Since I was seventeen, I spent my Christmases in Florida… most of them in Fort Lauderdale. While the palm trees swayed from ocean breezes outside, we watched old movies and drank hot cocoa inside. It was a fun way to pretend we were having a White Christmas!
While the Season included baking and tree trimming, shopping and wrapping were not far behind. I remember all the personalized gifts purchased from Paper Mpressions and all the beautiful tablescapes on display at Special Additions. I remember buying the boys matching holiday outfits from Flora Ottimer and finding crafty creations at Cross Stitch Cupboard.
Small businesses have always been a part of our community, like patchwork squares in a storied, family quilt. Our friends are their owners, our families are their customers and together we keep each other wrapped in friendship.
While some of these stores have disappeared, some are still going strong. Cactus Flower, owned by Candy Johnson has been in business for over 30 years. Her customers are not only her friends, they are each other’s friends. In the spirit of friendship (which is celebrated in Canvas and Cuisine), I hope my Fort Lauderdale pals will drop by to say hi, sip some bubbly and support Candy Johnson’s store this Thursday. I look forward to seeing you!
3020 N Federal Hwy
While you’re there, take a look around. Cactus Flower’s vendors are both old and new, and the combination leads to whimsical tables perfect for entertaining.
Meanwhile, please accept this simple, yet elegant holiday party dinner plan as my gift to you. It allows you to prepare everything in advance, so that you can enjoy your party as much as your guests do. And, if you are looking for the perfect serving platter for the salmon, or cake stand for the jam cake… then I’ll see you at Candy’s on the 12th! Merry, merry!
Simple Holiday Dinner Party Menu
Pan Roasted Veggies
Cumin Crusted Salmon with Tarragon Caper Sauce
Cranberry Jam Cake
Pan Roasted Veggies
serves a crowd
45 minute cuisine
16 to 20 Brussels Sprouts
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon, about 2 tablespoons, plus more for the other veggies
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for the other veggies
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more for the other veggies
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper, plus more for the other veggies
16 to 20 Baby New Potatoes
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme
16 to 20 Whole Baby Carrots
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground curry
16 to 20 Asparagus Spears
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 Large Yellow Onions
Preheat the oven to 425°.
Cut each Brussels sprout in half and steam (or blanch) until they begin to soften, about 4 to 5 minutes. Toss with Balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, olive oil, and some of the salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet.
Cut each potato in half and steam (or blanch) for a about 4 to 5 minutes. Toss with mustard, Parmesan cheese, garlic, thyme, olive oil, and some of the salt and pepper. Transfer to the baking sheet.
Steam (or blanch) the carrots for a about 4 to 5 minutes. Toss with brown sugar, curry, olive oil, and some of the salt and pepper. Transfer to the baking sheet.
Toss the asparagus with 2 tablespoons lemon juice, olive oil, and some of the salt and pepper. Transfer to the baking sheet.
Cut the onion into wedges leaving the root intact. This will help to keep the onion together. Toss with Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and some of the salt and pepper. Transfer to the baking sheet.
You can prepare the vegetable up to this point several hours in advance. When you are ready to serve, roast the veggies until they begin to crisp and brown, about 20 minutes. You can serve them warm or at room temperature.
Cumin Crusted Salmon
with Tarragon Caper Sauce
serves a crowd
20 minute cuisine
1 (2 ½ pound) center-cut whole salmon fillet with skin
Juice of 1 medium lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground oregano
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup cream
3 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the whole fillet, skin side down, on a rimmed baking sheet, coated with vegetable oil spray. Drizzle the lemon juice on top.
Combine the brown sugar, chili powder, garlic powder, paprika, cumin, and oregano in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Rub this mixture all over the salmon, coating well. Drizzle the top with olive oil.
Place the salmon into the oven. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees. Roast until the salmon is rare in the center, about 8 minutes per inch of thickness, or about 15 to 30 minutes for the whole fillet.
For the sauce, stir together the sour cream, mayonnaise, cream, capers, tarragon vinegar and fresh tarragon. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve the salmon with the sauce on the side. Garnish with fresh lemon or orange slices and fresh tarragon sprigs.
Cranberry Jam Cake
serves a crowd
60 minute cuisine plus baking
1 (12-ounce) jar cherry preserves
¾ cup granulated sugar
Juice of 1 large orange, about ¼ cup
1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries, (about 3 to 3 ½ cups)
8 large egg whites
3 ½ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, 2 sticks, room temperature
Zest of 2 large oranges, about 2 tablespoons
Juice of 1 large orange, about ¼ cup
1 cup milk
1 cup unsalted butter, 2 sticks room temperature
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 (32-ounce) package powdered sugar
Juice of 1 large orange, about ¼ cup
1 to 2 tablespoons half and half (optional)
Place the filling ingredients into a deep pot. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the cranberries soften and begin to pop, about 20 minutes. Use a potato masher to mush up the cranberries. Remove the pot from the heat and cool. Spread the filling into a shallow pan. (A cake pan or pie plate works well for this.) Place the pan into the freezer to cool thoroughly while you make and bake the cake.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Spray 2 (9-inch) square cake pans with vegetable oil spray. Place a square of parchment paper in the bottom of each pan and spray again. Use an electric mixer to whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form, about 3 to 5 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer the whipped egg whites to a large bowl. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Use the mixer to combine 1 cup butter and granulated sugar. Stir in the orange zest. Add ⅓ of the flour followed by ⅓ of the milk. Continue until all the flour and milk have been added. The batter will be quite thick.
Fold the egg whites into the batter using about ⅓ of the whites at a time. This will lighten the batter. Use a spatula to scrape and smooth the batter into the two pans. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer the cakes to a rack, remove the parchment paper and cool completely. Now is a good time to remove the cranberry filling from the freezer. You want it to be chilled – not frozen!
Use an electric mixer to combine 1 cup butter with cream cheese until fluffy. Add the vanilla and salt. Mix in the sugar a little bit at a time. Alternate the sugar and the remaining orange juice. If the frosting is too thick, you can thin it with a bit of half and half.
Now, here’s the fun part. You can turn this into a four layer cake, by horizontally slicing each of the square cakes in half. Or, you can just use one layer of jam frosting in the middle of the two cakes. It’s up to you how much cranberry to put in the center. Either way you will have cranberry jam left over which is the whole idea. The jam is perfect as an accompaniment to your favorite pork or poultry dish or spread onto your morning Christmas toast! Spread the frosting around the sides and the top of the cake.
This was so going to be a post about Thanksgiving side dishes…. And then… I had the blessing of having both granddaughters join me on what happened to be National Bread Day this Sunday.
Mallory, 13 and Bookie, 2 have a huge age difference between them, but share a common love for me – reminds me of Sally Field in Soapdish and that line, “they really, really love me!…”
Here’s how making our precious memories together went down. I was looking for something to write about for Monday’s blog, and Mallory inspired me by her quest to bake something. She was looking for edible cookie dough or at the very least, a chocolate cookie skillet.
But Jorj.com just posted a bunch of cookie stuff….soooo, we decided on baking bread instead. Thanks to just placing an order with Carolina Ground, and having a lot of flour on hand, we had an absolute blast.
We baked my recipe, A Tale of Two Loves from Canvas and Cuisine and swirled the bread with a layer of my last jar of highly coveted apple butter.
Totally worth it!
Sweet Mallory spent hours with Brooke in between dough rises, and sweet Brooke abandoned her nap to rise to the grown-girl challenge. Does it get any better than this? I’m not sure. Coming into Thanksgiving, this is what I give thanks for. And I hope you cherish your family moments too.
Oh, and P.S. When you bake this bread, feel free to add a tablespoon of your favorite spice mix to the flour, like apple pie spice, gingerbread spice, or pumpkin pie spice!
A Tale of Two Loaves
makes 2 yummy loaves
20 minute cuisine, plus 2 hours to rise and 30 minutes to bake
2 cups milk, warmed on the stove top
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon natural cane sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast, 1 package
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 ½ cups white or whole-wheat bread flour
2 ½ to 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Stir the beaten egg into the warm milk. Stir in the sugars. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and stir. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Place the melted butter, salt and whole-wheat flour into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Pour in the wet ingredients. Stir, on slow to medium speed, until the flour and milk are combined. Add the all-purpose flour, about ½ cup at a time gradually increasing the speed of the mixer to form a soft, wet dough. This process will take you about 5 minutes. Once the dough wraps around the hook, continue mixing until you have a smooth, shiny ball of dough wrapped around the dough hook, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a large bowl that has been coated with vegetable oil spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm place for 1 ½ hours to rise. I use my warming drawer set on the proof setting for this.
Coat 2 (8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ½-inch) loaf pans with vegetable oil. THIS IS IMPORTANT! If the pans are larger, your dough may not rise. If your pans are smaller, the dough may not cook properly.
Turn the dough out onto a floured board. Punch the dough down and shape into two round loaves. Place each loaf into a pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 30 to 45 minutes. If you are adding mix-ins into your loaf, now is the time. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board. Fold in your favorite items. (Mine is a brushing of melted butter with cinnamon and brown sugar.) Shape the dough into a loaf and continue with the recipe.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Bake the bread until the tops are golden and the bread sounds hollow when you tap it, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again! I just can’t get enough of Fall Festival time in the mountains. There is a festival weekend for October Fest (with sausages and kraut), one for Wooley Worms (these furry insects race UP a tight rope!), one for pumpkin patches and corn mazes, one whole month dedicated to the Wizard of Oz and my personal favorite, a festival dedicated to apples!
The Valle Country Fair in Banner Elk is such a place. I visited on a cool, crisp autumn day where my breath blew out steam, and my hands were shoved into my pockets. I didn’t shiver long.
As soon as my gal pals and I walked into the fair, we beelined for the home made apple cider station and helped ourselves to a heaping cup of warm cider. It’s produced the old-fashioned way using a wooden press and aluminum wash bowls to collect the juice.
After that we wandered through the rows of craft booths spying everything from hand carved wooden bowls and cutting boards, to personalized nursery rhyme music CD’s, to gourds turned into Santa faces, to ceramic treasures like those of Triple C Pottery where I bought a set of the cutest bowls…
But, the absolute best, longest wait in line, and most expensive item at the fair is a fresh, warm jar of apple butter, lovingly prepared by the members of the church in huge, steaming pots over wood fires.
The cinnamon-gingery aroma lures you to the booth, where you queue up to spend $8 a jar. Along the way, you make new friends, exchange recipes and meet a guy with a chicken hat on his head (the legs move up and down!) You are only allowed several jars of the golden apple butter, and I usually max out the limit.
Apple butter is terrific on a warm biscuit, sensational on banana bread, exceptional as a condiment alongside roasted pork and delicioso in my apple butter cake that I dedicate to the hard-working church members and schoolteachers of Holy Cross Episcopal Church.
1 to 2 tablespoons milk (as needed to thin frosting)
1 cup walnuts, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat two 9 x 9-inch (you can certainly change the size of the pan if you choose) cake pans with vegetable oil spray. Place a layer of parchment paper in the bottom of each pan and coat the paper.
Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.
Use an electric mixer to combine 1 cup butter with both sugars until fluffy. Mix in the eggs. Pour in ⅓ of the flour mixture followed by ½ cup of the apple butter. Mix well and continue alternating ingredients until all the flour and apple butter are mixed into the batter. Spread the batter into the two pans. Bake until a tester inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully invert the cakes onto a rack. Remove the parchment paper and cool the cakes completely.
Use an electric mixer to combine confectioners’ sugar with the cream cheese, ½ cup butter and the vanilla until smooth and creamy. You can mix in a teaspoon or two of milk to get the consistency that you prefer for frosting. Place one cake onto your serving platter. Slather the cake with frosting. Top with the remaining cake. Cover the sides and top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the top of the cake with chopped walnuts.
In the Canvas & Cuisine cookbook, “apples” and “squash” appear over 80 times in the manuscript! During the fall season, we want them more than ever – that’s why I was so happy to dust off a double whammy of an autumn recipe: Apple, Sausage & Cheddar Stuffed Acorn Squash. In this version, I took a few calorie saving shortcuts.
I substituted the Italian sausage with turkey bacon, and served it sans nuts and cheese. For the fall-ish flavor bouquet, I sautéed Granny Smith Apples and bacon in a shallow bath of butter and pure cranberry juice. There was enough left over in the pan to drizzle savory cranberry sauce over the finished product, making the baked squash extra yummy!
The thing with a gutted gourd, is that it’s a blank canvas to stuff with virtually anything you see fit.
But allow me to digress…The stuffed squash comes with quite the story, as so many of my recipes do.
I was on a trip with my artist friend, Sue, Canvas & Cuisine’s co-author. We visited Blarney Castle in Ireland, and…well…I wasn’t feeling quite lucky enough to brave its narrow (I mean EXTREMELY narrow), four-story, windowless and very claustrophobic staircase.
I barely survived my one and only panic attack. I hadn’t even known I was claustrophobic until I met Blarney Castle. When we finally burst out of the tower and onto the top, Sue and I found ourselves in-line to kiss the famous stone. Tradition has it that in order to kiss the stone to receive the gift of eloquence, one has to bend over backwards lowering your head from the parapet walk over an opening in the tower that leads all the way down to the ground below.
There are two very, very young, very, very scrawny teens, on either side of the hole in the floor to make sure you don’t fall, but they were not convincing enough for me! I ended up sprinting past Sue and that stone, down the castle’s back stairs, and found my way to the closest pub. I took refuge in a pint and comfort in a dish called Cheshire Pie, which combines chunky pork and sautéed apples in a flaky crust.
The Canvas & Cuisine recipe for stuffed acorn squash was born shortly thereafter. The recipe posted below is a modified version. In both recipes, the flavors are sweet, tart and rich. It’s super for a mid-week meal and awesome for a brunch gathering before your next sight-seeing trip. Just make sure that you check out the sight to avoid unnecessary fright!
Apple & Candied Bacon Squash
30 to 40 minute cuisine
2 medium acorn squashes, halved and seeded
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter
½ pound turkey bacon, finely chopped
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup 100 percent cranberry juice
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup cheddar cheese, optional
Preheat the oven to 400°. Drizzle the cut side of the squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with cinnamon. Place the squash, cut-side-down into a baking pan. Bake until the squash is fork tender, about 20 minutes.
Heat the butter over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and cranberry juice. Add the apples and bacon, and cook until fruit is soft, and bacon brown and crumbly, about 8 minutes. Season with 1 more teaspoon cinnamon spice and some of the salt and pepper.
Pull the baking dish from the oven. Turn the squash so they are cut side up. Stuff the squash with the apple/bacon filling. Use any remaining cranberry/bacon syrup to drizzle over the top.
For the Decadent Cook:
Add cheddar cheese if desired, by placing the dish back into the oven, and cooking until the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes more. Garnish the stuffed squash with a dollop of sour cream.
I chose ricotta as the first recipe to make into a cooking video for 2 reasons: One, I needed something incredibly fast and easy and Two, I think people deserve to know that ricotta is just one of those things you’re better off making yourself.
I turned to a film student to make Jorj.com’s first official cooking video, and may ask her to follow up with ricotta ice cream w/fruit syrup and baked ravioli recipes.
My video(s) should be ready soon, but in the meantime, let me tell you how fun it was to make this basic cheese ingredient. I tried it myself at home with a friend.
We poured a half gallon of milk into a stock pot and chatted about our summers as it came to a boil. I stirred it. Then as it began to bubble, I added the buttermilk.
We stirred, then waited for 5 minutes. By then, delicious and recognizable ricotta cheese curds had formed. We took them to the sink and strained them into a colander lined with cheese cloth.
Our ricotta now “in the bag” (ha, ha!!), we held it over a cup and collected the last few drips and then transferred it to a bowl.
It was so beautiful! A perfect little blob of delicious cheese. Spoons ready, we tried it and thought that with a grate of lemon zest and chopped herbs, we could eat it right now with crudité or crackers.
But into the fridge it went, where we planned to let it set up to five hours. When it comes out, we had basil, chives and parsley waiting to fold in.
I am told the same kind of scene transpired in the Berman’s kitchen, where their prospective NYU film school student filmed a story about a whole lotta ricotta. She has sweet ingredients for a dessert-y ricotta that she will be tinkering with this week, AND a copy of my book, CANVAS & CUISINE. She and her family loved the artwork in that book, and promised to make something from its pages soon…
Anyway, I would like to officially welcome The Bermans to my culinary Adventureland and thank them for offering their home as stage set, and working with my food blog editor, Jen Russon to produce fresh homemade ricotta.
Here’s the recipe. Video out ASAP. Ciao!
Fresh Homemade Ricotta
15 minute cuisine, plus up to 5 hours to set
Yields 4 to 5 cups
1 gallon whole milk
4 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon very fine sea salt
In a large stock pot, add the milk and heat to a boil. Stir continuously, so a skin doesn’t form on the milk. Add the buttermilk and salt. Stir and wait 5 minutes for cheese curds to form.
Line a colander with cheese cloth and pour the cheese into it; drain, then tie off into a bag, holding ricotta over a cup or a bowl to collect further drainage.
Place the ricotta in an airtight container and refrigerate for 2 to 5 hours. After it cools and sets, you may add any chopped fresh herbs you like, such as rosemary, chives, basil or parsley. The ricotta may also be enhanced with sweet flavors.
The possibilities are as scrumptious as they are endless!
I have a recipe in my book Canvas and Cuisine for Fried Peach Hand Pies. It’s good… really good. However, I came across a recipe for peach preserves that included a vanilla bean and smidge of bourbon in place of my cinnamon-spiced version. So, I gave it a try and I’ll tell you what…. good went to gooder, it was so darn good.
Then I saw another recipe for fried pies that uses prepared pie dough in place of my puff pastry dough. And, guess what? This too is knock your grammar socks off-gooder! Then we top these dainty fried pies with a peachy glaze made from the peels and pits of the ripe peach. Well, I’ll tell you what, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Now, you will say to me, I’m not going to spend all this time makin’ peach preserves and fryin’ pies. And, I’m going to say to you, why the heck not!
I mean, there’s bourbon involved for god’s sake!
You can make the preserves in minutes and allow them to cook themselves over the next hour or so. You can put together the pies well in advance of frying, and let them hang out in the fridge until your craving ramps up to speed. You can fry those pies in minutes… literally minutes. There’s not even a lot of clean up. Let the oil cool, pour it into a container and use it again down the road…when you want to go from good to gooder 😉
Made into Peach Empanadas
Yields about 2 cups Preserves
About 20 to 24 hand pies
10 to 12 ripe peaches, peeled and chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and halved
⅓ cup bourbon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
For Fried Pies:
Peach peels and pits from 10 to 12 ripe peaches
½ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ to 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 (14-ounce) box refrigerated pie dough (2 crusts)
1 large egg mixed with 1 teaspoon water
Vegetable oil for frying
For Peach Glaze:
Juice from peach peels and pits, about ½ cup
1 ½ to 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
Peel the peaches by placing them in boiling water for several minutes and then transferring to a bowl filled with ice water. Reserve the peels by placing them in a large bowl. Chop the peaches into small chunks. Transfer the pits to the bowl with the peels. Stir ½ cup sugar into the bowl with the peach pits and peels and let sit for 20 minutes.
Place the diced peaches, 1 cup sugar, vanilla bean and bourbon into a deep pot, like so:
Sprinkle with salt. Stir together and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the peaches break down and the consistency of the preserves is syrupy. (I used a potato masher to break down the peaches after about 30 minutes and then continued to cook for another 30 minutes or until most of the liquid is reduced into the peaches). Cool the preserves and store in an airtight container.
Strain the peach peels and pits into a bowl to get about ½ cup juice. Whisk some of this juice into 1 ½ to 2 cups confectioner’s sugar. Continue adding juice until you get a peach glaze that is pourable and looks like the photo below:
Roll out the pie crusts on a well-flour surface. Use a round cookie cutter (about 3 or 4-inches in diameter) to cut circles from the dough. Place a teaspoon of peach preserves in the center of one dough circle. Brush the egg wash (beaten egg with water) around the edge of the circle. Fold the circle in half and use the tines of the fork to seal in the filling. Place the pie onto a rack and refrigerate until ready to fry.
Heat vegetable oil in a deep pot to 375. Gently drop the pies into the oil and cook until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Use a wire spider or slotted spoon to transfer the pies to a rack over paper toweling to catch the drips. Continue until all the pies have been fried. Drizzle the warm pies with peach glaze.