting almond or coconut milk.
1 1/3 cup of skim milk (you can sub almond or coconut for a dairy-free recipe)
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup agave
1 large carrot, shredded
2 T apple cider vinegar
4 T melted coconut oil
4 T ground flaxmeal (this will work with your liquids to replace eggs)
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 t allspice
1/4 t salt
3 t cinnamon
2 t powdered ginger
1/2 cup brown sugar
-Preheat oven to 400 F and spray a bundt pan with non-stick spray (I use organic coconut spray).
-Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine.
-Pour into bundt pan and allow to "hang out" for 5 minutes to insure the flax meal is doing it's job.
-Bake on middle rack for 25 minutes. Allow to cool for 15-20 minutes in the pan before loosening the cake gently with a knife and inverting onto a plate.
PRO TIP: Serve warm with a small amount of fresh whipped cream to turn a slice from snack to dessert.
'Shrooming may have a different connotation for some of my "vintage" readers. We're not getting THAT wild today, but I am going to share a little of my newest obsession with you: gathering wild mushrooms. You need to know this about me: I obsessively love mushrooms. I once enjoyed a 6-course meal at Martini House, a landmark Napa Valley restaurant, that was entirely made of mushrooms. Yep, even dessert. 'Twas a tiny demitasse of frothy mushroom "cocoa" with an equally petite, sweet mushroom cookie atop. Such an interesting and delicious meal that it remains on my top 10 list.
Every Spring, as a foodie, I've looked for morel mushrooms with limited success but otherwise, I haven't historically foraged. I've begun to educate myself about the edible fungi in my area and find that I keep an eye to the ground wherever I go. Check out what I've discovered. I'm hopeful it inspires you to give mushroom hunting a try.
Because a case of mistaken identity could be very harmful, I'm sharing three unique sorts that are fool-proof for new foragers. Each is so unusual, that even their "look-alikes" don't really look much like them. They are Morels, Chicken of the Woods and Puffballs. A word of caution: if you aren't absolutely sure that you've identified any mushroom correctly, you should NOT eat it. Better safe than sorry.
Morel mushrooms are typically found in the springtime and have a distinctive honeycomb appearance (left). One of the most sough-after mushrooms in the world, they are prized by gourmet cooks, mushroom enthusiasts and chefs.
They come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors anywhere from blonde to dark grey. What they all have in common are their honey comb-like exteriors and a hollow, whitish interior. Morels are so popular because they are incredibly delish. They have a meaty texture and a nutty, earthy flavor profile. They are hard to find, pretty expensive and well, they are exotic and sexy-looking on a plate.
Again, spring is your best bet and you'll want to look in fields, orchards and pastures or in an area that sustained fire damage the fall before. When you find them, cut the mushroom with an inch or less of stem (which you can also eat). Don't squish them as you gather. I like to use a basket so there's plenty of air circulation. After harvesting them, they keep about a week in the 'fridge. Like all wild mushrooms, morels must be cooked to be enjoyed. I like them best fried in a bit of salted butter.
Chicken of the Woods (right) is found globally and often called a "sulphur shelf." It is commonly thought to taste like chicken and is typically found in summer and fall. A large mushroom with bright orange coloring, it tends to lighten in color near the edges and overall gets lighter with age. An important characteristic to note when identifying this beauty is that it has NO GILLS and only pores. You are looking for young and succulent mushrooms. Avoid the largest and palest as they become woody and aren't good. C.O.W. mushrooms can be found on dead and living trees alike. This is a great culinary fungi. It can be diced and added to soup, baked, fried or used as a substitute for chicken. I enjoy these sautéed in wine and fresh thyme.
Puffballs! These jumbo bad-boys are everywhere right now and are generally a fall find. The one pictured is actually a bit smaller that the usual and was found a few days ago in the woods near my house. This is likely the most easily identified mushroom around. It looks like a volleyball sitting on the ground. White and round, you simply pick it up to harvest it. To know definitively that you have a puff, slice it open. There should be no gills. You'll see what looks like white marshmallow inside. Slice it and prepare it as you would any button mushroom. Sautéed and served with grilled beef is a win. I made this one with bucatini (hollow spaghetti), butter, mozzarella, garlic, salt and pepper. It was excellent. These beauties also freezes well, which is fortunate because of their size. Slice it up and stick it in a freezer bag to enjoy later. It should be noted that puffballs past their prime begin to turn yellowish and powdery on the inside. If you cut yours open and discover this, pitch it. It won't be good.
If you happen to live in Indy and walk the Moon trail north of Broad Ripple, there are tons of them (like more than 20) and they are gargantuan. As you head north, approaching the Blind School, look down toward your left and you'll see them a few yards off the trail. I was wearing sandals when I noticed them or I would've grabbed them all. If you harvest them, I'd better see a picture. Bon Appétit!
First things first, last month I wrote about Persimmons. I heard from a reader, Rob Pickett about his family and their tradition dating back to the early 1900's. He sent me his Great-Grandmother's recipe and gave me permission to share. Rob's family "cuts their pudding into squares and serves it warm, in a small dish, with cold sweet cream poured over."
Persimmon pudding really is a lovely nod to our Hoosier heritage.
Thanks to Rob and his wife for sharing this cool family heirloom!
Another fall favorite here in Indiana celebrates the apple harvests that are typically abundant. Like many celebrated dishes, most families have their own favorite recipes that speak to memories and preferences. I thought I’d share mine today.
So I have an apple tree in my yard that I planted about 10 years ago. Normally I keep information about all of my plantings in a gardening journal. I can't recall if I bought the tree on clearance and it was without ID or if I just thought at the time that I'd remember. I use these apples for pie, apple butter, apple sauce and chutney. They work just fine and are tart and sweet. Use what you have or even a variety, it just adds interest and complexity to what you are cooking.
9 Inch Double Crust Pie Pastry
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 ¼ c. Crisco (yikes! I know, I know, but it REALLY makes an excellent crust)
½ tsp. salt
4 T. ice water
2 t. white or apple cider vinegar
½ t. vanilla extract
Using a pastry cutter or fork, blend flour, shortening and salt. In a second bowl, beat egg then add ice water, vinegar and vanilla. Add the liquids to flour mixture and stir to combine. Divide dough into two equal portions and roll out on a floured surface.
Apple Pie Filling
½ cup butter
3 T. all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
¼ c. water
8 firm, apples- cored, peeled and sliced (Granny Smith is a popular choice)
1 t cinnamon
½ t. cardamom
Preheat oven to 425.
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat & stir in flour to form a roux. Stir constantly for a minute or two, until the roux (paste) becomes golden. Add water, white and brown sugar and spices. Reduce heat to low and simmer.
Line a pie pan with one of your two crusts and fill with sliced apples. Try to mound the apples a bit higher in the center. Pour the simmering mixture carefully over apples and top with second crust.
Crimp the edges of your pie to seal the crusts, then use a sharp knife to cut a few pretty slits in the crust so steam can escape.
Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven, then reduce the temperature to 350 and bake for 40 minutes.
Let the pie rest at least ½ an hour before serving so that the filling “sets up”. Slice into eight servings and serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
-This pie is a perfect candidate for a lattice crust if you are so inclined.
-A fantastic addition is a ¼ cup of grated Norwegian cheese called #Gjetost (pronounced “YAY-toast” and sold at many groceries under the name @SkiQueen) sprinkled on the top crust during the last 15minutes of baking.
Gjetost is a unique cheese made from caramelized goat's milk. It looks and tastes like a caramel candy. It is so popular in Norway that it is even sold in tubes (like toothpaste) to eat on-the-go. A unique selection for any cheese board, serve it with sliced apples
or as an appetizer, broiled on little pieces of brown bread.
Photo credit to @Ski Queen
Credit to Ridge Vineyards for this lovely photo of
Zinfandel grapes growing in their Lytton Springs Vineyard.
In addition to blogging, I write articles for a couple of local papers. I thought you all might enjoy reading a few suggestions for fall wines that will appear in my column, "WINEderlust." Oenophiles & foodies always appreciate good wine suggestions:
There’s finally a little chill in the air which means we can think about leaving summer wines behind. Now’s the perfect time to try some robust reds, you know, the kind that will put a little pink in your cheeks. Some of my fall favorites are jammy, brambly and even prunish sorts like Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Franc (holla!) Most folks have tried the first two, but the latter? If you haven’t taken the plunge with Cab Franc, you should.
An all-time favorite is a Sonoma producer with a cult-following and an artistic touch with [Red] Zinfandel. You can’t make a poor choice with RIDGE Wines, but the 2015 Lytton Springs is an excellent option. Technically, the 2015 isn’t Zinfandel because it is blended with 16% Petite Sirah and small amounts of lesser-known varietals: Carignane & Mourvedre. This wine is full of the aforementioned bramble flavors (raspberry & blackberry), smoky oak and the expected peppery finish. Great with barbecue or brownies. $38ish
France’s Rhône is on point when you are looking for affordable & affable Syrah (AKA Shiraz in other parts of the world). Right now, I’m digging Chateau de Nages Joseph Torres Rouge. A bit more budget-driven than the RIDGE, this one’s about $25 and is intense. You remember the little candies you tried in French Class as a child? The ones that came in a pretty tin? They tasted like violets & smelled amazing? That’s what’s going on here. Elegant & feminine but in a big way.
Grand Finale. Robert Sinskey Vandal Vineyard Cabernet Franc, 2013. This has all of my favorite flavors in one very balanced bottle. Berries, chocolate, green olive, lavender and a big bunch of leather up the back. A tiny bit spendy at $50 and worth every penny. [Shout-out to my good friend, Jon Keep. This Sinskey wine reminds me so much of a wine that's no longer made: Gravity Hills, Killer Climb Syrah. It was one that I loved and my buddy and I spent a memorable evening polishing off, ahem, SEVERAL bottles. Cheers to us, Jon!]
@RidgeWines @ChateaudeNages @RobertSinskeyVineyards
Total transparency here: by this time in the season, I have stopped weeding and my garden is a hot mess. For real. I've canned all the sauces, veggies, condiments, relish and jam that I plan to. There are still some greens, celery and sweet potatoes hanging around, but that's really all that's worthwhile. I have been thinking about pulling the tomato and pepper beds, amending the soil a little and planting some lettuce and cabbage for a small, early winter harvest. That will only take care of about 1/3 of my beds and the rest need to be cleaned up and put to bed until springtime. For the first time ever, I've decided to utilize cover crops.
Where I live, I was made aware of a program through my county's Soil & Water Conservation Office (yes, that's a thing) which offers free seeds to residents. I reached out to Andrew Fritz, a local Urban Agriculture Conservationist for more information.
Here's what he had to say:
We [are offering] four cover crops - Crimson Clover, Hairy Vetch, Cereal Rye, and Oats...They come in small packs that are good to cover 100 square feet. I have also included notes below that may address some questions:
Crimson Clover's biggest benefit is that it adds nitrogen to the soil and is considered a soil builder. If you interseed, or overseed, by broadcasting the seeds between 9/15 and 9/30, the crimson clover will flower earlier in the spring when is the time you would cut it down and leave it as mulch. The Crimson Clover mulch is excellent because it adds to the soil, releases nitrogen slowly, helps to suppress weeds, and keeps moisture in the soil. Although, like all plants, it will decompose - which is actually a good thing.
The biggest benefit to oats is that it grows quickly and is a weed fighter. Additionally, it adds some organic matter and loosen topsoil. Gardeners find this oats convenient because it winter-kills. This means that the gardener does not have to kill, or terminate, the plant in the spring.
The biggest benefits that Hairy Vetch offers is that it can choke out weeds, supplies nitrogen to the soil, and attract beneficial insects as it is flowering in the spring. It is just like Crimson Clover in that it will survive the winter. Getting this plant started earlier is better.
Cereal Rye, though one of the more difficult plants, offers the most benefits to soil improvement - especially for tough clay soils. Rye has deep roots that break up compaction and is the best at suppressing weeds, and creates a lot of organic matter. It also has long lasting residue that can act as straw to suppress weeds. With rye, the stalks will be difficult to work around but this won't stop you from seeding or putting in vegetable starts. In addition, after terminating the rye (anytime from 12" to flower), you must wait 10 days before planting as the chemical it releases to suppress weeds needs to lose its strength.
GENERAL RULES AND GUIDELINES
- It is ideal to plant cover crops between 9/15 and 9/30. Though, they can be planted later. If this is the case, increase the seeding rate.
- If your garden is still active, remove all weeds, and seed the cover crop between your plants to give them a good start. Once root growth is established, you can walk on them gently to continue working in the garden.
- One packet of seeds is good for 100 square feet. If you have a 50' sq. garden, cut the seed amount in half.
- Terminate cover crops that do not winter-kill as they are flowering just prior to seeding. This is the most effective way of terminating the plant successfully.
- After broadcasting the seed, rake or water in gently to ensure good soil to seed contact for improved germination.
- Cover crops can be mixed together to achieve several benefits. Consult with the Urban Agriculture Conservationist to learn more.
I am planning to try the Cereal Rye as that seems to be the best fit for my garden. I'm so excited to see if cover crops are all they're cracked up to be. Wish me luck!
I'm pretty pleased with a new bread recipe I’ve been working on. One recipe, two great loaves of artisanal bread, no overnight rise, crusty on the outside and tender inside. Fresh bread is so nourishing and I dig knowing exactly what I’m feeding my fam. Flour, water, yeast and sea salt meld to become something much more complex. Do you bake bread and have a favorite? Curious if anyone is down with knowing how to add yeast dough to their culinary repertoire.
More on “rising” coming soon.