Reindeer Munch

For me, the holidays are about flavors AND smells. There’s a saying that goes something along the lines of “You eat with your eyes first,” and that’s true. But you also first eat with your nose too. There are some foods where the second that their smell hits my nostrils, I can already half taste them in my mouth.

It’s (obviously) been a long tine since I’ve been in a mall, but one of the few times of year I always used to like going to them was the holidays. Not so much to shop til I dropped, but mostly because if any of you have ever walked through a mall during the holiday season, then there is a certain smell that you’re going to be able to recognize.

The spiced nuts kiosk. In just about every place I’ve lived and every mall I’ve visited during the holidays, there’s a local vendor who rents out a booth/kiosk for the season to sell spiced/sugared nuts. Most of them have a tabletop stove contraption thingy that lets them make the nuts right there for you to see. It makes the most wonderful smells. I would get them in a candle if I could. Bath and Body Works should really consider it.

What does that have to do with today? Well I was trying to think of a snack recipe to include in the series and I started thinking about how the spied nuts kiosk. Nuts are a pretty pricey ingredient, so although I wanted to do a spiced nuts post, I wanted it to be a bit more accessible for those who may not want to splurge on buying them in bulk. Plus, I’ve just always been curious as to how spiced nuts were made. You can find practically any answer to any question you have through Google; so here we are.

Turns out, you don’t need one of those stovetop spinning contraption thingy things to make your own spiced nuts. Your oven will do the job just fine. The process is actually pretty simple. The sugary crusty coating comes from beating egg whites and water together, then folding in sugar. That gets poured over your ingredients, then they get baked off until crisp. Because the coating is so sweet, I wanted to use something salty that would offset the sweetness, balance out the flavors together, and also be sturdy enough to hold the topping. Enter in pretzels. I added in a little bit of cereal to play with different textures; the recommendations I give in the recipe are personal preferences. Feel free to use whatever cereal you like. Finally, I added in a little bit of dried fruit that would provide a tart, tangy flavor to balance out the sweet and salty.

I realized that this was going to be delicious when it was in the oven baking and my house smelled like a mall during the holidays. This stuff is dangerous. Bag it up and give it away as gifts and stocking stuffers, or there’s an excellent chance you’ll stand over the stove, munching on handfuls. Like I did. 

We’re officially halfway through the 12 Days of Christmas! Be sure to check out the other recipes that have been shared on the blog and get that holiday baking in while you still can.  

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Day 5: Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Day 6: Reindeer Munch

Reindeer Munch

Recipe Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Ingredients

  • 3 cups pretzels
  • 1 cup of a cereal mix of your choice (I used Cheerios Cinnamon Oat Crunch and Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch, but you can swap in practically anything else so long as it’s dry and sturdy)
  • 1 cup of nuts of your choice (pecans, almonds would be my preference)
  • 1 cup dried fruit (like cherries or cranberries)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and spray it generously with non-stick cooking spray; or you can use a silicone baking mat. Set them aside.

Mix pretzels, cereal and nuts together in a large bowl. Set aside.

Using a handheld mixer, beat egg whites and water together on medium speed until stiff peaks form, about 4-5 minutes. Add the sugar, spices and salt, gently folding until combined.

Pour/spoon mixture over the pretzel- cereal-nuts mixture and stir to coat it completely. Spread them over the baking sheets and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.

Allow to cool completely. Stir in the dried fruit. Store at room temperature in an air-tight container or a resealable plastic bag.

Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

It just wouldn’t be Christmas if gingerbread didn’t make an appearance, would it? Every year I try to think of some new method that I can try out outside of just making the typical pan of gingerbread, but still come out with a treat that tastes like the original. You may be surprised by just how many different options there are out there.

This year, I decided to take inspiration from a past recipe I did for the 12 Days of Christmas back in 2017, Crinkle Cut Cookie Fries. They were a riff on a mass produced sugar cookie in the form of little sticks that was sold back in the 90’s that I absolutely loved. To this day, they’re one of the favorite recipes I’ve made for Christmas, and just in general.

Today’s recipe is made pretty much the same way that those were, except it’s a gingerbread dough. As I did before, I cut the dough into strips using a pastry wheel that had a fluted edge to give the sticks an extra decorative ‘flair’, but it’s fine if you don’t have one of those and just cut them into straight straws. So long as you give them the freezer time before baking, I promise they’ll still hold their shape just fine.

Do make sure you add a little sprinkles or sanding sugar to them, though. They just look more festive that way. If you do choose to add the cayenne pepper, these are going to have that real spicy gingerbread kick to them, which I love. But if you’re trying to serve them to kids or just aren’t overly fond of spicy flavors yourself, feel free to leave it out. Texturally speaking, these are rather crisp cookie that I think would be great eaten and dunked in coffee or tea. Because they’re crunchy, they last longer and also hold up pretty well in transport if you want to make them gifts. Enjoy, guys.

We’re almost halfway through the 12 Days of Christmas! Be sure to check out the other recipes shared so far for this year, and stay tuned for more….  

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Day 5: Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Recipe Adapted from She Paused For Thought

Ingredients

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  •  cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
  •  cup unsalted butter melted and cooled
  •  cup mild or medium molasses not blackstrap
  • ¼ cup brewed coffee cooled
  • nonpareil sprinkles

Special Equipment: Fluted pie cutter wheel, optional

Directions

In a large bowl combine the flour, brown sugar, spices, and the salt. Stir together with a fork until well combined, using the back of the fork to get the lumps out.

In a small bowl whisk together butter, molasses, and coffee until very well blended. Immediately, add butter mixture to flour mixture, stirring vigorously, until evenly incorporated.
 
Turn dough onto floured surface. Knead with your hands for 30 seconds to make it smoother and more malleable. If dough is too dry or crumbly to roll out, work in a few drops of water until it holds together; if too wet, thoroughly knead in 1 to 2 tablespoons more flour.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or at least for a couple of hours.
 
 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set aside two large baking sheets and two sheets of parchment paper.

 

Divide dough in half. Roll each portion out onto a well floured surface into a 6×12-inch rectangle. If necessary, cut and patch to make the sides roughly even. (Don’t worry about making it perfect.) Using a fluted pie cutter wheel (or a sharp knife) cut dough lengthwise into 3/4″-1″ thick strips (varies depending on how thin or thick you want them; you can also cut the dough crosswise first to make these shorter too). Spray lightly with cooking spray, sprinkle with nonpareils, and transfer cookie sticks to baking sheets.

Freeze cut out cookie dough for 15-30 minutes.Working with one rectangle batch of dough at a time, bake on the middle rack for 13 to 16 minutes or until just firm. Allow to set on sheets for about 60 seconds before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve cookie sticks with frosting, Nutella or fruit jam for dipping. (Note: No one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

 

Cranberry Cookie Tart

Have you ever cooked or baked something that made you ask yourself: “Where has this been all my life, and why am I just now discovering it?”

It’s a really great feeling.

I experienced it when I made today’s recipe.

Seriously, one of the best cooking decisions I ever made was begin making my own cranberry sauce from scratch. I don’t know how people can eat the canned gelatine stuff. Real cranberry sauce not only has better texture, making it from scratch allows you to give it so much more and better flavor. Canned cranberry sauce just tastes like jellied Ocean Spray. Which…is pretty much all it is.

I say all of that because a significant part of what makes today’s recipe so delicious is the cranberry sauce filling, and I don’t want people who aren’t used to making it to be scared off by it as an ingredient. It’s worth it, y’all. It really is. Should you accept the challenge, and you want to ensure you’re making a tart that tasted just like ours did, or you just need an easy and delicious recipe for cranberry sauce, there’s one here, and here on the blog for your convenience, though I always just make the Cranberry Clementine sauce as a rule now; it’s that delicious, trust me.

Would you believe it’s a cinch to make? Yes, even though it’s a tart. And once your cranberry sauce is made, the whole thing comes together in less than 30 minutes. The base is a brown sugar shortbread that bakes up super light and crisp. This isn’t the Great British Bakeoff, so you don’t have to be too concerned about overworking your dough. 3/4 of it gets pressed into the pan, then the rest of it gets dropped on top of the cranberry sauce in chunks that form little pockets of cookie, rather than dropping it on in one large sheet.

Be prepared, y’all: they smells that are going to be coming out of your kitchen while this thing is baking are going to be enough to make you start salivating for it before it’s even done. I wish there was a Bath and Bodyworks candle for this scent; it would sell out, I guarantee you of that.

As I said earlier, from the very first bite of this that I took, I was asking myself how I went so long without discovering this thing. It’s so delicious, y’all. The crust is warm, buttery and crisp and its sweetness gets balanced PERFECTLY with the tartness of the cranberries. Because the filling is both cranberry sauce and fresh cranberries, there’s an textural element to it that has a nice balance of being both smooth, and somewhat chunky.

We loved this SO much, it was gone in a single weekend. So I did what any of us would do; I made another one. I’ll be having a very generous slice of it for my dessert tonight. Don’t be jealous; just make one for yourself.

Be sure to keep following along for more recipes for the 12 Days of Christmas!

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Cranberry Cookie Tart

Recipe Adapted from Erren’s Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar packed
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
  • 2⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup of cranberry sauce or good quality cranberry preserves (if you need a cranberry sauce recipe, this is the one I always use. This one will work too.)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen pitted cranberries Note: if using frozen cranberries, defrost before using and strain the juices.

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F/160C. Grease a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan* and place this on a baking tray.

Using a food processor or mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and brown sugar vigorously until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. It’s an important step to beat the butter and sugar well together when making shortbread as this ensures the shortbread is light, crisp and will hold together.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour and salt. Add it to the butter mixture and mix until blended (forming large clumps). Turn onto a floured surface and using floured hands, press two-thirds of the mixture evenly into the prepared pan (including the sides).

Spread with the cranberry sauce evenly over the dough, leaving a 1⁄4-inch border and then scatter with the cranberries.

Crumble the remaining dough into large crumbs and scatter evenly over the filling, covering most of the surface.Bake the tart for 40 – 45 minutes, until lightly browned.

Leave to cool completely in the pan.

*If you do not have a tart pan, I do think that this would also work in a 9-inch roudn cake pan, you just won’t be able to lift the whole tart out of it. It’ll still taste great though.

Linking to Fiesta Friday #358, co-hosted this week by Eff@Food Daydreaming.

Sugar & Spice Crackers

Homemade cookies are a win no matter what time of year, but I will say that for me, there’s just something extra special about homemade Christmas cookies.  I enjoy baking them more around the holidays. I enjoy eating them more around the holidays–which, for me is really saying something.

Some cookie recipes feature a whole bunch of ingredients and whole bunch of steps. I’ve made ones like that and shared the recipes on the blog in the past. While most of the time, the extra labor is worth it, on the whole I do think that making Christmas cookies should be pretty simple and straightforward. Most of the cookie recipes I post for the 12 Days of Christmas are on purpose. Today’s post is the first of more to come.

When I was a kid, I absolutely LOVED the mini Vootrman gingerbread men cookies. Heck, it’s been a while since I had one, but I still do. They’re small, crunchy,  and they have an excellent spice blend to them that is everything you want in a Christmas cookie.

Whenever I can make a recipe on the blog that replicates (or dare I say it) improves on a mass-produced store bought product, I’m always extra pleased with it. This was one of those times. I was, admittedly, a little underwhelmed with how the final product looked. Obviously, they have some cracks and imprint from the cookie stamps wasn’t as sharp as I wanted it to be post-baking.

But let me tell y’all–when I took that first bite of these, I couldn’t care less how they looked. These are SO GOOD.

These are not what I would think of as ‘cookies’; they’re very crunchy. When you break one in half, it will snap, hence the name of crackers. A British tea biscuit is honestly what they remind me of. They’re type of snack that just screams for eating alongside a cup of tea and coffee.

Combined with the texture, the spices are what really makes these stand out to me. They’re warm and fragrant and just hit all the right notes of Christmas. Also, because these are so crunchy, they don’t really go ‘stale’; in fact, the longer you leave them to sit, the stronger the spices will come through.  Finally, if you don’t have cookie stamps, no problem. They will bake just fine as regular old rounds, which I’ve included directions for in the recipe.

Because I made them small, I had a bunch of these baked from this recipe. I was an idiot and shared quite a few, and now I’m almost out. Which now means I will just have to make some more. ASAP.

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Sugar & Spice Crackers

Recipe Adapted from McCormick

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Beat flour, butter, sugar, baking soda and spices together with an electric mixer on medium speed just until mixture comes together, but is still sandy in texture, about 4 to 6 minutes. (If using a stand mixer, be sure to use the paddle attachment, not the whisk.)

Whisk egg, salt and vanilla extract in small bowl until well blended. Add to flour mixture; mix on medium until a soft dough forms, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Wrap dough tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 320°F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Divide dough in quarters and keep the other 3 in the refrigerator while you roll out the first. Roll dough out on a clean and floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Dip your cookie stamps into powdered sugar, then tap to remove excess. Press firmly into the dough, then gently remove stamped cookie and place on sheet pan. Repeat until you’ve used up all of the dough.*

Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets 1 minute. Transfer crackers to wire rack. Cool completely.

*Alternatively, if you don’t have cookie stamps: after the dough comes together, you can shape it into a log, refrigerate the log overnight, then slice it into 1/8 thick rounds and bake as directed.

 

Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

I’ve said it before, but one of the goals I set for myself in doing this Christmas series every year is to try and include at least one savory option in the mix. There are plenty of people out there who aren’t into sweets. God knows *I* don’t know or understand that lifestyle, but I can at least acknowledge that it exists by trying to factor it into my offerings on the blog for Christmas.

The savory baking I tend to do at Christmas usually translates into warm, comfort food-style dinners or brunch foods. In 2016, it was Stuffing Bread. In 2017, it was Tourtiere. In 2018, it was chicken hand pies. This year, I decided to do a little bit of recipe recycling to come up with something different.

Last week, I kicked off the series with these Orange Cranberry Buns. The recipe made quite a lot of them; there were leftovers. Granted, they were perfectly delicious all on their own, but I did get to thinking about ways I could use them for something else. What do you guys do when you’ve got a bunch of leftover bread sitting around? My thoughts exactly; you make bread pudding.

Now granted you don’t HAVE to make those buns just to make this dish. Any flavor or style of bread will work so long as it’s bread with a strong and sturdy crumb that can hold up under the milk and egg soaking. Look around the bakery aisle of your grocery store for challah, brioche, potato rolls; any of those will work perfectly here. But I will say that using these buns for it would be an AMAZING choice. Your tastebuds would thank you for it.

Most times, bread pudding is extremely sweet; a dessert, really. But, I’ve experimented with savory variations of it before here on the blog, which is what gave me the idea for this dish in the first place. That recipe used ham. This one uses sausage. Sausage is a very common ingredient when it comes to traditional dressing, and the flavors in that dish are the inspiration for the flavor profile I was shooting for. When it comes to mix-ins, I kept it simple. Spinach and onions and that was great for us. However, it’s really up to you as to what else you put inside. It’s kinda hard to screw this up when it comes to the mix-ins.

The cranberry sauce may seem like an odd choice for a savory dish, but just hear me out: it works. The saltiness of the sausage plays against the sweetness of the bread, and when you add the tartness and slight bitter flavor of the cranberry sauce to that, it’s a REALLY great bite. My sister took one bite of bread pudding together with a bit of the cranberry sauce, smiled and said, “Wow. It tastes like Christmas.”

That should tell you everything you need to know.

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

 

Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Adapted from a previous recipe on Cooking is My Sport, and Anne Burrell

Ingredients

For Bread Pudding

  • 7-8 cups cubed leftover, stale bread (you want a nice and sturdy bread, like a challah or brioche)
  • 3 lbs pork sausage
  • 16 oz fresh spinach
  • 1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups milk, divided
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of your favorite herb blend (Italian seasoning will work fine)

For Cranberry Sauce

  • 12 oz. fresh cranberries
  • 6 clementines, peeled and sectioned
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup cranberry juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Directions

For Bread Pudding

Place the bread cubes in a medium size bowl and stir together with 1 cup of the milk. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, until bread has absorbed most of the liquid.

Meanwhile, pour about 1 tablespoon of oil in the bottom of a large skillet or pot, and brown the sausage over medium heat. Drain the grease and set aside sausage in a medium sized bowl.

Saute the spinach in the same pan/pot until it is just wilted and vibrantly green, about 5 minutes. Remove to a separate bowl and set aside.

Saute the onions in the same pot, until they are translucent and limp, about 7-10 minutes. Remove to another bowl and set aside.

In medium size bowl, using a wire whisk combine the eggs, the milk, and the seasonings, beating until yolks are broken.

Spray an 11 x 13 baking dish generously with cooking spray. Spread half of the bread cubes in the dish. Scatter half of the sausage, spinach and sauteed onions on top of the cubes in an even layer. Drizzle half of the egg-milk mixture over that. Repeat, layering the rest of the bread, then the sausage, spinach and onions. Then, pour the rest of the egg-milk on top.

Cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Preheat oven to 350°F. Uncover the dish then bake on the middle rack until the top is golden brown and the pudding is firm in the middle, 60-65 minutes. Serve warm with the cranberry sauce.

For Cranberry Sauce:

In a small saucepan combine fresh cranberries, clementines, orange and cranberry juices, sugar, cinnamon stick, and star anise.

Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the dried cranberries and simmer for 10 to 15 more minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Store overnight in the fridge to allow sauce to set, then serve alongside bread pudding

Linking to Fiesta Friday #357, co-hosted this week by Diann@Of Goats & Greens.

Orange Cranberry Buns

Well, it’s about that time of year again, y’all.

For those of us on the States side, with Thanksgiving officially over, the holiday season officially gets kicked into high gear. And here on the blog, that holiday season gets kicked off in a very special way:

The 12 Days of Christmas.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that every year I set aside twelve days during the month of December (and sometimes one or two days in late November) for a series of holiday themed recipes. I grew up in a household where Christmas baking was a yearly and very dearly loved tradition. It put a sprinkle of extra Christmas spirit on my childhood that I’ve never lost a nostalgia for, and now that I’m an adult I find that I still feel that nostalgia when I bake myself for Christmas.

Late 2019 I took an unexpected blogging hiatus, and it was the first and only time in the nearly seven years I’ve been food blogging where I didn’t do a 12 Days of Christmas. It was a huge mistake. Christmas wasn’t the same for me at all without my holiday baking and I made a promise to myself at New Years that come what may, I was going to resume blogging AND resume the 12 Days of Christmas come holiday season 2020.

I’m a girl who keeps her promises. So here we are.

I’m kicking off this year’s series with bread. I bought a wreath-shaped baking pan that I wanted to try out and the holiday season seemed a pretty perfect occasion to break her in. Bear in mind though, you defintely don’t need a wreath shaped pan to bake these. You can always bake them on a pizza stone, or a large baking sheet and arrange them in a wreath shape. You could also just bake them in rows in a regular baking pan. I promise, it won’t affect the taste.

Orange and cranberry taste like Christmas to me. This dough is flavored with both, along with a warm holiday spice mix. After baking, I brushed them with an orange honey glaze, then after the glaze had set, drizzled on an orange icing.

Don’t they look festive? A pretty good way to start 12 days of Christmas goodies, if I may say so myself.

***************************************

Orange Cranberry Buns

Recipe Adapted from Bake from Scratch

Ingredients

For Buns

  • 2¼ cups dried cranberries
  • 1¼ cups warm no-pulp orange juice (180°F/82°C to 185°F/85°C)
  • 1½ cups warm whole milk (105°F/40°C to 110°F/43°C)
  • 6¾ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 10 cups all-purpose flour, divided*
  • 1½ teaspoons  kosher salt
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon  ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon  ground allspice
  • ½ cup  unsalted butter, melted
  • 6 tablespoons, freshly squeezed orange juice, strained
  • 4 large eggs, divided
  • 1¾ teaspoons  orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • ½ cup plus 3 tablespoons water

For Honey-Orange Glaze

  • ½ cup clover honey
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice, strained

Icing

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • A tablespoon or two of orange juice

Directions

In a large bowl, combine dried cranberries and warm orange juice. Cover with plastic wrap, and let stand for at least 20 minutes, and up to overnight. Strain, discarding excess liquid.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine warm milk and yeast. Sprinkle ¼ cup (50 grams) sugar over yeast and milk. Let stand until mixture is foamy, about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together 5 cups of the flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and remaining ½ cup of white sugar.

With mixer on low speed, add half of flour mixture to yeast mixture, beating just until combined. Beat in melted butter, freshly squeezed orange juice, and 3 eggs. Transfer dough to a large bowl, and gradually add remaining flour mixture, stirring with a spatula or a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. (Because this is such a large amount of dough, you will need to incorporate ingredients in a larger bowl.) Stir in drained dried cranberries and zest.

*Knead until smooth, about 8 minutes, adding more flour as needed. You may not need to use all of the flour; this varies depending upon the time of year and where you live. (But the dough should not be sticky by the time it’s ready.)

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Place dough in bowl, turning to grease top. Loosely cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1½ hours.

Meanwhile, make the honey glaze: In a small saucepan, bring honey and orange juice to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Let cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Either spray two wreath pans or line a 15-inch round pizza pan or stone with parchment paper, and spray with cooking spray.

Lightly punch down dough, and let rest for 5 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, turn out dough. Divide dough into 18 pieces, and roll each piece into a ball. Arrange balls on prepared pan in a wreath shape, leaving little space in between them. (You don’t have to make a wreath shape at all; these will bake just fine in straight rows as well) Cover with plastic wrap, then a damp kitchen towel and let stand in a warm, draft-free place (75°F/24°C) until puffed and rolls are touching, about 25 minutes. (Rolls will rise to edge of pan/pizza stone, but will not spill over during baking.)

In a small bowl, whisk together milk and remaining 1 egg. Brush tops of rolls with egg mixture.

Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. (Bread is done at an inner temp of 190 degrees Fahrenheit) Brush warm rolls with Honey-Orange Glaze. If desired, stir icing ingredients together in a small bowl and then drizzle icing over the buns once glaze had set.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #356

Chicken Taco Stew

I think that I’ve mentioned this before on here, but because it’s relevant to this post/recipe I’ll say it again: I don’t like soup.

I never really have, even as a child. I didn’t really know why back then. Now that I’m older and have embraced my love of my food, I have a very clear awareness of what I like, what I don’t like, and the reasons why. My reasons for disliking soup can be summed up in one word: consistency.

I just don’t like the consistency of soup. When I was a child I can remember never really liking Campbells’ soup from a can, but I can also remember holding a particular preference, even a like for Dinty Moore’s stews. Looking back, I can say that the preference came from the consistency of the food.

I never really liked having to ‘slurp’ my food, the way you would have to slurp a broth. In my mind, slurping has just always been for beverages and chewing has always just been for food; the lines between the two just don’t need to be blurred. I like my food to have texture, richness and ‘body’ to it; body is just something that to me, most soups are lacking. They lack heartiness to me. I’m never full after I eat them, and for that reason I don’t cook or eat them very much at all.

What does that have to do with today’s post? Well, in the spirit of full disclosure, the inspiration for the flavors of this recipe came from another recipe that some of you may have heard of: taco soup. I’ve seen it floating around mainly Pinterest and it’s become pretty popular as most iterations of it are low calorie, low fat and great for dieting. The flavors in taco soup are supposed to emulate eating a taco; a food that is safe to say, not low calorie or low fat. I like tacos, for sure; soup? Not so much.

So this is my riff, or rather, my improvement on taco soup: Chicken taco stew.

I can’t speak for how low carb, low fat or low whatever my taco stew is, y’all. That’s really not my ministry. What I CAN tell you, is that it is absolutely delicious.

I make the base of my stews to be rather thick and hearty. Again, it’s all about the consistency for me. In my mind, the perfect ‘broth’ of a stew can form a coating on the back of a spoon. The thicker and richer the base, the more I can appreciate the flavors of the food itself.

Don’t be intimidated by the number of ingredients here. It’s mostly seasoning, and the actual process of putting everything together is very straightforward and easy to follow. Combined with the heartiness of the base, the chicken and the beans, this is comfort food to the nth degree. It really is like eating a bowl of tacos that wrap you and your stomach up in a warm hug.

Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay safe.

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Chicken Taco Stew

Recipe from Jess@CookingisMySport

Ingredients

  • 5-6lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 1/2 cups flour, divided
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 large or 2 mediums yellow sweet onion, sliced thinly
  • (2) 14.5 oz. cans fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • (2) 4 oz. cans diced green chiles
  • (1) 15 oz. can corn
  • (1) 15 oz. can black beans
  • (1) 15 oz. can pinto peans
  • (4) 1 oz. packets of taco or fajita seasoning
  • (1) 1 oz. packet of dried ranch dressing seasoning
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  •  64 oz. chicken broth
  • 1 cup water or milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Divide the cubed chicken into two 1 gallon sized plastic bags.

In a medium size bowl combine 2 cups of the flour with the onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, cumin, black pepper, and cinnamon. Stir together with a fork.

Evenly divide the flour mixture between the two ziploc bags. Seal tightly, then toss to coat thoroughly, so that there is an even layer over meat.

Coat the bottom of a large non-stick stockpot or Dutch Oven with a few tablespoons of canola, vegetable or olive oil. Brown the floured meat over high heat on the stovetop. Don’t worry about it cooking all the way through, just cook long enough to give it some color. When it’s browned, temporarily move the meat to a sheet pan. Don’t overcrowd the pot, you’ll have to repeat/do this in about 2-3 batches to get through all of the meat.

When you’re finished browning the meat, add a little bit more oil to the pot, then add the onions. Cook over medium heat until they’re softened and translucent, 5-10 minutes. Remove the onions from the pot and place them with the browned chicken.

Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of flour into the pot. Allow it to cook over medium heat until it’s browned and smells toasty, about 3-5 minutes (don’t walk away from it, it can burn easily.)

Once you can smell it begin to toast, pour in the chicken broth, the diced tomatoes, green chiles, taco/fajita seasoning, ranch dressing seasoning, bay leaves, honey, and the water/milk. Use a wire whisk to stir to dissolve the flour clumps quicker.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Salt and pepper to taste. Depending upon your taste preferences you may need to add a little more cumin, or onion powder too.  Allow it to cook for about 10 minutes, until it begins to thicken and the flavors begin to meld together.

Taste and adjust for seasoning, then add the chicken and onions back to the pot.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer stew, uncovered for about 45 minutes, until the chicken is fork tender.

Add the beans and the corn to the stew, stir with a large spoon and allow to cook for an additional 15 minutes.

Serve with chips, salsa, sour cream, cilantro or melted cheese on top.

Linking this post to Fiesta Friday #355, co-hosted this week by the lovely Jhuls@The Not So Creative Cook.

Giant Blueberry Bun

Hi y’all. What a week.

On the plus side, America made the right decision in our presidential election. No matter what that toddler says or whines on about, it was a clear, fair and decisive election, and he lost. We’re going to have our first woman, and woman of color Vice President. Those are all reasons to celebrate.

On the other hand… there’s everything else that’s happened in the election’s wake. I’ve fluctuated a lot between immense relief and immense apprehension over the past week. Cooking and baking has helped.

Now seems like a good time to announce that I do intend to resume my annual 12 Days of Christmas baking series for 2020. In my hiatus last year, I skipped it. That was a huge mistake. The holidays just didn’t feel the same to me and I realized that baking is an integral part of my holiday experience. It truly lifts my spirits, and in a year like 2020 I think that we all should be doing everything we can to lift those as high as we can. I’ve already gotten a headstart and I’m really excited about this year’s recipes. So stay tuned for that to kick off towards the latter end of the month.

Today’s recipe I’ve actually had in my drafts folder for a long time. It was one I made before my hiatus and never got around to posting, which is a shame because it’s really VERY good. As you can see, fresh blueberries are baked right into the dough, then they burst creating those lovely pockets of fruity goodness. I usually will ice a bread like this, but it was honestly good enough for us without it. The brown sugar inside gets exposed from the swirls and creates a delicious, textural sugary topping that’s plenty sweet enough on it’s own.

I also think that it would also be great to cube up the leftovers, leave them to dry out overnight, then make this into an AMAZING bread pudding. Just a suggestion.

One last thing. Y’all, know that this has been the year from Hell for so many reasons and that it’s still not over yet. I know that the holidays are coming up and that large family gatherings are the norm. But please. Please.

Don’t do it. Only leave the house if you absolutely need to, and social distance. Wear a mask. Things are as bad with this pandemic as they’ve ever been in the US and if we don’t all act responsibly and like sensible human beings with compassion for someone other than ourselves, they’re only going to get much much worse. This is not false hysteria or fear-mongering; this is science. I’ll say it again and I’m going to keep saying it:

Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay safe.

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Giant Blueberry Bun

Recipe Adapted from Bake from Scratch

Ingredients

  • 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup, plus 1 tablespoon white sugar, divided
  • 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg

For Filling

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark, doesn’t matter which)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 3/4 cup fresh blueberries

 

Directions

In a medium saucepan, heat 1/2 cup of the butter with the milk over low heat until it reaches 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from the heat.

Sprinkle yeast on top of the warm butter-milk mixture. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the sugar on top of that. Allow to sit for 10 minutes until yeast is proofed and frothy.

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or a large regular bowl) combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the 1/3 cup sugar, and 2 teaspoons of salt. Beat the egg in a small bowl.

Add the butter-milk mixture and the beaten egg to the dry ingredients and use the paddle attachment (or a large fork) to stir just until combined. Switch to the dough hook (or continue using the fork). Continue to add flour to the dough in 1 cup increments.

Continue to add the flour in about 1 cup increments, just until the dough begins to come together around the hook. (You may not need to use all the flour, this is dependent upon the time of year and your location).

Once it has, turn off the mixer and scrape the dough out onto a clean work surface that you’ve sprinkled with flour (like a pastry mat or a smooth countertop). Use your hands to firmly knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 10-12 minutes. You can use additional flour (about 1/4 cup at a time) if it’s still too sticky; I also prefer to rub my hands with canola, olive or vegetable oil before kneading and that helps a lot without having to add more flour..

Place the dough in another greased bowl, turning once to grease surface. Cover with a layer of plastic wrap, then a damp kitchen towel. Place in a warm place for about an hour.

Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 inch springform pan or baking dish.

In a medium bowl, stir together brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Make sure the remaining 1/2 cup of butter is softened.

Sprinkle flour on your clean work surface and turn out the dough. Lightly punch down and allow to rest for about 5 minutes. Roll out the dough to a rectangle, around roughly 10 inches wide and 12 or more inches long.

Use a small spatula to spread the softened butter across the rolled out dough, leaving a one inch border all around the edge. Sprinkle the brown sugar mixture on top of the butter; it will form a thick layer. Sprinkle the blueberries on top of that.

Starting from the shortest end closes to you, carefully roll the dough into a log. If any filling falls out, just tuck it back in. If the dough sticks to the counter, use a bench scraper to gently pry it up. When done rolling, pinch the dough to seal it closed. Dip a very sharp knife in water and gently, but swiftly, slice the log down its entire length, creating two halves with lots of layers (kitchen shears will work for this too.)

Turn the halves so that the layers are facing up. Press the two halves together at the top, then twist the halves around each other, creating a spiral. Press the halves together again at the bottom. Wrap the braid into a round, courounne shaped loaf.

 Carefully lift the loaf into the center of the greased cake pan.

Cover it with plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel and allow it to rest until puffy and risen, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake on center rack of oven for 15 minutes. Loosely cover with foil, and bake until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 190°F (88°C), about 1 hour more. (Check it early though, mine baked fast)

Allow to cool for about 15-20 minutes on a wire rack before slicing.

Linking up to this week’s Fiesta Friday #354, co-hosted this week by Liz@Spades, Spatulas & Spoons

Sausage Gravy and Biscuits

I debated very seriously whether or not to do a post this week at all. In light of the tense and stressful circumstances in my country right now, I wondered if making a post about food would be tone-deaf, insensitive or whatever you want to call it. Apart of me still feels like it is.

On the other hand, the truth is that for me personally, finding ways to mitigate feelings of anxiety is to focus upon things that make me feel happy, relaxed or at least distracted. Cooking is my sport, and a huge stress reliever for me– that includes posting on this blog.

One thing I knew I wasn’t going to do if I did post today was pretend as though the election wasn’t happening, that it didn’t matter, or that I don’t feel very strongly about who I wanted to win. If y’all have been following me for a while, you probably already know how I feel about it. My fingers are crossed, my breath is held, I’m knocking on wood, and hopefully we will be swearing in a new president come January 2021.

But regardless of what happens in this election, I’ve resolved to keep an attitude of trying to plan for the worst, hope for the best, and to keep my head up. Y’all try to do the same.

It’s now November, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean colder weather for everybody, around this time of year I still find myself craving stick-to-your-ribs comfort food.

There can’t be many foods that are more stick-to-your-ribs (and in my case, the hips, thighs and derriere) than biscuits and gravy. It’s such a simple but satisfying dish and I’m surprised it took me this long to get around to putting together a recipe for it.

Making sausage gravy really isn’t complicated. You probably have most of the ingredients that you need in your house already, and the whole thing comes together in little under an hour. Biscuits do take a tad bit more effort, but ohhhh how worth it that effort is for these.

I’m telling y’all, sour cream does godly (or ungodly depending on how you look at it) things to biscuits. They rise SO high, and still come out SO light and tender. I was ready for the best nap of my life after I finished eating this; isn’t that the best indicator for how comforting and delicious a dish is?

Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay safe.

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Sausage Gravy and Biscuits

Recipe from Jess@CookingisMySport

Ingredients

For Sausage Gravy

  • 1 cup flour
  • 6 cups of milk
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 lbs ground pork sausage
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground sage
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • salt (if needed, see note)
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 bay leaf

For Biscuits

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, frozen
  • 3 cups self rising flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar (light or dark, doesn’t matter)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • About 1/2 cup of buttermilk, plus more if needed

Directions

For Biscuits

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and brown sugar and stir together with a fork.

 Use the large holes on a box grater to grate the butter directly into the dry ingredients. Stir with a fork.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the sour cream and buttermilk. Use a large fork and a large rubber spatula to stir the mixture together. If it seems a little dry you may add the additional buttermilk until it forms a shaggy dough.

Sprinkle a pastry mat, wooden cutting board or a clean smooth countertop with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and pat a few times with your hands until it loosely holds together. (Don’t knead it too much or the warmth in your palms will melt the butter and cause the biscuits to be tough.)

Use a bench scraper or a large sharp knife to divide the dough in half. Roughly shape each half into a square. Stack one of the halves on top of the other and use a rolling pin to roll it together into one mass. Repeat this process two to three more times before patting it into one final rectangle. (This is a process of layering so that the biscuits will bake flaky).

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 425°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven.

Sprinkle your work surface with flour and unwrap the biscuit dough out onto it. Use a bench scraper or very sharp knife to trim the edges of the rectangle. Use a square cookie cutter, or a knife to cut the remaining dough into squares, about 2″ each.

Remove the cut biscuits to the baking sheet you’ve lined with parchment paper, placing them rather close to each other (it will help them rise higher). Freeze until cold, about 15 minutes.

Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

For Sausage Gravy

Brown the sausage in a large skillet until no longer pink and formed into crumbles. Drain (but reserve the sausage grease!) and remove to a separate bowl.

In a large pot (I used my Dutch oven) over medium heat, pour in the flour. Stir with a metal spoon or spatula for about 1-2 minutes, just until you smell it start to toast. (Don’t let it get too brown, this is supposed to be a white gravy.)

Pour in the milk, water, oregano, sage, onion powder, black pepper and bay leaf.

(A thing to keep in mind: sausage is very salty on its own. In lieu of salt, I added a few tablespoons of the reserved sausage grease to the gravy so that it had both salt and meaty flavor. If you prefer to use salt, you can, but just be careful with how much you use.)

Bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring constantly until smooth. Lower heat to a simmer and allow to cook for an additional 5-10 minutes, tasting and adjusting for seasoning. It should begin to thicken into a gravy-like consistency.

Pour in the reserved sausage, stir and turn the heat down to low, allowing to cook for an additional 10-15 minutes.

Split the biscuits in half and serve with the gravy spooned on top.

Linking to Fiesta Friday #353

Butter Pecan Scones

Butter pecan is one of those flavors that draw a line in the sand with people’s taste buds.

They either absolutely love it or they absolutely hate it.

I’ve even seen it become an age debate; supposedly, ‘old people’ like butter pecan while for the young folks, it’s a no go.

I don’t know what kind of logic goes into that argument. But I guess that makes me old, guys. Cause I’ve always loved butter pecan. Roasted pecans and rich vanilla flavored butter is my kind of carrying on. Outside of cake batter, I’d say that butter pecan was my favorite ice cream flavor. It’s so simple, but still so rich and divine.

Typically butter pecan is a flavor that is reserved for ice cream. I haven’t seen it pop up in too many other recipes. This past week I was trying to decide what to make for brinner and although I decided upon scones, I wanted to do a little something different with them that I could share here on the blog.

I knew that I had some unused pecans in the pantry that I wanted to use up (nuts are way too expensive to waste) but I didn’t want to just throw them into a regular scone dough and call it a day. Because I’m extra like that.

Adding pecans to a recipe doesn’t make it butter pecan. You have to create those rich, warm, vanilla flavors to go along with the nutty goodness.

Rich and warm flavor brings one thing to my mind.

And thus, the browned butter chronicles continue on Cooking is My Sport.

 

I’ve said before that there are very few ways of improving upon butter; browning it is one of them. Browned butter creates a rich, warm and nutty flavor to it that I thought would be perfect for a butter pecan flavored scone. After browning the butter, I froze it, just like I do with all of my biscuit/scone recipes. From there, I went with my usual formula.

In lieu of white sugar, I used brown to give it extra caramel-y flavor. I added sour cream along with buttermilk because in the first place, it really gives the dough a tender texture that is needed, as the nuts soak up a lot of the moisture from the buttermilk.

These came out even better than I expected them to while they were baking, filling the house with all kinds of wonderful aromas. They’re not overly sweet, but that buttery, pecan flavor sure does come through. I are mine sliced in half, toasted with a smear of pumpkin butter. It was absolutely delicious.

(As a brief but very important aside, if you live in the United States, please exercise your right to vote in the upcoming election. We can’t have four more years of this; we just cannot.)

Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay safe.

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Butter Pecan Scones

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients

  • 5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cups brown sugar (preferably dark, but light will work fine too)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, frozen
  • 1 to 2 cups toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1-2 cups buttermilk* (The amount of milk to use is going to vary depending upon the time of year and the location you’re in because of the varying moisture levels in the air. I always start with one cup, then gradually add more as I deem fit).

Directions

For browned butter:

Melt the butter over medium heat in a 2 quart saucepan. Let it cook and watch it closely until 3-5 minutes until the butter begins to foam, forms a golden brown color and browned bits form on the bottom. (It will have a sweet, nutty smell). Immediately remove it from the heat. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then place butter in a small bowl, and freeze until solid, about 2 hours.

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt and brown sugar and stir together with a fork.

 Use the large holes on a box grater to grate the butter directly into the dry ingredients. Add the pecans. Stir with a fork.

In a small bowl combine the eggs with the vanilla extract and stir until the yolks are broken. Set aside.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the egg mixture and sour cream and buttermilk. Use a large fork and a large rubber spatula to stir the mixture together. If it seems a little dry you may add the additional buttermilk until it forms a shaggy dough.

Sprinkle a pastry mat, wooden cutting board or a clean smooth countertop with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and pat a few times with your hands until it loosely holds together. (Don’t knead it too much or the warmth in your palms will melt the butter and cause the biscuits to be tough.)

Use a bench scraper or a large sharp knife to divide the dough in half. Roughly shape each half into a square. Stack one of the halves on top of the other and use a rolling pin to roll it together into one mass. Repeat this process two to three more times before patting it into one final rectangle. (This is a process of layering so that the scones will bake flaky).

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 425°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven.

Sprinkle your work surface with flour and unwrap the biscuit dough out onto it. Use a bench scraper or very sharp knife to trim the edges of the rectangle. Use a square cookie cutter, or a knife to cut the remaining dough into squares, about 2″ each.

Remove the cut scones to the baking sheet you’ve lined with parchment paper, placing them rather close to each other (it will help them rise higher). Freeze until cold, about 15 minutes.

Bake until golden brown, 18 to 23 minutes. You may need to cover them with foil to keep from browning too fast. When you pull one away from the others, it should look baked all the way through; the edge shouldn’t look wet or unbaked.

(Linking up to Fiesta Friday #352)